Sunday, July 31, 2005

Suicide Bombing: Dossier. posted by Richard Seymour

I intend this post to be as informative as it can be while also remaining as concise as possible. A list of references will be provided at the end, and specific challenges or queries will be dealt with as usual in comments boxes or by e-mail.

The old strategies for explaining suicide bombers range from the idiotic to the inadequate: they hate our freedom, they're just jealous, they hate us for being infidels, they are fascists, they have a perverted ideology, they are Muslims, they are desperate, poor and ignorant, they are anti-globalisation, they are psychophaths, they are brainwashed etc etc. Of these, you can probably surmise which ones are inadequate and which are foolish.

Take religion. One way of conceiving religion as a causal factor is to see it as part of a 'clash of civilisations', pace Huntington and Scheuer, in which most Muslims either support, accept or acquiesce in suicidal attacks on civilian targets on the West (the 'West' is a poorly defined concept, but let's say for now that it includes Europe, the US, Israel, Australia and some non-Western capitalist powers). This has, I have noted, involved some rather ludicrous distortions of evidence as well as grand extrapolations from limited bases of data. As far as we know, while most Saudi citizens agree with the pre-eminent political goal of Al Qaeda, and while most Palestinians appear to support suicide attacks on Israel, there isn't a great deal of support among Muslims for Al Qaeda or any of its confederates. A tiny fraction of Muslims have actually been involved in terrorism of any kind, and a much smaller number have been involved in suicide attacks. This is ABC stuff, and it leads us directly to the next conception: the Bush-Blair explanation.

Aside from the dim-witteries about hating freedom and "killing people for the sake of it" (as Tony Blair incredibly explained last week), the usual strategy is to say that these people are a benighted, hate-filled minority putting their own malign twist on Islam. If this misses the destructive pre-potency of religion itself, it also manages to omit from analysis the largest bulk of suicide missions that have taken place across the world over the last twenty-five years. Of 535 missions that took place between 1980 and 2003, 191 were carried out in Sri Lanka by secular Marxist groups. Further, of the 224 that took place in Israel, Lebanon and Palestine, a substantial number were carried out by non-religious political groups. Similarly, a number were carried out by the Marxist PKK in Turkey. (Sidenote: about twenty of the 535 attacks took place in Iraq in 2003 alone). The first suicide attacks to take place in Israel were a small number carried out by al-Fatah and the PFLP-GC. The latest wave of suicide bombings in Israel began a few months after the failure of Camp David, launched by the secular Al-Aqsa Martyrs brigade, and off-shoot of Fatah. The religion of the Tamil minority is Hinduism, which does involve a notion of reincarnation, but it is rejected by the Black Tigers, the elite outfit within the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). In fact, while the idiom used by the LTTE is Marxist, and the iconography Guevarist, the most striking emphasis of the group is on nationalism. The history establishes fairly conclusively that religion is not a necessary factor in the incidence of suicide bombings.

Similarly, the beginning of the very large spate of suicide attacks that began in the 1980s, and which preceded use of the tactic by the LTTE, was initiated by the Lebanese opposition to Israel: this included Hizbollah, but also the secular Baath-Leb, LCP and SSNP. It was a series of extraordinarily efficacious attacks by these groups on US marines, French peacekeepers and Israeli army outposts that secured the withdrawal of those marines and the retreat of the Israeli army to a small strip of land in Southern Lebanon in 1985, which they finally abandoned after severe military pressure in 2000. But here again, although the strategies of justification were often religious, the attacks wound down shortly after Israel's evacuation of the central zone of Lebanon. It appears to have been less the enabling fixtures of religion that inspired those suicide attacks than their efficiency at killing, (and thus evacuating an occupying force). Robert Pape notes that while suicide attacks amounted to only 3% of terrorist attacks from 1980 to 2001, they accounted for 48% of total casualties from terrorism.

From what we know about the attacks on 9/11, we are entitled to infer that while religious commitments provided some of the context for the motivation, and also facilitated the missions by reducing cognitive dissonance, suppressing the fear of death and so on, the main causes lay elsewhere. For instance, Mohammed Atta, having grown up in a middle class family in Egypt, does not appear to have been an especially devout Muslim until he moved to Germany to continue his studies as a city-planner. He seems to have experienced some culture-shock: from being an educated person of some status to being an ignored or scorned outsider; from being surrounded by a relatively puritan environment to a liberal anything-goes place like Hamburg etc. He reacted by becoming more devout. At the same time, he was reportedly filled with fury by the oppressiveness of the Egyptian state and the indifference of the opulent elite to the plight of the poor. He treated colleagues to several earfuls about this, and about the US and the Middle East autocracies. He said that Egypt was being opened up to market capitalism, regardless of the real needs of the people. He complained that Egyptian universities were nepotistic and that the nation had been sold out to the US. In this, a mixture of vicarious outrage and personal affront at his own difficulties in Egypt and Europe can be seen as supplying the initial fuel for his later atrocity. His complaints were secular, rather than religious. They acquired the mould and fashion of religion, it seems, as he met with radical imams in the al-Quds mosque - who expressed a bellicose message against the US, the Middle East tyrannies and Israel - and became interested in becoming a martyr. It presumably required more than interest or desire to see him through, of course: training in camps in Afghanistan (organisational and doctrinal) will have also been among the necessary causes. (Curious detail: he seems to have also had an aversion to high-rise buildings, believing their presence in Arab towns and cities to be an example of the Western incursion).

Moreover, 'martyrdom' in Islam doesn't include self-murder (which is haram), and it has taken some contortions by bin Laden and his supporters to pretend that the act of slamming a plane into a high-rise tower is actually not suicide. On top of that, the motivations of Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, albeit that they distantly involve 're'constituting an Islamic nation based on the Caliphate, are oriented around concrete, secular grievances, which Scheuer notes: the presence of US troops on the Arabian pensinsula, the unconditional support for Israel, the blockade of Iraq (Scheuer wrote before the war in 2003), US support for Russia, China and India in various battles with Muslims, support for corrupt Middle Eastern oligarchies. None of which, to avoid some obvious and deliberate misinterpretation, is to credit bin Laden or his associates as a vanguard for Muslim grievances. It is to say that these grievances, whether expressed in a befuddled and hypocritical fashion or not, are not simply duplicitous or deployed instrumentally to win Muslims over. In fact, it is widely suspected that bin Laden's sympathy for the Palestinian cause is opportunistic and belated - but Scheuer notes that it was expressed long before it was taken note of and rejected by Palestinians. The groups that orient around themselves around bin Laden (and now, perhaps, Zarqawi) cannot be simply assumed to be lying about these motives: that they are serious in their rejection of (real and imagined) injustice doesn't necessarily serve to make their actions more just.

Poverty, globalisation, ignorance, despair, personality disorders.
One of the least compelling attempts at a left-wing explanation for suicide bombings has been Dr Caroline Lucas' repeated claims on television that poverty is responsible. Well, if it is a causal factor, it seems to be largely indirect - as in Atta's outrage on behalf of the Egyptian poor. There appear to be deep structural causes that have to do with declining social mobility in Arab countries and the neoliberal doctrine that many of them are importing. However, the profile of the typical suicide bomber - even in Palestine - would be almost threadbare except for the fact that most appear to be male, early twenties, childless, well-educated and have higher incomes than the reference population. They also tend to be psychologically normal and certainly not suicidally depressive, for reasons I will come to. This is not usually the poor lashing out, although it is suggested that in Palestine pecuniary reasons may be involved because of martyrdom allowances. Simply in order to conduct such attacks, certainly on a global scale such as we are seeing recently, one needs to have unusually high levels of intelligence, (the ability to master languages, technical details, learn new skills, quickly absorbe planning information etc etc). And in fact, if the implication is that the actions are carried out in a state of despair at one's own condition, the answer appears to be that suicide bombers are specifically recruited on the basis that they do have an interest in this world and this life. This is partially to efface the ideological stress involved in Muslims committing suicide, but it also has to do with group workings - the absorption of a psychotically violent or seriously disturbed individual into the group would actually destabilise it and risk exposure among other things.

The other thing, as Pape notes, is that this explanation (poverty/despair/mental illness) involves subscribing to a view that the perpetrators act egoistically. Typically, however, they act altruistically - try not to fall off your stool, this is serious. Just like the Kamikaze warriors, the people who tend to carry out suicide attacks do so with what they undoubtedly consider to be noble intentions. This is another point about the selection of candidates - suicide bombing is a message as much as an act, and part of the message is that the individuals are engaged in these acts precisely are not acting out of pathological concerns, but are so outraged by injustice that they will sacrifice themselves.

That isn't the end of the 'despair' argument, however. Luca Ricolfi notes (Gambetta, 2005) that despair of a very particular kind is certainly an animating factor in Palestinian suicide bombings. Citing research by a Palestinian economist, B. Saleh, which shows almost all suicide bombers having been subjected directly to arrest or maltreatment by the IDF, and a good number having had a family member killed, he notes that compounding the desire for revenge is indifference to death. That is, the extreme repression in Palestine produces a "drastic, extreme and tragic contraction of an individual's set of options". Material deprivation leaves individuals with "literally nothing to do or imagine", while specific repression can "generate a progressive dismantling of a person's emotional world" in which "reality has shrunk to a minimum" and is replaced by a highly mental world of symbols and fantasies. Here, liberal economic theory does not hold: man does not always pursue his own immediate interests in such a situation, and such a society. The moral priority of the community over the individual can lead people thus deprived to be willing to sacrifice themselves. Other research produces similar conclusions, as Jacqueline Rose notes:

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.'

