Monday, October 31, 2005

The Politics of Human Rights. posted by Richard Seymour

The list of names is familiar enough: Bernard Kouchner, Adam Michnik, Jose Ramos-Horta, Joschka Fischer, Christopher Hitchens, Norman Geras etc. These are all, in various ways and to various degrees, former revolutionaries who have come to support US imperialism as the best means of terminating bestial regimes, rather than seeing that imperialism as a bestial regime in itself. There are various ideological reference points here: Kosovo, Rwanda and Srebrenica. The first, an example of successful 'surgical' military action stopping what is still referred to as "genocide", the second an example of the failure of non-intervention, and the third an example of belated intervention.

Stephen Holmes, writing for The Nation, has an occasionally sharp and insightful review of recent books by Paul Berman and David Reiff, a pair of 'humanitarian interventionists' currently being skewered by their own moralism. Of these two authors, Reiff seems to be much more interesting, and not only because he has flipped 180 degrees from being a fervent interventionist to professing that he is "no longer an interventionist". Holmes chastises Reiff for claiming that human rights is the new ideology of imperialism, but I happen to think that Reiff has a point, which I'll come to explaining. Holmes also regrets Reiff's point that many of those now opposed to the war would have supported it if Clinton was behind the wheel, and that part of what animates the softer antiwar liberals is a "narcissism of small differences". Again, I think Holmes is wrong and Reiff right. If Clinton had waged this war, or even Al Gore, there would have been a chorus of clucking liberal apologists much broader than that minute coalition of deluded former lefties that rallied behind Bush, and the example of Kosovo is instructive in that. Holmes objects to Reiff's assault on Samantha Powers, in which the former says Powers' arguments are "a recipe for a recapitulation in the twenty-first century of the horrors of nineteen-century colonialism." Reiff is right, but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

The trouble with human rights, then. In itself, a codified set of rules about how human beings should be treated is both valuable and necessary. However, Reiff is right that human rights as a discourse was appropriated by imperialism, and the reason it could do this is that it attempts to ground politics in something essentially apolitical. Bernard Kouchner argues that "Everywhere, human rights are human rights. Freedom is freedom. Suffering is suffering." Political contexts are eschewed, and instead shocking instances of brutality are interpreted as attesting to something constant in human nature that must be suppressed in various ways - usually be reducing the political sphere, since it is precisely in the domain of democratic possibility that governments can be beholden to 'special' interests rather than universal ones. Human rights posits a passive, rather than an active subject, one capable of pain and suffering, but not of resistance and insurgency. It is a profoundly pessimistic and therefore conservative view of human nature. ("[H]umans need to be restrained from their inner darkness" according to Anthony Langlois.) It is, as Badiou argues, a nihilist doctrine in that the only thing that can really happen to one in the ethical discourse is death. It is Hobbesian in its political purview, inasmuch as human potency is seen as essentially negative and in need to subjection to powerful exiguous constraints. John Wadham of Liberty argues that "Elected parliaments in this country and around the world have shown that, on their own, they are not able to protect human rights properly.". This lead him to call for removing the power to appoint judges from the elected government and place it in the hands of "an independent appointments committee".

In this sense, the distance between 'realists' and 'idealists' is mainly fictitious: both share a view of human nature that is ultimately pessimistic and conservative. While the former privilege sovereignty as a means of structuring (and therefore limiting) international conflict, the latter take the Hobbesian step much further and reach for a globalised Leviathan, one whose awesome power can suppress and contain local conflict. (This happens to overcome a major conundrum in IR: why, if realists take their political doctrine from Hobbes, do they not go the essential step further and recommend a supranational Leviathan to manage 'anarchy'?) It is no accident that one of the major theorists of International Relations to demur from the classical conception of sovereignty, Stephen Krasner, is very close to the US government. Meanwhile, Niall Ferguson has argued that 'limited sovereignty' is often preferable to 'full sovereignty' in Iraq, due to the possibility of civil war and chaos. (Granted, he made that argument last year, but I bet he'd try it again if given the opportunity). Because, the abandonment or over-riding of state sovereignty in the present conjuncture can only mean the dictatorship of the powerful nations. The failure to investigate Nato crimes in Kosovo, which Human Rights Watch described as a "disturbing disregard for the principles of humanitarianism", renders the point absolutely eloquent.

Ultimately, the apologists for human rights imperialism prefer the Republic of Humanitarian Management to the Democracy of Risk. Hitchens' dinner-party ramblings, if the account of star-struck Michael Totten is accurate, are exemplary: he suggested that if Iraqis elected a new Taliban, the US would not let it take power. In a similar vein, he argued previously that he was glad that the secular forces had beaten the Islamists in Algeria during the 1990s. A war that had killed 100,000 people - often directly at the hands of Algerian security forces, often at the hands of the GIA, which many Algerian officials have suggested is the direct property of the intelligence services there - was initiated because the military overturned an election in which the Fronte Islamique du Salut actually appeared to be winning. Paddy Ashdown upholds the Republic of Humanitarian Management in Bosnia, exercising extraordinary colonial-style powers as he does so; Bernard Kouchner did the same in Kosovo until recently.

The invocation of 'risk' - the risk that Rwanda (but not the Congo, or Somalia, or Vietnam) might reappear - also provides a catch-all reasoning for war. Failure is simply impossible in the new human rights paradigm since, regardless of how many victims pile up, the absence of intervention would have led to a worse outcome. (And our bodies are always accidental, or the result of deviant action by individuals). The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, while dismissing the idea that there was a Serb campaign of genocide in Kosovo, nevertheless insisted that the true issue was that Milosevic’s campaign would have continued for years if there had not been intervention, creating more death and instability than the bombing did. This provides excellent post facto cover for literally any outcome that you can imagine, except, perhaps, the death of every single Albanian at Nato hands which would, at any rate, still have been an accident, the result of a few miscreants… etc etc. Similarly, when there were calls for a cessation or pause in the bombing of Afghanistan because the interval for providing aid to those made homeless in the Winter was closing with potentially drastic results - up to 100,000 deaths - countless ‘humanitarian’ reasons were presented for the refusal to do so, including the prospect of the Taliban marauding triumphantly round the country, killing many more people than the bombers could. Once again, if 100,000 deaths as a result of Western action would not have invalidated the humanitarian reasoning for war, then nothing could. We are in a similar situation in Iraq today.

To put it another way, the rooting of a political doctrine - liberal internationalism - in 'human rights' has enormous human rights consequences in itself, not just in countries that happen to be invaded, but also in the loci of imperial power. Perhaps very few of the humanitarian imperialists would be so foolish as to defend the 'humanitarian' intervention that is murdering Haiti: for some, that is probably because perfidious France is involved. However, they do defend what often is a drastic contraction of the political sphere, relegating democratic rights to political rights. As such, their shared ideology involves a formally disavowed form of political reaction, and it is no surprise that Hitchens and Ferguson can agree about the limitations of sovereignty in Iraq, while diverse figures like Nils Roseman, Mary Kaldor, Michael Pugh and John Wadham can agree that democracy presents a threat to human rights that needs to be curtailed. Geoffrey Robertson and Max Boot agree that state rights are useless. All of these claims are codified in Tony Blair's Doctrine of the International Community, in which cosmopolitan human rights trump state rights (this was formulated in a 1999 speech, roughly a year after the bombing of Yugoslavia, during which interval international legal scholars had been busily padding out the new thesis).

Human rights as an ideology is a potent mobiliser of support for imperialist interventions and, as mentioned, a formidable guarantor of legitimacy. David Chandler, in his perspicacious book, (From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention, Pluto Press, 2002), has a better suggestion. The active subject must be re-emphasised. Mass politics must be reinvigorated, and we must make the most of "people's capacity for autonomy and collective rational decision-making, a capacity denied by the proponents of ethical regulation from above". In short, what we need is not the anodyne commitment to a minimal campaign to 'Protect the Human' as Amnesty International has it - we need a revolution.

Update: Rob has an excellent reply, which corrects some of my stick-bending (it also misses the point at times, but is still well worth reading).

7:43:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

US kills 40 near al-Qaim. posted by Richard Seymour

On and on it goes:

The US military said it had targeted what it called an al-Qaeda cell leader in an air strike near Karabilah, on the border with Syria.

US officials insisted it was a precision strike designed to avoid civilian casualties.

But doctors at a hospital in the nearby town of Qaim said there were more than 40 dead, including women and children.

Looks like there's another hospital needs occupying.