Fascism, perverted ideology, brainwashing.
One comical aspect of some of the pro-war Left's attempts to efface Blair's co-responsibility for the terror in London has been the ridiculous idea of privileging a 'fascist' ideology as the leading causal factor. Those who debase the word fascist in this way are neither good anti-fascists, nor good analysts of the movements which are under consideration. But leaving aside the academic (though not scholastic) distinctions about precisely what counts as fascism, what we are interested in here is the idea that an ideology of some description is the chief causal factor in the readiness to kill civilians, particularly in the ways that we have seen in New York, Bali, Turkey, Madrid and now London. It is already fairly well established that the tactic of suicide bombing has been used by a variety of groups, with distinct ideologies. There have been different Marxisms, different secularisms, different Islams involved (Al Qaeda appear to be Sunni, but Hizbollah are Shi'ite). The fact is that in each case the ideology does not seem to have been decisive in the decision to use suicide missions. Similarly, no suicide bombers have come from Iran as yet, which is the scene of a particularly reactionary brand of Islamist rule.

Perhaps, however, it will be argued that this specific kind of ideology, and this specific kind of Islamism contains such a noxious mixture of fanaticism, Occidentalist fantasy, vengeful bloodlust, delusion etc that no injustice need contribute to the decision to kill except in a marginal way. There is, in fact, a correlation between the origin of suicide bombers and the practise of Wahabbist Sunni Islam. Pape notes that Al Qaeda suicide attackers are twice as likely to come from a country where such an ideology is widespread than not. However, he also notes that a) Somalia, which was ideologically so convivial to bin Laden that he spent several years there with a few thousand fellow-travellers, has produced no suicide bombers, and b) a stronger correlation shows that Al Qaeda suicide-bombers are ten times more likely to come from a country with US troops stationed in it than not. This obviously does not mean that ideology has no weight of its own, or that the presence of foreign troops is the sole condition necessary for the production of suicide hit squads. It does suggest, at the very least, that the single cause overdetermining the others, is a nationalist response to a perceived injustice against the nation, just as it is in almost every other case of suicide attack. The fact that these attackers may emerge from countries not directly to do with the nation on whose behalf they believe they are acting is only tangentially relevant: nationalism involves an 'imagined community', and if the nation in question is the 'Islamic nation' or the Umma, then the reaction is likely to be just the same as it would be if the nation was Palestine, Kurdistan, Lebanon etc etc. The ideology has its importance in that it puts in an Islamic idiom what might otherwise be expressed in a nationalist or Marxist idiom. As Stephen Holmes suggests, (Gambetta, 2005), many radicalised young men are attracted to the Islamists simply because they appear to be the ones making a call to arms. The decline of the other two big battalions - nationalism and Marxism - has simply made this ideology more attractive than it might otherwise be.

It remains to be demonstrated just to what extent ideology has a role in preparing people for suicide attacks, but it seems on the information prevently available to be less important than specified material conditions. The final thing to think about is that the enabling cognitive processes are not always to do with the ideology which provides the general background and interprets the reasons for going to war. Certain aspects of the willingness to kill have to do with martial 'virtues', honour and so forth. The people who blow themselves up invariably do so in the belief that they are soldiers, licensed to kill on behalf of their aggrieved community. The idea that soldiers should only try to kill people on a designated field of combat is actually a fairly recent exiguous constraint in international law, (and rarely adhered to at that). The self-description as a soldier is obviously easier in cases like Sri Lanka, Chechnya and Palestine where there is a community of support for such attackers, and where there is a video message and posthumous glorification. But it still seems to obtain in the cases of often rootless and alienated individuals, angered by injustice, and attracted to extreme variants of Islamism because of that.

Suicide bombing as a tactic is used by various groups in diverse circumstances, but usually as a highly efficient means of combatting a perceived transgressor in nationalist terms. Religion and other ideological apparati do help facilitate self-murder and the murder of others, but as a motivational cause they seem to be inadequate on their own. Similarly, organisations provide cash and opportunity for carrying out such attacks, but not the desire. The variety of motivating factors seem to be overdetermined in the case of the London bombings by a rejection not of what the West is, but what it does. If the West's actions were just, this would simply be a stark Manichean case of good versus evil. Instead, what we appear to have is injustice generating recruits for unjust actions.

Sources: Diego Gambetta, ed, Making Sense of Suicide Missions, 2005; Robert Pape interviewed by Scott Horton ; Jacqueline Rose on suicide bombers ; Jason Burke, Al Qaeda: The true story of radical Islam, 2004; Michael Scheuer, Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror, 2004.

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Friday, July 29, 2005

Can't win, won't win. posted by Richard Seymour

According to a majority of the American public, the US cannot win the war in Iraq . A majority in another poll says Bush deliberately misled the public on weapons of mass destruction. Similarly, the US labor movement has demanded the "rapid withdrawal" of US troops from Iraq - this after a lengthy tour of the US by various Iraqi unions, including the IFTU whose love for the occupation dared not speak its name.

All of which could be somehow connected to the decision to withdraw a number of troops from Iraq. The Iraqi Puppet Minister has announced that he would like the US to withdraw "speedily" - about as speedily as next Spring. He did so, of course, just as a US commander was talking about beginning to withdraw troops next Spring . While both the US and Jaffari have insisted that this depends on a reduction of insurgent activity between now and then - surely that will come after the US withdraws - paradoxically, there is an admission that it is highly unlikely that the insurgency will have abated in any way by that point. US military analysts say that while the bulk of suicide bombings can be accounted for by the minority of 'foreign fighters' in Iraq, the armed resistance is gaining an increasing ability to "kill at all levels" . Much as this may involve a deliberate distortion of the reality on the ground (see passim ), it is undoubtedly the case that both the Salafist elements and the nationalist resistance are gaining in efficacy . And current troop levels, so the news reports, are below what would be necessary to successfully fight the resistance.

Dissent at home, losing in Iraq, troops being reduced from an apparently perilously low level, the withdrawal from Saudi Arabia ... I'm almost tempted to suggest that the US is trying to appease Al Qaeda. But but but. The troop withdrawals on the US side ae conceivably a well-timed concession to reality, but they are not the beginning of a process of disengagement: as I've suggested before , a large number of US troops are likely to stay until kicked out, otherwise several huge permanent military bases are going to go to waste. The gesture is of course desgined to address dissent in the US military and at home. The other thing is, the withdrawal from Saudi Arabia is of course designed to help the Saudi regime pacify internal dissent, not satisfy Al Qaeda's demands, since the latter have always phrased their demand in terms of the Arabian peninsula - according to author Robert Pape, moving them to Iraq or Qatar is a distinction without a difference for them, since the national boundaries referred to were created by the British Empire.

However, there is a shift in rhetoric coterminous with a declared alteration of strategy for the US. The phrase "war on terror" is to be abandoned , apparently, in favour of "global struggle against violent extremism". That's a significant hostage to fortune, since the neoconservative White House is the global leader in violent extremism. The point of the change, apparently, is that it underlines the case that armed groups who use terrorism cannot be defeated by purely military means - rather, the social, political and economic causes of terrorism must be addressed. There is to be a general 'struggle' with global extremism, one that involves exertion at all levels. Washington's cause, once strictly a military crusade, is now a jihad in Christian drag. And its wars of terror are beginning to look as much like suicide as murder.

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Thursday, July 28, 2005

Secret Smile. posted by Richard Seymour

Some don't bother to conceal glee in extreme, ruthless violence. In one of Bush's 'State of the Union' addresses, he addressed the controversy over the assassination of some alleged 'terrorists' with a snigger and the words: "Let's just say they won't be a threat to us and our allies any more". I'm paraphrasing from memory, of course. From Bush, this is all too predictable. Having grown up in the most reactionary part of West Texas, with its Klan history, its culture of patriarchy, hierarchy, frontiersman-style exploitation of people and environment and its casual racism, he has an easy affinity with the cracker-asshole voter. Being a C-student, a failed businessman and a recovered alcoholic, he has open lines of communication with millions more. A family lineage that hails from the East Coast aristocracy also leaves its mandarin disdain for the poor, the subterranean and the insurgent. So, it is no surprise that the only truly elevating moments in a Bush speech are those in which he exhibits his taste for killing and whupping ass (or, since some readers will insist, 'arse').

The citation of a column sound-bite from Lord Stevens ("the brain must be destroyed instantly, utterly") prompted one commenter to note that he could practically hear the old pervert's gums beating together. Indeed, it did seem rather salacious. All of which led Mark Kaplan at Long Sunday to remark that:

It’s not just that the secret enjoyment of violence can be passed off as mere neutral description, smuggled in under guise of realism or whatever, and therefore disowned. Hard-nosed unsentimental description isn’t merely the alibi for an obscene enjoyment. The clinical neutrality of the description, the uncompromisingly unsentimental tone is itself the very object enjoyed. To talk about murder, death, suffering in purely technical, medical or scientific terms already constitutes a brutalism of its own, a tone so neutral as to be itself a kind of cold violence. Paradoxically, what is enjoyed is the very elimination of affect.