12:35:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

The Chomsky-Hater's Handbook. posted by Richard Seymour

A Halloween hatchet-job was in order and is kindly supplied by The Guardian this morning, in the form of an 'interview' with Noam Chomsky by Emma Brockes. Before you even get into the interview, an enticing snippet is offered:

Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated?
A: My only regret is that I didn't do it strongly enough

Boo hiss. Chomsky is already the comedy bad guy. The rest of this cunning piece really deserves a full reading, but I'll just go over some of the points to remember for any trainee Chomsky-basher:

1) Always raise the Cambodia ruse: as in, Chomsky believes that "in the overall context of Cambodian history, the Khmer Rouge weren't as bad as everyone makes out". This is false, but highly effective since the claims are shrouded in a history of hysteria. Plus, the relevant volume of the Political Economy of Human Rights, co-written with Ed Herman, is not widely available. And mud sticks. Instant point-winner.

2) Push the 'Srebrenica' button: Chomsky maintains "that during the Bosnian war the 'massacre' at Srebrenica was probably overstated". Anyone who suggests that the Srebrenica massacre was not quite as reported surrenders his or her probity, ex nihilo. See downplaying. Discussion is superfluous when everyone knows.

Chomsky: could be evil.

3) Sample, loop, condescend: Chomsky has "the childish habit of trashing his opponents whom he calls 'hysterical', 'fanatics' and 'tantrum throwers'"; or Chomsky's habit of using scare quotes is "witheringly teenage"; or "And so it goes on, Chomsky fairly vibrating with anger at Vulliamy and co's 'tantrums'". Sample a few choice words, throw them in scare quotes and repeat. He uses scare-words too? It's childish/adolescent on his part.

4) Hypocrisy: "[I] ask if he finds it ironic that, given his views on the capitalist system, he is a beneficiary of it." Further, "Does he have a share portfolio?" Moreover: "I suggest that people don't like being told off about their lives by someone they consider a hypocrite." Unto which, Chomsky "suddenly smiles at me, benign again".

Seriously, though, mark the repressed sense of inferiority: there is hardly an answer offered by Chomsky that isn't interpolated by a snarky quip from the interviewer. The readers cannot be trusted to reach the correct conclusions on their own, and so are offered a sample of the conversation and an interpretive twist. The very first gesture in the piece is to offer a subtly twisted fragment of dialogue. In the use of journalistic 'colour', the careful interruption of key points with snarky post-facto rejoinders, the anfractuous linguistic circuits used to imply what can't be said, Brocke's piece exhibits the elaborate and excessive detail of a very bad liar.

Incidentally, just for elucidation, Chomsky mentions General Lewis Mackenzie in the interview: here is an example of his writing on Bosnia.

10:27:00 am | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Israel occupies Academia. posted by Richard Seymour

You may remember a quite comical attempt by US right-wingers to impose quotas in the US academia for political allegiance, on the grounds that Marxists and liberals were over-represented, while conservative viewpoints were marginalised. I'd call that an instance of sound discrimination, but these were quite serious proposals, backed by the strenuously reactionary Senator Rick Santorum. He tried to reform Title IX of the Higher Education Act so as to ensure "ideological diversity", vocally supported by David Horowitz, for whom hyperbole has become a kind of first language.

More commonly known about are the attempts by the same right-wingers, often backed by pro-Zionist groups, to sully and smear academics who are not quite grovelling enough. Campus Watch, run by the egregious anti-Muslim bigot Daniel Pipes, has launched a number of these attacks. It has a special web-page inviting students to rat on professors who don't quite imitate the media circus with sufficient zeal. Anyway, I was speaking some months back to co-blogger Mark Elf of the excellent Jews Sans Frontiers, and he suggested inter a bit of alia that one reason why some young students feel they are encountering a pro-Palestinian bias is because the gulf between what is agreed by scholars about Israel-Palestine and how the story is represented by the media is so vast. At the same time, the issues surrounding Israel-Palestine are becoming more urgent, while at the same time a decades-long pro-Israel consensus is eroding. This has produced a climate in which pro-Zionists and right-wingers feel compelled to try and rein in academic discourse. Examples of which are abundant - Professors Rashid Khalidi, Joel Beinin and Joseph Massad have all been targeted in the US, while an induction into this particular kind of colonisation of academic discussion in the UK can be found in the case of SOAS student Nasser Amin.