Unto which :

"Blow up a different power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights will go off or who's in charge."


"Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too."


"It should be lights out in Belgrade: Every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road, and war-related factory has to be targeted."

And :

"He was the author of his own misfortune."

Further :

"Stuff happens".

Finally :

“The biggest mistake was not to properly prepare the public for the sustained campaign of violence facing the country. Even when Mr. Menezes was thought to be a bomber, witnesses were shocked by the ferocity with which he was killed. More should have been done to prepare the public for the forceful response needed to protect them.”

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Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Unanswered questions. posted by Richard Seymour

SW has a couple of questions for the Metropolitan Police. I actually have a few for them as well.


1) Why is a murder suspect being sent on holiday as opposed to being arrested and detained, pending bail? Is there any possibility he'll be holidaying in Gonzaga?

2) Will the Menezes family also be offered a holiday? Do they have to kill anyone, or is that just a perk of working for the Metropolitan Police?

3) Why does a totally innocent man get 8 bullets while a suspected bomber who does actually have a rucksack on his person merely get 50,000 volts in the ass ?

4) How can the Chief Police Commissioner announce with equanimity that so far, there have been 250 other 'incidents' and seven near killings - how many of these have actually involved anyone associated with terrorism?

5) Since when was it the physiologically case that to prevent movement of the hands it was necessary to "destroy the brain instantly, utterly"? Ever heard of hand-cuffs? How about disabling the arms? The cunning use of physical restraint?

I hope an officer can stop by and help me out with those.

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Update on Jerry Hicks. posted by Richard Seymour

There's a good summary of the background and developments in this dispute here . However, I received a more up-to-date account in my inbox this morning.

What we now know is that yesterday a number of Convenors went to Rolls Royce's headquarters in London to have talks with the management. Returning, they discussed the situation with Jerry Hicks, and subsequently a recommendation was put to the still striking workers to "return to work in order for a ballot of the Bristol Test manual employees to take place as quickly as possible. This recommendation was proposed, voted on and accepted."

The company will have been informed of the decision to ballot for industrial action today. The ballot will take place between 3rd and 11th August, and an Interim Relief application has been filed on Jerry Hicks' behalf.

You can still send messages of support to and copy them to Amicus general secretary Derek Simpson at And also, it wouldn't hurt to take Socialist Worker's advice and "Bombard Rolls Royce with fax messages, phone calls and letters of protest. Send your letters to Rolls Royce International, 65 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AT, phone 020 7222 9020, or fax 020 7227 9178." And if you're really keen, you can "Download the collection sheet from the SWP website at , print it off and take it around your workplace, fellow trade unionists and campaigners".

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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Things to remember. posted by Richard Seymour

Just been sent this excellent piece :

Here are some other important things to remember in thinking about the police actions of 22 July:
(1) There is no general legal duty to assist the police or to obey police instructions. Rice v Connolly [1966] 2 QB 414.
(2) There are special police powers to arrest and search. But there is no special police licence to injure or kill. If they injure or kill, the police need to rely on the same law as the rest of us.
(3) The law allows those who use force in prevention of crime to use only necessary and proportionate force. Jack Straw and Sir Ian Blair say that officers are under great pressure. But this is no excuse. In law, as in morality, being under extra pressure gives us no extra latitude for error in judging how much force is proportionate or necessary. R v Clegg [1995] 1 A.C. 482.
(4) Arguably, the police should be held to higher standards of calm under pressure than the rest of us. Certainly not lower!
(5) The necessity and proportionality of the police use of force is to be judged on the facts as they believed them to be: R v Williams 78 Cr. App R 276. This does create latitude for factual error. In my view it creates too much latitude. The test should be reasonable belief. The police may be prejudiced like the rest of us, and may treat the fact that someone is dark-skinned as one reason to believe that he is a suicide bomber. But in court this reason should not count.
(6) It is no defence in law that the killing was authorised by a superior officer. A superior officer who authorises an unlawful killing is an accomplice. R v Clegg [1995] 1 A.C. 482.
(7) The fact that those involved were police officers is irrelevant to the question of whether to prosecute them. It is a basic requirement of the Rule of Law that, when suspected of crimes, officials are subject to the same policies and procedures as the rest of us.
(8) Some people say: Blame the terrorists, not the police. But blame is not a zero-sum game. The fact that one is responding to faulty actions doesn't mean one is incapable of being at fault oneself. We may blame Tony Blair for helping to create the conditions in which bombing appeals to people, without subtracting any blame from the bombers. We may also blame the bombers for creating the conditions in which the police act under pressure, without subtracting blame from the police if they overreact. Everyone is responsible for their own faulty actions, never mind the contribution of others. This is the moral position as well as the position in criminal law.

Read it all, it's invaluable.

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Secrets & Lies. posted by Richard Seymour

The more that comes out on the murder of Jean Charles de Menezes, the more questions that are raised.

Latest news says that he was shot eight times , seven to the head and one to the shoulder. Aside from the fact that this sounds like overkill to me, I would have thought that it was extremely dangerous to shoot someone you suspect of being strapped up with bombs in the body.

At yesterday's well-attended vigil outside Stockwell tube station (one of a number of such events to have taken place), an RMT official confirmed news reports that a tube driver had a gun pointed at his head by police. Did they imagine that RMT drivers were agents of Al Qaeda, or does this point to a total lack of control on the part of the coppers concerned?

Despite what was initially claimed by police, Mr Menezes was followed all the way from Tulse Hill after leaving a block of flats which was being monitored. He was followed, despite the fact that they didn't know precisely which flat they were monitoring. They allowed him to board a bus - no danger to the public there. They now say they challenged him when he tried to buy a tube ticket. Yet, at least one witness has said that when they chased him the police did not identify themselves as police. All they did was don caps reading 'Police' - well, I hope they had it printed backwards so the guy could read it in his mirrors.

I was in the station yesterday, so I got a fairly good idea of how the route was supposed to pan out (tried to take a pic of the vigil where it was visible from in front of the ticket gates at the usual entrance, but the staff didn't like it). He's alleged to have hopped over the ticket gates, ran across the concourse, dropped down into the escalator, scrambled down a whole flight of stairs with police in hot pursuit, turned the corner onto the platform, tripped into the train, been landed on by two blue boys and then been shot. Okay, so he's got right down into the bowels of the tube system and not detonated himself. They've got him on the ground, and piled onto his back, still no explosion. Perhaps that would have been the time to grab him by his hands and yank up his coat to check for explosives, no? I mean, in the interests of not murdering anyone without at least getting a peek at the evidence first? And having seen the evidence, it might be a good idea to spare the guy's life so you can have a chat with him, mano e mano.

It sounds like a vengeful Dirty Harry scenario to me. Who ever taught the Met Police that IDF advice on dealing with terrorism was good? Who ever thought it would be a good idea to recreate Gaza and the West Bank in South London?

A few other things are striking about this. All the speculation about exactly why Mr Menezes ran from the police, while understandable from one perspective, seems to miss the point. He did run, and he wasn't a terrorist. It seems to me that those who want to speculate about whether his visa had run out, thereby making him an 'illegal immigrant', are seeking a way to shift the blame onto him. Bruce Anderson in yesterday's Independent was quite forthright about it: Mr Menezes was "the author of his own misfortune" because his behaviour was allegedly 'unusual'. So, those big-jawed white guys in jeans and t-shirts who didn't identify themselves but did wave guns around were behaving fucking normally were they?

Those who think that shoot-to-kill is a good policy or even a necessary evil have some explaining to do as well. At what point does one pull the trigger? In this case, a guy was selected for monitoring and following quite arbitrarily it seems - he lived in the wrong block of flats and had slightly dark skin, so could well have been one of the Ethiopian or Somalian men the police were supposedly looking for. So, if a guy you have no good intelligence on even runs away from the police, even if they don't identify themselves, this is good enough grounds for revoking the presumption of innocence until proven guilty and publicly executing a man? The fact is, it is hard to conceive of a situation that is anything but contrived that will lead to a would-be suicide bomber being shot. This imaginary situation is rather like the 'ticking clock' scenario invoked to justify torture: inevitably, the justifying clause is never relevant to the ensuing practise.

In an excellent article for The Guardian yesterday, Gary Younge looked at some other examples of emergency legislation that allowed for vast abuses but did little to protect the innocent:

According to Home Office statistics, 97% of those arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act - a series of draconian measures supposed to thwart the IRA - between 1974 and 1988 were released without charge. Only 1% were convicted and imprisoned.

The strike rate since the declaration of the war on terror has not been particularly impressive either. More than 700 people have been arrested under the Terrorism Act since September 11, but half have been released without charge and only 17 convicted. Only three of the convictions relate to allegations of extremism related to militant Islamic groups.