At any rate, while I was reading some material on this, I found an excellent article by Joseph Massad, which sums the point up expertly:

All respected scholars in the field agree that most or all Palestinians who became refugees in 1948 were expelled directly or indirectly by Israel. The debate that exists is about whether all Palestinian refugees were physically expelled by the Israeli army or that the Israeli army expelled the majority while a minority of refugees fled, not as a direct result of physical force but as an indirect consequence of actions taken by the Israeli army and government which might, or might not, have been deliberately intended to expel them. In contrast, media and popular ideological knowledge in the US still insists that the Palestinians fled on their own, or worse, were called upon to do so by Arab leaders (despite Israeli false claims that Arab leaders called on Palestinians to flee, research has shown that they called upon them to remain steadfast in their homeland) while the Zionists begged them to stay!

Established scholarship enumerates all the racist laws and institutional racist practices in operation in Israel which discriminate between Jews and non-Jews, granting Jews differential rights and privileges over non-Jews, and rendering Israel a racist state by law. Popular and media knowledge, in contrast, depict Israel as a democratic liberal state that treats all its citizens equally. It is also established in scholarship that Israel discriminates against non-European Jews (the majority of the country's Jewish population) and also against recent Russian Jewish immigrants, and has engaged and continues to engage in a racist discourse about them and in unofficial institutional discrimination against them (witness the most recent case of discrimination against Ethiopian Jews in admissions to Israeli universities). In contrast, popular and media knowledge depicts Israel as a place where all Jews are equal. Scholarly knowledge addresses the question of Israel as a quasi-theological state, where religious law governs major aspects of Jewish life and that only Orthodox Judaism is allowed to have religious authority over Jewish citizens to the exclusion of Reform and Conservative Judaism, let alone other Jewish denominations. In contrast, media and popular knowledge depict Israel as a secular state. These are only a few examples of how scholarly knowledge is drastically different from and contradicts media and popular knowledge about key issues regarding Israeli society and history.

The positions and enunciations of the Israeli state are to become the common currency of the academia, in both the US and Britain if they can manage it. Not that I consider these crude attempts on the life of academic discourse likely to succeed: they tend, rather, to reek of despair. It's just that it will involve an arduous combat, one that is increasingly likely to spill across the Atlantic. As Harold Pinter once pointed out: The big pricks are out./ They'll fuck everything in sight./ Watch your back.

6:50:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Oirientalism. posted by Richard Seymour

Just a quick comment or two on Martin Kettle's column for The Guardian. I ordinarily avoid Kettle's priapic foreign policy diatribes like the plague, which happens to form the bulk of his output. He also writes The Guardian's leaders, of course, but I don't suppose I am alone in regarding those as wasted space. (The Voice of the Master, which is what the anonymous 'leader' column is supposed to signify, is long lost to the British newspaper.) Kettle is the descendant of communists, and he himself was once a left-wing activist with a Balliol pedigree. He then wrote for The Sunday Times before moving to The Guardian, appropriately enough, in 1984. That's over 20 years of unmitigated Manchester Liberalism. It takes a toll on a person, I imagine. Like most of that generation of Stalinophilic leftist, he moved to the right sharply during the 1980s, writing for the post-Marxist Marxism Today in its later years. He has always been slobberingly pro-Blair, whom he counts as among his friends - although frankly, I couldn't stand anyone who buried his tongue that far up my backside. Some of Kettle's torsions on behalf of Blair are adequately summed up here - let's just say that Kettle adapts himself with alacrity to every nuance of New Labour's ideological choreography and leave that to that.