And our allies in this bid to limit freedom at home so that we can ostensibly extend it abroad have not had much more success. According to a recent investigation by the Washington Post, fewer than 10% of the people prosecuted for terrorism were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security. Of those, few had any connection to al-Qaida while the remaining 90% were acquitted or convicted of lesser crimes like immigration violations or making false statements.

The only way to stop would-be suicide bombers would be to know who they are. Otherwise you're just blasting anyone with the wrong skin complexion who has a big coat or wires from an iPod hanging out. And if you know who they are, you are perfectly placed to intervene before it ever gets to the stage of public execution with no trial. And the only way you're going to do that, as Younge says, is to cease the demonological drivel and examine what motivates bombers, how they are likely to decide to blow themselves up etc. That way you can avoid a conflagration. New legislation isn't going to help either. It isn't as if there is a dearth of charges with which one could convict those who would blow themselves up in the tube. Murder, conspiracy to commit murder, carrying explosives etc.

For all the talk of how calm and stoical Londoners have been, those who support shoot-to-kill and emote on behalf of 'The Poor Officer and His Family' strike me as nothing so much as hysterical and irrational, if not bloody-minded and authoritarian.

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Monday, July 25, 2005

Announcements. posted by Richard Seymour

A few nuggets for your perusal.

Today at 6pm, the Stop the War Coalition is to have a vigil outside Stockwell tube station where the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes. Transport for London says the Northern Line is running at normal service, so the station should be easy to get to. Buy a ticket, though.

The Uncapitalist Journal is up and running. There are a host of excellent posts up already, as well as a newswire and posts from readers. It is an excellent project in my view, pooling a number of eccentric talents (including, of course, myself). Check it out, bookmark it, link it.

This is a classic exercise in unintentional hilarity. The headline says "Bono told me - 'you're song needs to be heard now'". It should say "Telegraph hack tries to exploit terrorism to launch pop career".

Finally, the number of people who say that the Iraq war helped cause the attacks on London has risen to 85% . Rub some faces in that, my friends.

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Executed for Homosexual "Crime". posted by Richard Seymour

The reporter and blogger Doug Ireland regularly sends me stories from across the world about anti-gay violence and repression. The examples are usually all too predictably depressing and repellent. This one from Iran is particularly disgusting - two gay teenagers were held in prison for fourteen months, during which they were beaten severely, and subsequently executed in public.

It's tempting to think that this relates to the election of the populist Ahmadinejad, but as Direland's article makes clear, it follows from a record of decades of such executions. It appears that the Times initially carried the story uncritically with the Iranian government's cover story - that the boys had raped a 13-year-old. The story is now much more qualified , although check out the contrast between the new headline and that which appears at the very top of the browser window.

Check Direland's story for pictures and ample links.

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Met Police trained in Israel. posted by Richard Seymour

Just a brief note. In response to the murder of an innocent man at Stockwell station, someone posted a comment saying that the Metropolitan Police had been trained by the Israelis. On a rather odious pro-war site which doesn't really merit your full attention this suggestion was made fun of.

It happens to be true , as several news stories confirm .

The only significance of this fact as far as I can see is that it is one more way in which practises which have been common in Israel for years under a legal 'state of emergency' are now becoming normal in liberal democracies . Surely the next step is to build a big wall around those parts of the Middle East that we want to nick and leave the remaining vassalage to sweat it under watchtowers, the occasional helicopter attack and the regular traffic of bulldozers.

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Sunday, July 24, 2005

'Imperial Hubris' posted by Richard Seymour

A very quick bit of post-prandial criticism, then.

Michael Sheuer is apparently an enlightening yet controversial guy, because he wrote a couple of books as 'Anonymous' - he should have kept it that way. I've just been reading his book 'Imperial Hubris' and I must say it is the most over-rated book to have been shoved in my direction to date. The title suggests an antiwar theme, and many intelligent antiwar commentators - particularly the libertarians at - have taken a shine to the book, its thesis and its author. But it would be more accurate to say that the title designates precisely the contents of the book, which is very unfortunate for having been published.

The main problem with the book is that it takes as its starting point the ridiculous Clash of Civilizations thesis, developed by the extremely unpleasant Samuel P. Huntington as a riposte to Francis Fukuyama's 'End of History' bilge. Huntington's idea is incoherent - he infers a fundamental cultural sympathy between Islam and Confucianism - Iran and China, united at last. The very notion of 'civilization' as deployed by Huntington is so nebulous as to be useless. The Islamic-Confucian connection that he posits is somewhat undone by the ongoing tensions between, for instance, Vietnam and China. Japan, meanwhile, appears to be much more likely to ally with the US than with Iran or China. In the multipolar world that has ensued from the end of the Cold War, submerged tensions between the US and Europe have come out into the open. I'm being far too generous in treating Huntington's ideas seriously, of course - they're bilge, intellectual detritus emanating from one of the most obnoxious apologists for US power (and, once upon a time, apartheid) to soil a page with his thoughts.

Yet, Scheuer, a former CIA employee who considers himself a moderate conservative, organises his information along lines that suggest a 'civilisational' approach, cites Huntington's ideas approvingly, and argues for them. For instance, he appears to believe that Osama bin Laden has the support of most Muslims, saying "Islam is at war with America"; that the 'war on terrorism' is indeed a war with Islam; that 'they' have ways which 'we' must inevitably find alien; that Bin Laden is "leading and inspiring a worldwide anti-US insurgency" etc. He misinterprets polling data to support the thesis, so that opposition in Muslim countries to an attack on Afghanistan is interpreted as opposition to tackling Al Qaeda (and therefore, tacitly, support for Al Qaeda). He does not bother to mention that a host of non-Muslim countries either had substantial majorities or significant minorities against the war. Scheuer is convinced that Bin Laden is not on the extreme fringe of the Muslim world, but that his message is in fact widely popular - partly because of the importance of Islam in his message, and partly because of the charismatic figure he cuts - a rebel, an icon, a man who left the world of riches for the ascetic life of a warrior (so where did he get that Rolex from, then?). To support this, he cites a rather unconvincing array of anecdotal and academic evidence - relying to a large extent on that ignorant Orientalist, Bernard Lewis.

Scheuer is praised for at least facing up to the reality of US policies and what they are doing to the world. He does, it is true. In fact, he is unflinchingly, brutally honest about it - which is why he has been mislabelled by some as a deranged liberal who wants the US to be wiped out by swarms of plane-crashers and bombers. He repeatedly insists that bin Laden is not merely making it up when he condemns US policies in Palestine, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and elsewhere: he is deadly serious, and it is a mistake to hide behind such cant as 'they're just jealous and hate us cos we're rich n free n they're not'. He suggests that although Al Qaeda is very much interested in creating a new Caliphate in the Muslim world, it has never sought to conquer new land - it insists on 'reclaiming' land colonised by Western imperialism (Iraq, Palestine), or indeed Western culture (Turkey). That won't reassure residents of Constantinople, but he isn't trying to reassure anyone. They do see themselves as opposing injustice to Muslims, and their solution is what they regard as a defensive Jihad to retake what was lost when the British terminated the Ottoman Empire. Scheuer argues that it is the reality of what the US has done to the Muslim world that is inspiring this 'global revolt'. That is, it is US policies which cause Muslims to hate America, not "our freedoms".

But what is Scheuer's solution to this? He is an old-fashioned realpolitiker in many respects. He says he would consider revising some of these policies, to see which ones are really congruent with US interests, but that essentially "the Islamists cannot be appeased" and therefore the US must "get used to and good at killing". Far from being an 'anti-terrorist' operation, the 'war on terror' is a civilizational confrontation, and since the US is not about to depart significantly from its present way of life, "we will have to use military force in the way Americans used it on the fields of Virginia and Georgia, in France and on Pacific islands, and from skies over Tokyo and Dresden. Progress will be measured by the pace of killing and, yes, by body counts ... The piles of dead will include as many or more civilians as combatants because our enemies wear no uniforms."

Oh, but there's more: "Killing in large numbers is not enough to defeat our Muslim foes. With killing must come a Sherman-like razing of infrastructure. Roads and irrigation systems; bridges, power plants, and crops in the field; fertilizer plants and grain mills ... Land mines, moreover, will be massively reintroduced to seal borders". And US soldiers and their families had better stop whining too: "each US soldier put in harm's way goes there not just for country, but for pay and other recompense" and therefore "the nation sends you where you are needed and you die if necessary. Only the US Marines always recall this truism and go quietly and efficiently about the business of killing". Now, this is only necessary if the US is to stand by its present policies, but Scheuer doesn't shy away from this - rather he argues that there are only two choices: either the US can continue to delude itself about counter-terrorism and adhering to "canting words about international comity, civilised norms and high moral standards" or it can "act to preserve our way of life - what Mr Lincoln said is man's last best hope for self-government - by engaging in whatever martial behaviour is needed". Two choices: suicide or murder.

Even if America changes its policies, as far as Scheuer is concerned "we are not choosing between war and peace". If policies are changed, this will only reduce the expenditure of "treasure and blood" over time, but the war for now is inevitable, forced on America, liable to become more savage. And the only changes in policy that Scheuer is really interested in are those which may help US interests. He acknowledges what the US is doing to the world - but is a perfect Hobbesian in his surmisal of it, as he is about other things: "Like America or any state, Israel has a right to exist if it can defend itself or live peacefully with its neighbours".