So, here he is today, advising Ireland to "forget its violent past" and not "romanticise" it. Irish premiere Bertie Ahern is about to reinstate the Easter Parade in memory of the 1916 Uprising. It is a move which Kettle understands as partially animated by the necessity to thwart the recrudescent Sinn Fein and its predatory designs on the cynosures of Republican struggle, but which he nevertheless finds himself horrified by because it involves "fetishising" "the romance of the deed, whose origins are steeped in the pseudoreligious cult of the transformative blood sacrifice and purging authenticity of the acts of a committed minority that al-Qaida or Hamas could recognise". Like any good Empire loyalist, Kettle drafts a few taigs into his cause: Eoin MacNeill, who in fact did countermand the order for the uprising, purely on the pragmatic grounds that it might not succeed; Sean O'Casey, who had the sense to write an anti-war play called The Ploughman and the Stars, misperceived as an anti-nationalist tract at the time; and Conor Cruise O'Brien, (whose other monikers have included Conor Cruise O'Zion for his anti-Palestinian views and Afrikaaner Cruise A'Ryan, for his pro-apartheid views, and his warnings that the ANC's "sanction, symbol and signature" was "the burning alive of people in the street"), a former Irish Republican from Trinity College who turned against Irish Republicanism in the 1970s. By 1996, O'Brien had joined the UK Unionist Party, which, thrillingly enough, is even more extreme than Ian Paisley's ruling DUP. Not only must there be blissful Union across the sea: Ulster is to be ingested whole and considered a part of England. I still can't work out who would come off the worse from such a transaction. For Kettle, these three figures form an "an unbroken line" of resistance to "the example of an unelected armed elite trying to impose their will by force of arms": to be sure, a line unbroken except by circumstance, principle and sanity.

Fetish document.

The idea that anti-imperialists ought to articulate their cause solely through any political platform that might be afforded to them by their occupiers would be curious indeed. Yet isn't this what is implied in the sneering allusion to "an unelected armed elite trying to impose their will" - which, amazingly enough, does not advert to the activities of the British Army? That isn't the only sign of myopia, of course. "Ireland's violent past" is not to be "romanticised" - after all, "few of the rest of us feel this need" to be identified by an increasingly distant past. Strange to relate, I cannot imagine the former Washington Correspondent remarking in the same vein on 1492, Thanksgiving and Independence Day (in which an unelected armed elite...). Perhaps a word or two might be said about 1789 while we're at it. The key to this curious purblindness, I suspect, is in the references to Hamas and Al Qaeda, blood-sacrifices, romanticism, authenticity and the rest. Our oblocutor charges the Irish revolutionaries with irrationalism, anti-Englightenment obscurantism, fanaticism, pseudo-religious zest etc etc. He impugns them, in short, with the usual array of desultory insults that the Irish are faced with (ommitting only fecklessness and drunkenness). The Empire, as it goes, was packed with such histrios, whose alterity and resistance was interpreted by Orientalists as an indication of the retarded intellect of those under imperial tutelage. The family resemblances between the ideological representations of the Irish and those of colonial subjects is not unfamiliar today of course. “Bitter hatreds”, “barbaric enmity”, “divided communities” ... these demeaning and unctuous discursive practises are still applied in Northern Ireland as much as they once were to Yugoslavia, and even to Rwanda. And what Kettle's ponderous condescension confirms is a correlation noted elsewhere: that those who claim that the new imperialism is different and better often turn out to have a soft spot for the older variety.

6:09:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Crucible. posted by Richard Seymour

Looks like someone has been falsifying evidence:

Republican Senator Norm Coleman used interviews with Aziz as evidence that Saddam's regime granted 23 million barrels of oil to Mr Galloway and his Mariam Appeal fund.

But the French lawyers representing Aziz told Mr Galloway in Paris that Aziz had never made a single statement incriminating him.

Ron McKay, spokesman for the Bethnal Green and Bow MP, said: "Aziz is denying he made any statement incriminating George to Senator Coleman or anybody else.

"Mr Galloway is accusing Senator Coleman of putting together lying testimony and has demanded that his name be cleared."

More here.

It looks like this is going to turn into a quarterly spectacle. I don't know - forgeries, falsified evidence, baseless rumours... you'd almost think someone was trying to shut Galloway up. Good luck with that.

10:30:00 am | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Friday, October 28, 2005

Links, random abuse. posted by Richard Seymour

Let's get one thing straight: I'm 28 years old today, so I can do whatever the fucking hell I like. New paragraph.

See? You can't stop me, so don't even bastarding well try it. Now, before I go out and vent some drunken fury at this ridiculously puffed up megalopolis, I've got some stuff for you to look at. And shut up., a site compiling information on the violence in Iraq, with resources on the major studies of mortality in Iraq and sources for activists.

Why we must leave Iraq now, an excellent article by Juan Cole that I missed when it first came out.