Scheuer has grabbed attention thinks Iraq is the wrong war, while Afghanistan was the right one, a fairly commonplace view. But goodness knows where else the defense of US interests would take him, and with how much ferocity, if he had a say in matters. Despite his moderately isolationist proclivities, which advert to the casually spouted racist gibberish in the book, he is prepared for global conquest of fantastic proportions that, because it is totally unclad in doctrines about 'exporting democracy', would mantle a neocon's cheek with a blush of shame. And this man is hailed as antiwar?

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Saturday, July 23, 2005

"We are now satisfied...": filth shot an innocent man. posted by Richard Seymour

It didn't take long for the Evening Standard to have news stands saying 'Bomber Shot Dead on Tube'. Well, that headline will have to read 'Innocent Man Murdered by Police'.

Police admit they shot wrong man :

LONDON (Reuters) - Police admitted on Saturday they had shot dead the wrong man in a tragic error as they combed London for four men after attempted bomb attacks on the capital's transport system.

Plainclothes police chased the man onto an underground train on Friday after he ignored warnings to stop, shooting him five times in the head because they feared he was carrying a bomb and was going to detonate it.

"We are now satisfied that he was not connected with the incidents of Thursday 21st July 2005," police said on Saturday.


This poor guy was probably a terrified immigrant who had no tube ticket, and they shot his brains out even when they had him on the ground.

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Defend Jerry Hicks. posted by Richard Seymour

Life under New Labour is fabulous. The economy is rolling into recession under a mountain of personal debt, PFIs are emptying the public purse, wars are killing people abroad and now at home as well, the income gap is growing, more and more pensioners live in poverty, education is no longer free, the NHS is being run into the ground under a business model of administration that sees the health system as a machine that would work wonderfully if it weren't for patients... oh, and workers are still being shat on.

Jerry Hicks is a popular Amicus shop steward based at Rolls Royce's Bristol factory, known for his uncompromising stand on behalf of his workmates. Or he was. For Rolls Royce have now fired him, charging him with having led unofficial industrial action and "trying to influence an earlier internal disciplinary hearing". The charges are spurious, a blatant attempt at victimising an effective union activist. Union officials say that the charges are only being made because the bosses are angry about Jerry's successful defense of two fitters who were up before a disciplinary hearing five weeks before.

So, on Wednesday 20th July at 5.25pm, Jerry was summarily dismissed. The following day, the Day Shift was leafleted for a meeting. At this meeting it was decided that the workers would withdraw their labour, which they did: they put down their tools and walked out in protest. The Link Shift and the Night Shift did the same. In all, some 600 people joined the protest, which Jerry addressed. At 12.30pm, a full Combine Meeting of all Rolls Royce's sites took place, and it was decided that a) they'd write to the director, informing him that any and every measure deemed necessary to defend Jerry would be taken - including industrial action b) they'd send a delegation to seek a high-level meeting with the bosses and explain that this had set back industrial relations and it was now a 'them' and 'us' situation again, c) a financial levy would be set up at Rolls Royce factories to support the Bristol workers, d) Bristol stewards would be invited to speak off-site at other Rolls Royce factories, and e) letters would be sent to the leader of Amicus and other unions concerned what was taken to be an attack on trade unionism in Rolls Royce factories.

It is by no means obvious that the union leaders will be inclined to defend Mr Hicks in this situation, so he will need all the support he can get. I've got an address to send donations to, but I don't think it's the sort of thing one sticks up on a blog. However, what you can do is send messages of support to Jerry at, and you may as well also copy in Derek Simpson, leader of Amicus at

Even if, like me, you aren't allowed to have union representation, it is worth bearing in mind that when trade unions are attacked it affects us all. The extraoardinary gap in pay, the increasing casualisation of work, the shitty conditions, the lack of minimal adherence to safety regulations in many workplaces - these are all in large part a result of the way in which the unions have been attacked again and again for decades, particularly under Thatcher. Blair is continuing her regime of anti-union laws, but we can still fight back and win - as the postal workers showed not so long ago. And we can still support those who fight, because it is still our fight.

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It's the occupation, stupid! posted by Richard Seymour

Excellent article by Scott Horton with the American academic Robert Pape talking about the causes of suicide bombing:

[Robert Pape] said that after 9/11 he assumed the Koran might contain clues toward understanding what motivates a person to commit a suicide bombing. For his book, however, Pape started with the bombings themselves – every documented case between 1980 and 2004 – and noticed some suggestive common threads. Foreign occupation, it seems – not religion – is the core motivating factor behind suicide terrorism. From Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank to Sikhs in India, from the jihadists of 9/11 to the secular Marxist Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka – for all of these, it is "a nationalistic response."


Professor Pape says that while al-Qaeda terrorists are twice as likely to be from a country where radical Salafist/Wahhabist Islam is widely practiced, they are 10 times more likely to have come from a country that has U.S. troops stationed in it ... according to a Saudi poll after 9/11, 95 percent of educated Saudi males between the ages of 25 and 41 agreed with bin Laden's goal of driving Americans off their holy land.

Those who think it is simply a result of perverted, poisonous ideologies - by which they mean political Islam - might want to consider that:

No suicide bombers have ever come from Iran, where there are no foreign troops. Iraq had never seen a suicide bombing on its soil before U.S. troops arrived in 2003. While Ayatollah Khomeini spent the 1980s criticizing American culture, many people agreed, but none resorted to suicide bombing. When bin Laden cited U.S. forces in the land of Mecca and Medina, men hopped on planes with knives.

For the chronologists, forever reminding us that 9/11 and Bali preceded Iraq, a note or two:

As Harry Browne has pointed out, history does not begin on 9/11. In fact, American intervention in the Middle East dates back to 1919, when U.S. participation in World War I helped turn the entire region over to the British and the French, who then drew borders to their own liking for the states of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, what was Palestine, etc.

Since the Second World War, the U.S. government has dominated each of the Middle Eastern states at one time or another, and consistently a majority of them. It has supported bloody coups; backed fascist monsters like Shah Reza Pahlavi, Saddam Hussein, and Hosni Mubarak; armed and financed both sides of wars; propped up puppet kings, sultans, and emirs; and helped the Israeli government kill, steal, and destroy with our money. To top it off, it has now waged a bloody war and a terrible blockade of Iraq – all from bases in the "land of two Holy Places," the Arabian Peninsula.

And finally, a few words for Jack Straw, who asked about the motives of the bombers in London, noted that "[the terrorists] struck in Kenya, in Tanzania, in Indonesia, in the Yemen. They struck this weekend in Turkey, which was not supporting our action in Iraq. It is the terrorists who will seek any excuse whatsoever for their action":

The terrorists struck Americans in Kenya, Tanzania, Indonesia, and Yemen. Locals who were also killed were collateral damage, so to speak. As for the attack in Turkey, it was committed by our allies the Kurds. Why didn't Straw go ahead and mention the Mujahedin e-Khalq terrorist cult of Islamo-Marxists that the coalition of the willing sent into Iran to bomb civilians only a few weeks back?

Now, all of this flies directly in the face of the liberal bombers' expectations, who would doubtless take these explanatory models as somehow apologetic. But I haven't been impressed by their attempts to understand suicide bombing. Norman Geras, for instance, when trying to explain Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel [contra Terry Eagleton], approvingly cited Linda Grant :

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.

Unfortunately, she - well, let's put it kindly and say she misremembered the 'research' she was quoting, as I discovered when I e-mailed her.

The only kind of thesis that such people will allow is one that focuses on narcisstic motives or, ex nihilo, a 'fascistic' ideology. Anything else amounts to apologetics from 'the root causes brigade'. Well, those 'apologists' now include an Israeli think-tank and the Saudi government, whose research has discovered that:

the vast majority of these foreign fighters [in Iraq] are not former terrorists and became radicalized by the war itself.


The studies, which together constitute the most detailed picture available of foreign fighters, cast serious doubt on President Bush's claim that those responsible for some of the worst violence are terrorists who seized on the opportunity to make Iraq the "central front" in a battle against the United States.

No matter how much evidence mounts in Iraq, Palestine or elsewhere; no matter what intelligence or establishment think-tanks say; no matter what the public may say - the liberal bombers will forever shirk responsibility for the consequences of actions which they supported. Hence, the witch-hunts, the brow-beating, the shrill accusations, the hysterical outbursts, and the insistence on pursuing any line of thought that could potentially lead away from and change the argument.

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Friday, July 22, 2005

Disaster triumphant. posted by Richard Seymour

Watching BBC News last night, I heard Andrew Marr describe how the Prime Minister had suffered no significant political backlash from the previous attacks and that the only person who blamed him for the attacks had been George Galloway - that is, he claimed that most of "civilised society" was one one side of the argument and George Galloway on the other. Forget for a moment that two-thirds of Britons accepted Galloway's argument. Forget also, if you like, the number of vox populi interviews on the news this morning which make the point about 'the war on terror' as a causal factor in these attacks. And forget that Alan Simpson MP put out a statement saying more or less exactly the same as Galloway, on behalf of Labour Against the War. That's Marr's purview - he is a Blairite, and tends to judge the range of political debate according to what parliamentary politicians are saying: the right kind of parliamentary politicians. This is, after all, the man who suddenly discovered that the Prime Minister had grown a few feet after the 'end' of the war in Iraq.

The next point he made was that this situation might not last, and real questions may emerge in Parliament. Not according to a rather shrill Polly Toynbee :

In the growing fear and anger at what more may be to come, apologists or explainers for these young men can expect short shrift.

I get a kick out of that conflation between apologetics and explanation. Seriously. It makes me want to cut a rug. Makes we want to boogie. For Ms Toynbee, if you read the article, this is about the Enlightenment being under attack. Frankly, I find this unconvincing. Anyone who has read Adorno & Horkheimer's Dialectic of Enlightenment will have a sense of how Englightenment contains its own dehumanising, destructive apparatus. An immanent critique of Baconian science and Cartesian rationality, the book begins by noting, following two World Wars and a stupendous genocide, that "Enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant". How did the Nazis proceed to exterminate their designated opponents, except through the use of science and technology? The justifications for their actions were rationalistic in form if not content: they were, in their own view, 'scientific' racists.

Similarly, the descendants of al-Zawahiri who carry out various attacks on civilians across the globe tend to be educated, and as rationalistic in pursuit of their goals as the early Christian slave-merchants were. William Dalrymple went through a few instances: al-Zawahiri is a former doctor, Mohammed Atta was a town planning expert, Hassan al-Banna was a teacher. These were (are) religious ideologues, but they are not medievalists. That particular brand of Islamism, the one which has worked with the CIA, Mossad and the Pakistani ISI, is as much a part of modernity as the neo-fundamentalism of Bush and many millions of his voters, and the ultra-religious Zionism that Israel Shahak wrote about. Conflagration down-town New York is part of the same world as the destruction of Fallujah or the razing of towns and cities in Palestine.

Toynbee must imagine, as so many do, that ardent religious dedication is incompatible with Enlightenment, rationality and science: Robert Boyle, Descartes, Bacon, the early Jesuits, the Academie des Sciences and the Royal Society would have disagreed. RK Merton did not fabricate the predominance of Puritanism in the sciences, whether or not you accept the problematic thetic relation that he draws such facts into. In fact, rationalism draws from magical and religious convictions (see the invaluable work of Frances Yates).

Part of the game is given away in Polly Toynbee's equation of Omar Bakri Mohammed with Ian Paisley. Neither would be entirely flattered, but this does bring to mind the usual glib liberal gesture of bemoaning the influence of religion in Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine, Kashmir etc. As if this explained the problem; as if religion was the crucial determining factor. I don't know how many times I have explained to wide-eyed Londoners that the Troubles in Northern Ireland had nothing to do with religion, that Catholic-Protestant axis is merely an incidental inflection on a national conflict. It was not to do with 'the divided communities' 'tribalism', 'sectarianism' or any of the rest of it. Religious themes certainly make themselves felt: on July 12th, it will often be an effigy of the Pope that is burnt on top of the bonfire, although the usual candidate is an 'IRA man'. But the root of the conflict is a legacy of colonialism, and any attempt to reduce it to religion or zealotry or anything else misses the fucking point.

It would be a considerable stretch to say that the lover's tiff between the US and Al Qaeda has nothing to do with religion, since both sides of the 'divided communities' (see how you like it) have use of religious justification. But essentially, this is a fight over the presence of US troops in the Middle East and the repeated wars that the US have launched. No doubt (and by way of mentioning the patently obvious), the bin Ladenists who claim to wage this war on behalf of Muslims are as far from 'liberators' as one can imagine. They are extreme reactionaries, bigots and thugs. They would have nothing to offer anyone, whether in Iraq or Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, were it not for the rising tide of thwarted outrage and anger among Muslims. And that, I'll repeat for the chronologists, did not begin in 2003 - it began with colonialism and Empire, and has continued with repeated imperial subventions in Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Egypt etc etc.

A modest suggestion, then. It would be both just and wise to - as a start - terminate Empire, shut down Guantanamo, Bagram and Abu Ghraib, close the overseas troops bases, replace the CIA and MI6 with modest defensive intelligence forces, disembark from the thermonuclear cruise to global mega-death, cease funding dictators and death squads, cease arming the world, stop manipulating democratic elections and trying to overthrow elected leaders, stop trying to force countries to make their economies ripe for being fucked, and use all the money that otherwise sustains the overbearing national security states to bolster welfare and public services, and pay reparations to Africa for the slave trade and centuries of imperial ravage. In the meantime, as a reasonable corrollary, countries could cooperate globally in a policing operation to catch and try those who plan assaults on civilians. In disengaging from imperial commitments, and ceasing their involvement in the mass murder of civilians themselves, our governments could actually try 'Al Qaeda' suspects without so much of the overbearing stench of hypocrisy. Just a suggestion.

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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Unite Against Wickedness. posted by Richard Seymour

So call me insensitive.

Robin at has explained why he signed the statement by Unite Against Terror , a project that seems to have emanated from the bowels of Labour Friends of Iraq (I'd love to link to their gorgeous website, but some evil person has hacked it at the moment).

Not that anyone gives a flying fuck in a high wind, let me explain why I'm not putting my name to that pile of fucking shit. The first few reasons are only half-serious. 1) My co-signers would be largely, though not exclusively, a pile of hand-wringing warmongers whose signing of such a statement is hypocritical and an attempt at self-exculpation. 2) I hate joining the latest narcissistic "I'm a good guy, really" club. I'm not a good guy. I'll inject your new born baby with smack if someone pays me enough to do it: that's not a rash, that's track marks. 3) When Robin says "There is nothing in their statement any reasonable person can disagree with", my immediate reaction is "I bet I can think of a few things".

And so I can, and did.

Before I go any further, however, I want to make it clear that even if it was true that the statement contained nothing any reasonable person could disagree with, one still wouldn’t necessarily, automatically sign it. The statement has to be worth something politically, not merely a pedantic restatement of what everyone already knows. It has to have some effect: political speech is conative or it is nothing. Robin says:

As I’ve pointed out before, they have a tendency to paint their opponents as ‘fellow travellers’, and this case is no exception. So let’s not fall into their trap. Sign their statement, and let’s carry on the debate.

We are not under obligation to sign their statement. If they want to throw around lies and slanders about the Left, that is their business, and we shouldn’t be affected by a cowardly attempt to force us into pleading innocence. The fact that this is precisely what the statement appears to be is a perfectly excellent reason for not signing it.

I find a number of problems with the statement, as advertised above. Aside from the cringe-worthy lachrymosity and the cloying self-regard (‘hand holding hand’ – there just isn’t enough food in the world to produce enough vomit), there are a number of straightforwardly inaccurate statements. For instance:

The road to a just solution in Israel-Palestine is signposted by 'mutual recognition' and 'political dialogue' not the blind alley of terrorism.

I don’t accept that ‘mutual recognition’ would be a just settlement. Israel is a racist state. Its construction as ‘the Jewish State’ is the problem. It is what lay behind the ethnic cleansing and continual injustice toward the Palestinians: seizure of territory, reducing the Arab population, forming a Jewish majority. It is what lies behind the present entrenchment in the West Bank, even as a great deal of hullabaloo is made about the Gaza ‘withdrawal’. It is what lies behind Israel’s aggressive foreign policy (ie occupation, conquest, the seizure of territory and resources). It is the reason why settlements have been pushed and protected by the Israeli government and military – at the last count, these heavily militarised settlements covered 40% of the West Bank. At every attempt at ‘political dialogue’, Israel has demonstrated its contempt toward the notion of Palestinian statehood and in everything else it has done, it has shown that it doesn’t wish to co-exist with a free Palestine, even within the pre-1967 borders.

Then there’s this:

This terrorist violence is not a response by 'Muslims' to the injustices perpetrated upon them by 'the west'. Western democracies have been responsible for some of the ills of this world but not for the terrorist murders of these deluded Bin-Ladenists.

This is manifest bullshit. The terrorism of which they speak may not be only a response to injustices perpetrated on the Muslim world by the West, but it is partly that. Only the congenitally purblind, or the hand-washing warmongers, could fail to see it.

Frankly, this ridiculous campaign has absolutely nothing to do with uniting against ‘terror’. It is very selective about which terror it opposes. It opposes that carried out by a variety of groups inspired by a reactionary kind of Islamism. It doesn’t oppose that carried out by far right Colombian militias. It doesn’t show any solidarity with trade unionists and peasants being murdered by those terrorists. It doesn’t oppose the terrorism of states against civilian populations: the targeting of civilians by the Russian government in Chechnya; the massacre in Fallujah; the use of death squads in the ‘new Iraq’; the repeated assaults on Palestinians. About these, it is wordless – and culpably so. For a statement that supposedly unites against ‘terror’, it says only what is all too easy to say, and deliberately says nothing that could offend Mr Bush or Mr Blair. Read the statements by those who signed it – most of those who did so are obviously only interested in attacking the Left.