'Victory' by Pier Paolo Pasolini, the late, sinistral Italian poet murdered, many believe, by fascist militias in 1975. This is a previously undiscovered poem by the author, and Direland has its first, exclusive English translation.

Finally, an excellent Pilger article on the "epic crime" in Iraq.

There you are. Now, give me a tune and let's rock this mother.

Birthday boy.

8:12:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Whig trouble. posted by Richard Seymour

I had never heard of this White House Iraq Group (or WHIG) until a few days ago. But now it's hot gossip, what with it having been set up by Chief of Staff Andrew Card to disseminate a pack of lies - a trick they called "educating the public about the threat from Iraq". Now, this small-fry Plame leak case has the same Mr Card worried about dark days for the White House, not least because indictments may be served against Cheney's aide Lewis Libby and Bush's puppeteer Karl Rove.

This, along with the failure to get Harriet Meirs - a much maligned lady who will make a fine living from stairlift commercials - onto the Supreme Court is compounding a deep crisis for the Bush administration. Not, I might add for those already stifling yawns, because these things are all that significant in themselves: they merely signify that as Bush loses his ability to keep the public onside, the levers of the state are gradually slipping from the administration's previously robust control.

Far more interesting is, of course, the continuing collapse of the putative case for invading Iraq: puffed up like a half-baked souffle, it has been slowly deflating for some time. And now, the last gasps of air:

A secret draft CIA report raises new questions about a principal argument used by the Bush administration to justify the war in Iraq: the claim that Saddam Hussein was "harboring" notorious terror leader Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi prior to the American invasion.


An updated CIA re-examination of the issue recently concluded that Saddam's regime may not have given Zarqawi "safe haven" after all.

This has been known for some time, of course, but to have the CIA finally come up to speed is progress indeed. Maybe some day they'll figure out what happened with that anthrax - when they've ceased training 'Iraqi security forces' and death squads to torture and kill. Katrina, Iraq, the economy, 'gas' prices - Bush is a loser on all fronts, and this may well be his Nixon moment: not in the precise sense that he will have to resign, but simply that US power (state, capital and media) will realise that it needs another, better ambassador. The Republicans know he is popular with their base, but no more than that. His name isn't on the ballot either in the next Congressional elections or in the 2008 Presidential one. Plenty of time between now and then to distance themselves from Bushism. Possibly why some Republicans, apparently heeding Aaaahnold's advice, are moving to the 'left' of Bush. Meanwhile, the Democratic Leadership Council will probably ensure that whoever runs for 2008 is a 'competent' warmonger, a carefully painted figurine diapered in the Stars n Stripes and padded out with neoliberal doxies.

At any rate, you can place bets on this: whoever succeeds Bush, Democrat or Republican, boy or girl, will be an unabashed Whig.

9:51:00 am | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Anti-occupation Iraqis to fight elections. posted by Richard Seymour

This is excellent news:

Radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday he would present a joint list of candidates with Sunni Arabs in the Al-Anbar Province to contest the upcoming legislative elections.

His comments come shortly after three Sunni Arab parties set up a coalition to contest the December 15 elections.

Sadr's organization said it decided to ally itself with the Sunnis due to "the difficult situation facing the country, to prevent the occupier and enemies of Iraq from attaining their goals, to consolidate national identity and to reaffirm its unity."

Al-Anbar includes the rebel strongholds of Ramadi and Fallujah, which overwhelmingly rejected the Iraq constitution that was approved by referendum on October 15.

Sadr's office said: "Deputy Fattah al-Sheikh has been designated to form a list in Al-Anbar for the elections." Sheikh told AFP he would "run in Al-Anbar at the head of a list that includes eight Sunni candidates.

"Consultations have taken place in recent days to create a national Islamic force" to run against a secular bloc being mooted by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, he said. The talks are continuing, he added.

As divisive as the constitution is, this attempt to overcome such divisions and forge Iraqi unity is both welcome and entirely consistent with the unity displayed by Sadr's supporters with anti-occupation Sunnis in the past, both over the constitution and the occupation. Perhaps this will put an end to the false dichotomy between Sunnis and Shiites, and give serious political expression to the real division, that between the majority who oppose the occupation and those who want it to continue. Incidentally, Sadr and Sunni leaders have both declared the constitution results to be faked.