I’m afraid I haven’t gone far enough. The Palestinians are right to fight the Israelis, and I support their being armed with the tanks and helicopters that their opponents have. The Iraqi resistance is right to fight the occupiers, and I support attacks on UK & US troops. The resistance in Chechnya is right to fight the Russians, and I support attacks on the Russian army. I am a supporter – nay, glorifier – of terrorism. Potentially, under new legislation, I could be locked up or deported – if only my skin were brown and my face bearded.

That still isn’t far enough. Those who have signed this statement have largely been apologists for a new wave of imperial aggression. They have militantly and steadfastly avoided studying the intentions and ideology of the self-professed ‘liberators’, a gesture they would never reproduce if the agents had black skin and the President was a fundamentalist in some other style. They have even gone to some lengths to cover up the results of the crimes of imperialism, insisting that we blame anyone but those who launched the war. They are ‘apologists amongst us’. They are complicit in mass murder.

But wait, there’s more. Blair undertook an aggressive war, knowing that it potentially could have dire consequences for citizens here. Given that the war was unjust and given that we were not allowed a say in the decision, I consider him co-responsible for what happened. But those who apologised for the war, supported it in their clamorous, anathematizing fashion, they call us apologists? Eat my fucking mushroom cloud.

To put it briefly, those who have the nerve, having supported this venture in Iraq, to still come out with lies, slander, innuendo and accusations against those who opposed it deserve to have their charges thrown back in their face. Fuck their statements and fuck their whining and griping. I ain’t signing shit.

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Don't panic: redux. posted by Richard Seymour

Well, this is fucking weird. Three 'dummy' explosions. One bus with its windows blown out on the top deck where no one was sitting. One reported injury at Warren Street but no fatalities as yet. Waterloo Station was temporarily closed, but it's opened up again. A bunch of offices in the City have evacuated, and UCH has been stormed by armed police after some bloke allegedly left a bag near Warren Street and ran off. And :

Police in London say they are not treating the incidents as "a major incident yet".

One report says the guy with the rucksack was 'English' (or, to put it another way, white) - so possibly not an Al Qaeda operative, although you never know what with the 'apologists amongsts us' and all that.

The Guardian says that the bus which allegedly had its windows blown out appeared to be intact on film. In fact, the picture shown on Sky appears to confirm this .

Some interesting updates on The Guardian's newsblog .

Looks like a collection of incidents deliberately intended to cause panic, which would be congruent with the following possibilities: a) some guys 'inspired' by Al Qaeda are trying to stir some more shit up, b) far right racists are trying to create panic and a backlash against Muslims. There are other possibilities, of course, some of which would be poor taste to mention, but my naturally suspicious mind tends me toward the latter at the moment.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Bone China. posted by Richard Seymour

In the interests of grabbing my attention and getting traffic from my site, the Bionic Octopus has been accusing your truly of wanting to bone China . It isn't true of course, unless China has a tenner on him, but I'll happily oblige. Ladies and gentlemen, the Bionic Octopus proudly presents an exclusive article from the Evening Standard's 'sexiest man of the year', China Mieville.

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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Nazi scumbag snuffs it. posted by Richard Seymour

Some obvious points about the death of John Tyndall.

The only bad news here is that there were 'no suspicious circumstances'. It should be been prolonged torture followed by beheading a la Tawhid wal Jihad. It won't be good enough to see him buried. He doesn't deserve the peace of the grave, just as he never merited the dirty, disastrous fuck that produced him. It was a wasted effort, and a smart doctor should have tied the umbilical cord around the screaming brat's neck and strangled him upon birth.

One of the most pernicious, revolting individuals in British politics, John Tyndall began his political life in AK Chesterton's 'League of Empire Loyalists'.

Blustering Nazi toff.

It was not quite Nazi enough for him. He left and tried to form a 'National Labour Party', although Labour successfully denied him the privilege of the name. Instead, the group merged with the 'White Defense League' to form the old BNP - meanwhile, he joined a private army called Spearhead, modelled on the SA in Nazi Germany. While he later claimed to regret his involvement in it, he didn't shrink from calling his magazine 'Spearhead'.

He left the old BNP to set up the National Socialist Movement, and wrote a book in 1962 entitled 'The Authoritarian State', which claimed that liberal democracy was a tool of Jewish world domination, which made his later participation in elections all the more bizarre. He founded the 'Great Britain Movement' in 1964, but it did not expand beyond a few apparatchiks and 'intellectuals'. The 'National Front' was founded in 1967, which Tyndall and most GBM members succeeded in joining: and for the first time since the defeat of the Nazis, the far right began to gain a fatal foothold on the streets and, later, in the ballot box. An enormous wave of racist attacks ensued, as politics was increasingly racialised by mainstream politicians - Labour was the first to clamp down in non-white immigration, followed by Heath's administration. Powell made his 'rivers of blood' speech in 1968, and dockers marched in support of his anti-immigration bile.

The initial electoral results for the National Front were strong - they won votes in the thousands. British society was entering a crisis unseen since the end of the war: unemployment began to rise and as profits fell, bosses and the government tried to make ordinary people pay with wage freezes, cuts, and curtailments of trade union rights. Most workers shifted dramatically to the Left, but in the 1974 elections in February, the National Front won almost 77,000 votes. In the October election, they took approximately 114,000 votes. When in 1976 some Malawi Asians arrived in Britain, they were met with front-page vitriol and slander from every filthy national news rag - including the Daily Mirror and the Sun. In the Blackburn council elections, the National Front took 40% of the vote, and later took 15,000 votes in a Leicester bye-election. Racist attacks proliferated, and it wasn't until the Anti-Nazi League was formed in 1977 that the trend began to be reversed.

Serious set-backs in the 1979 election - in which every National Front candidate lost their deposit - resulted in the organisation splitting into several minute sects. In Greater London in 1981, the combined far right vote was just 2.1%, although the tempo of racist violence continued. Tyndall founded the new British National Party in 1982. He maintained the organisation as a neo-Nazi party, a violent outfit which would advance its political agenda, as Nick Griffin later put it, "with well-directed fists and boots". That organisation reacted to years of defeat, with only one brief victory in Poplar in 1993, by deposing Tyndall in 1999 - thereby replacing a formerly jack-booted toff with a country bumpkin who had a glass eye. Griffin made the organisation more media friendly, toned down the Nazi rhetoric - despite himself having built his reputation in the violent margins of the far right movement, and having been given a suspended two-year sentence for incitement to racial hatred when he published a magazine - The Rune - in which he accused Jews of controlling the media and non-too-subtly called for the hanging of non-whites. Tyndall himself was kicked out briefly for being a trouble-maker, although he had been reinstated when he was caught on BBC cameras making anti-Semitic remarks about Michael Howard.

His legacy, if the term can be used without degrading it, has been to contribute to the rehabilitation of a death-dealing movement, one whose motifs are gangs controlling the streets, ghettos, concentration camps and technologically assisted genocide. That movement should be interred with him. In the short run, we can fight it, wherever it emerges. In the long-run, we have to terminate the ruinous, crisis-ridden social system that has been built on the blood of black slaves, that nurtures racism, and that - when seriously challenged - will accomodate and seek the most insane protection racket in history* if it will only restore profits and rein in the workers.

*Cf Brecht's The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

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'Apologists among us': Two thirds of Britons blame Blair. posted by Richard Seymour

Well! I sort of expected that this was not a minority view:

Two-thirds of Britons believe there is a link between Tony Blair's decision to invade Iraq and the London bombings despite government claims to the contrary, according to a Guardian/ICM poll published today.
The poll makes it clear that voters believe further attacks in Britain by suicide bombers are also inevitable, with 75% of those responding saying there will be more attacks.

The research suggests the government is losing the battle to persuade people that terrorist attacks on the UK have not been made more likely by the invasion of Iraq.

According to the poll, 33% of Britons think the prime minister bears "a lot" of responsibility for the London bombings and a further 31% "a little".

Only 28% of voters agree with the government that Iraq and the London bombings are not connected.

And some light encouragement for those, like myself, who have pledged not to take one of those bloody ID cards:

But the poll also shows that despite the attacks, there is increasingly limited public support for ID cards.

Only 53% of those questioned said they believed ID cards should be brought in to help in the fight against terrorism - a fall on previous findings before and after the bombings.

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Monday, July 18, 2005

Compost & carrion. posted by Richard Seymour

Via Third Avenue I discovered this clueless effort from Normblog . Norm isn't too happy with those who think the war on Iraq was a contributing cause of the bombings in London. So? Well, he combines this affront to common sense with a rather feeble analogy:

Just as if you were to hear from a distraught friend that her husband (or lover, mother, son) had just been murdered while walking in a 'bad' neighbourhood, and were to respond by saying how upset you were to hear it (or maybe even to give that part a miss) but that it was extremely foolish of the deceased to have been walking there on his or her own.