Meanwhile, Meaders draws attention to an interesting interview with Iraqi resistance fighters, particularly a guy named Abu Theeb, an opponent of Saddam ever since the invasion of Kuwait. As frequently happened in Iraq, rejection of Saddam's dictatorship drove him toward political Islam. He now fights the Americans, planting those dreaded IEDs on the roadside for the tanks and military convoys to cop. He describes how initially Zarqawi's so-called 'Al Qaeda' group was welcomed by Sunni fighters because of its military adeptness: "They attacked all the centres of the Iraqi state and prevented the Americans from creating a puppet state that they could hand everything to." However, the willingness of that group to target Iraqi civilians, their sectarianism towards Shiites, and the demand for a "Caliphate" has alienated Iraqi nationalists. Consequently, he and his men defended Sunnis as they went to try and vote down the constitution, while Iraqi fighters have clashed with 'Al Qaeda' repeatedly.

This is an American nightmare: a national political bloc expressing occupation to the occupation contiguous with an armed resistance that both seeks to drive out the occupiers and unite and protect Iraqis (rather than divide and attack them).

4:31:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Counterfactuals revisited posted by bat020

Further to the previous discussion, this gem caught my eye today:

"If somebody was holding a 10-year-old child with a knife to the child's neck and is about to start cutting the child's head off, the only shot available might be to the head, in which case that's what would be done."

Guess who.

3:11:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

'Freedom of speech': object lesson. posted by Richard Seymour

There's been some talk in the comments boxes about 'free speech' and so forth, and this looks like as good an example of how the abstract commitment to free expression often works out in practise. Nasser Amin, the student victimised by SOAS after a Zionist-led witch-hunt against him, draws this to my attention:

The reputation of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) has taken another knock after one of its lecturers was accused of being the "Western cheerleader" for the Uzbek brutal dictator Islam Karimov.

Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan also accused SOAS director of "arrogance". The charge was leveled at SOAS director MR Colin Bundy by Mr Murray in a dispute over one of the school’s lecturers accused of producing a "propagandist" report on the Massacre of Andijan.


In a responding email, Mr Bundy appeared to dismissed points raised by the ex-diplomat as "unsubstantiated" and ignored his calls for further investigate by the School. That prompted an angry response from Mr Murray who accused the director of being "arrogant" and of failing to realise the damage Ms Akiner is causing to the reputation of SOAS.

On his website, Craig Murray notes the discrepancy between the courtesy extended to an apologist for a murderous regime, an the witch hunt against a student who didn't have the right views on Palestine.

As Nasser Amin tells The Muslim Weekly (linked above):

"Bundy is not a neutral, disinterested moderator defending all points of view at the School. He is someone who defends free speech when it comes to savagery against Muslims, in Andijan and Gaza, and silences those who oppose this savagery, particularly it seems Muslim students. Shame on him."

This reminds me of an extraordinary episode last year when there was a huge effort made by the Right to defend Kilroy after his racist outbursts, citing 'free speech' and so on. Kilroy was rewarded by the Express with exclusive interviews, and he went on to make a short-lived political career out of his bigotry, (terminated only by his insanely outsized ego). Shortly after that, Jenny Tonge expressed some mild words of understanding about why suicide bombers in Palestine might do what they do - she was swiftly ex-communicated, to the general glee of the Right.

'Freedom of speech' for liberals and the Right is actually the right to be abusive, racist, calumnious etc., but there remain genuine unutterables, such as "I support the Iraqi resistance" or "I support Palestinians' right to use force against the Israelis, and only wish they had as many big weapons". (When I suggested the latter a while back, Labour candidate Antonia Bance described it on her blog as "disgraceful"). This is the real 'political correctness'. While the Express, Sun, Telegraph and Mail regularly dish out racist vitriol, both as news and comment, it is unthinkable that mainstream media outlets will tell the truth about the Iraqi resistance, what has been done to Palestine, and what the profit system is doing to people and planet daily.

3:12:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

How "liberal elites ruined the British Empire"... posted by Richard Seymour

...and may ruin the American one.