Honey, please! It's got nothing to do with that. I live in London, you bloody great compost heap, and many of the people I speak to who live here share my sense that the government bears part of the responsibility for this. Do you think we're all sitting here, kicking ourselves for having the foolishness to walk and live here? Maybe I'm silently gloating over my own foolishness and wishing I'd taken that tube from Edgware Road as I'd intended, so that I'd get my just deserts. What silliness on Norm's part. Try another analogy. Wait, Shuggy does (in Third Avenue's comments box):

Other analogies make the same point but here's one I was thinking of: if your house was burgled because you left the window open, people would say, "What do you expect?" but as you say, it's not a zero-sum game and people would still think the house-breaker was wrong. But if you left the window open and the burglar stole all your property and then shat on the carpet, killed your dog and put it's severed head in your bed, people would be so horrified that they would forget the leaving the window open bit. Methinks the bombings are like this. Those of us who maintain Iraq isn't the cause don't think the bombers couldn't have used this as their motivation; it's just that nothing in this world can possibly justify this - so ultimately, the "causes" lie internal to the perpetrator.

Wrong again. It's got nothing to do with justification. The bombings in London had no justification - no one, neither the Socialist Worker, nor The Guardian, nor George Galloway, nor Chatham House has said otherwise. The fact that these people are incapable of understanding the distinction between the government acting in ways that put citizens at risk, and groups of radical Islamists turning that risk into reality, is alarming to say the least.

It is not, as Norm suggests, that we are 'apologists' who simply wish to dissolve or attenuate the responsibility for the atrocities that accrues to those who planned and carried out the bombings. It is simply that we don't care to reduce it to that, ignoring the role that our criminal, barbaric war in Iraq had in this. If in some fantasy world, this war had been just, then arguably we should accept that there would be an increased risk. Isn't this exactly what the apologists for war are saying to us? Our government is responsible to us, and responsible for securing our safety. If it is known that undertaking a particular action is likely to increase the risk of us being blown to bits, then we perhaps deserve to have a say in whether we think it just or wise. And if we don't have a say in that, and the risks materialise, don't expect us to pretend we aren't angry about it - with the bombers, but also with a government that seems impervious to registering our needs.

And let's get this 'chronology' business straight as well while we're at it. Yes, a nightclub in Bali was blown up before the war in Iraq. 9/11 happened before the war on Iraq. But why stop there? Did not the European and particularly the British destruction and usurpation of the Muslim world under the rubric of Empire precede the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hassan al-Banna? Wasn't Mossadegh overthrown and replaced with the Shah before Islamism in Iran was even a twinkle in the Ayatollah's eye? Ideas don't just develop from thin air, and saying so doesn't absolve anyone who has reprehensible ideas of responsibility for them or for implementing them.

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Trough of Lard snuffs it. posted by Richard Seymour

I have my own personal, glowing memory of the late Ted Heath . At the height of the Stephen Lawrence scandal, I happened to be on Question Time with him - although, curiously enough, I had to sit with the serfs in the audience, while Teddy got his own spot-lit enclave in front of the cameras, next to David Steel, Polly Toynbee and Tony Benn. Asking what I took to be some incendiary questions about 'institutional racism' in the police, I got a 'canteen culture' answer from Ms Toynbee followed by a phlegm-ridden plea from Heath on behalf of the police. They were doing their best - indeed, had been since the Scarman report. Something like that. If I'd been close enough, I'd have jammed a squirrel down his throat. Instead, I worked him over with a few statistics and sat back with a vague feeling of smugness. Then, the bastard, Tony Benn began his contribution by saying "No, Teddy'sh right, you can't blame the p'lice". Fucker.

Bloviating windbag croaks it.

Teddy wasn't right. I don't know if he was ever right. Thatcher describes him, apparently, as 'the first modern Conservative', which is accurate in its barmy little way. He was the first post-war Tory leader to try and substantially reverse the post-war consensus: displacing direct taxation onto indirect tax; attempting - ultimately without success - to seriously bludgeon the unions and legally curtail their scope for resisting wage cuts; being spectacularly, unembarrassedly ugly. But in some ways, he was a very old-fashioned kind of Tory. His government imposed internment in Northern Ireland with his approval - torture was routinely practised at internment camps, a practise still deployed in certain imperialist interventions. His government sent the paras in to murder Catholics - precisely how aware Heath was of the details of the planned assault is difficult to determine, since during his appearance before Saville enquiry he temporised, obfuscated, blustered, contradicted himself and generally found his memory failing him at crucial moments. It is clear that whenever the massacre was done, Heath had no qualms about covering for those responsible. He asked Lord Widgery to chair an inquiry into the events, but warned him that a propaganda war was being fought and that the morale of the army was at stake.

His administration was also old-fashioned enough to allow Home Secretary Reginald Maudling to impose a new law to clamp down on "coloured immigration", a deliberate sop to the Powellites. And his views on Europe would today see him blasted as a Federast and a Europhile by most modern Tories.

One down, one to go.

Still, his history in government now reconciles me to his spit-flecked performance on Question Time. After all, if you've presided over a government that shoots Catholics, imprisons trade unionists and smacks dusky immigrants about, what's a bit of over-zealous racist policing? Heath's dead. In time-honoured Tomb style, I say fuck im.

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"Bombings linked to Iraq" posted by Richard Seymour

The Royal Institute of International Affairs, known colloquially as Chatham House, has declared its view on the London bombings:

Britain's involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan contributed to the terrorist attacks in London, a respected independent thinktank on foreign affairs, the Chatham House organisation, says today.
According to the body, which includes leading academics and former civil servants among its members, the key problem in the UK for preventing terrorism is that the country is "riding as a pillion passenger with the United States in the war against terror".

It says Britain's ability to carry out counter-terrorism measures has also been hampered because the US is always in the driving seat in deciding policy.


In the most politically sensitive finding, Chatham House, which used to be known as the Royal Institute of International Affairs, concludes there is "no doubt" the invasion of Iraq has "given a boost to the al-Qaida network" in "propaganda, recruitment and fundraising", while providing an ideal targeting and training area for terrorists. "Riding pillion with a powerful ally has proved costly in terms of British and US military lives, Iraqi lives, military expenditure and the damage caused to the counter-terrorism campaign."

The least interesting aspect of this article is where it tautologically notes that Blair is disavowing such a connection. Somewhat more interesting is the fact, not noted in the article, that Chatham House receives a good portion of its funding by the Foreign Office, is thoroughly imbricated with the foreign policy establishment, provides recruits, seminars, interfaces and the rest of it for the FO and security services. In other words, although it does have a certain amount of organisational independence, this view does appear to emanate directly from the upper echelons of the establishment.

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Sunday, July 17, 2005

Iraq: the bullet and the ballot box, part II. posted by Richard Seymour

I've written at some length about this before. New revelations have emerged, which confirm that suspicion that the US intervened to support its preferred candidates in Iraq's demonstration election:

In the months before the Iraqi elections in January, President George W. Bush approved a plan to provide covert support to certain Iraqi candidates and political parties, but he rescinded this because of congressional opposition, current and former government officials said.

In a response to questions about a report on the plan in the next issue of The New Yorker magazine, Frederick Jones, the spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, said that "in the final analysis, the president determined and the United States government adopted a policy that we would not try - and did not try - to influence the outcome of the Iraqi election by covertly helping individual candidates for office."

The statement appeared to leave open the question of whether any covert help was provided to parties favored by Washington.

The New Yorker article, by Seymour Hersh, reports that the administration proceeded with the covert plan over the congressional objections. Several senior Bush administration officials disputed this, although they recalled renewed discussions within the administration last fall about how the United States might counter what was seen as extensive Iranian support to pro-Iranian Shiite parties.

Any clandestine U.S. effort to influence the elections or to provide particular support to candidates or parties seen as amenable to working with the United States would have run counter to the Bush administration's assertions that the vote would be free and unfettered.


Despite the denials by some Bush administration officials on Saturday, others who took part in or were briefed on the discussion said they could not rule out the possibility that the United States and its allies might have provided secret aid to augment the broad, overt support provided to Iraqi candidates and parties by the State Department, through organizations like the International Democratic Institute.


Officials and former officials familiar with the debate inside the White House last year said that after considerable debate, the president's national security team recommended that he sign a secret, formal authorization for covert action to influence the election, called a "finding." They said that Bush either had already signed it or was about to when objections were raised in Congress. Ultimately, he rescinded the decision, the officials said.


Time magazine first reported in October 2004 that the administration had encountered congressional opposition over a plan to provide covert support to Iraqi candidates. The New Yorker account detailed more elements of that debate.

The current and former officials interviewed Saturday amplified how Bush had initially approved the covert plan, and how the White House met objections as it notified congressional leaders, as required under the law.

This is war, and this is what is to be expected. Aside from the various things I mention in the linked posts up top, it is worth adding that perhaps the most obvious propaganda war - the Balkans War in the Spring-Summer of 1999, which can be seen as a template for future media wars - involved not only the use of PR agencies, but also the setting up of an International Public Information Group (IPI), whose role was to spin and distort news stories, squelch and suppress uncomplimentary stories about the US, and particularly bludgeon those that may reach an American public.

Similarly, when neoconservative ideologues speak of needing to rebuild an embattled US hegemony and legitimacy, they aren't impotently expatiating. It is a serious problem for the US: however cold, empty and windy the latest avatar of the Founding Fathers is, they are not merely whistling through the breeze and beating their gums together.

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