Yesterday I opened up a book just out in paperback called Britain's Gulag by Caroline Elkins. It details how in the dying days of the British Empire, the Kikuyu people of Kenya began to rise up in armed rebellion. In response, Britain detained almost the entire population (of one and a half million people!), either by placing them in concentration camps (the British called them 'reception pens') or by ring-fencing their villages with barbed wire. Perhaps over a hundred thousand detainees died - from starvation, disease, beatings and so forth. Vast purges were launched, especially during Operation Anvil, which saw almost the entire Kikuyu population driven from Nairobi, the capital. The brutality was astonishing, and terror was a tool widely used to control and intimidate: one woman describes how she was attacked in her house by a group of British soldiers, who informed her that they'd just killed her husband. Then they started to hammer her with the butts of their guns, shoving her from one person to the next. Her two year old child, hearing her scream, clambered out of his bed, between the legs of the soldiers and tried to cling to his mother's ankles. The woman was told she was being given the independence her husband had set out to get. The child was being trampled. When at long last she had been beaten numb and dragged out of the house, she remembered that the last thing she saw was her son's dead body on the floor of her house.

That's just a small sample of the kind of ruthless violence deployed to maintain a cheap labour plantation in the east of Africa. And it stands as an introductory passage to this (frankly) very revealing article in the neoconservative Weekly Standard. In it, the author warns that "Empires don't last forever, and the combination of martial victory, popular ennui, and liberal anti-patriotism is a dangerous mix for a superpower." He renders the British Empire as a case in point: "after the conclusion of the first World War, Britain's imperial psyche began to fracture ... deep desire to avoid conflict, even at the price of letting the Empire dissolve, permeated British society. In 1931, the House of Commons passed the Statute of Westminster, the first step toward independence for Britain's dominions. In 1932, a poll found that 10.4 million Britons supported England's unilateral disarmament, while only 870,000 opposed it." How did it all go wrong? Well, one reason was "the waning of confidence on the part of liberal British elites, whose pacifism evolved into anti-patriotism."

'Anti-patriotism' is a carefully contrived phrase, since it morphs easily into 'anti-Americanism'. Some examples of this 'anti-patriotism' are leading intellectuals announcing that they will refuse to fight for King and Country and even - gosh - refusing to rise to their feet when God Save the King was played. Echoes of this when people denounce Bush as a 'fascist', consider peace more patriotic than war, worry about America becoming over-aggressive etc. Here is the final warning shot:

The liberal opponents of the British Empire were proved wrong, but their misplaced disillusionment was enough to sap the vitality of imperial confidence. After rising one last time to fight Nazism, the sun set on the British Empire.

I'd like to know in what sense liberal and radical opponents of the British Empire were "proved wrong". However, this is in itself a very interesting ideological development - the ideology of American imperialism after the war was, of course, anti-imperialism. Britain was still a threat, the nascent American emperors didn't trust either it or France, disapproved of the whole Suez deal etc.

Eisenhower, Eden, Churchill and John Foster Dulles before Suez.

These days, it is not out of place to hear American neoconservative ideologues spouting off about the merits of different kinds of empire. Robert Kagan will go half-way toward meeting his friend Niall Ferguson when he says the American Empire is just an update of the old British one that isn't tough enough to stick to its guns. Christopher Hitchens declared himself a convert to Empire in December, 2002 (you can find it in 'Regime Change' or, if you're American 'A Long Short War'), noting that if ever the US got finished dealing with selected dictators the world over and the world turned its attention to solving the AIDS crisis or big famines, it would be US airlifts that they would rely on. Think about that one for a second: the idea that the US and its imperial partners might have a hand in creating famines, drought, mass starvation, pollution and even, dare I say it, mass murder - it's totally absent. Such ridiculous purblindness leads him to posit hallucinatory garbage about the US empire being deployed "in its capacity as a Thomas Paine arsenal, or at the very least a Jeffersonian one". Indeed, that myopia is strikingly similar to that which apologists for the British empire bring to bear, what with their 'counterfactuals' and minimisations and diversionary tactics.

The open admission that America is an empire and has been for decades, the open celebration of this fact, is hardly a sign of confidence in America's hegemonic gifts. Of course, the very idea that America is anything other than an unusually charitable, bountiful nation, extending its shield of security across the Atlantic and determinedly facing down threats to its safety, will continue to be formally disavowed. However, the 'unofficial' ideological shift to glorifying military adventurism is very interesting. Slavoj Zizek notes somewhere (probably in various recent texts, but most likely in The Borrowed Kettle) that the willingness to abandon the legitimising rituals of 'human rights' by openly creating a network of extra-legal prisons in which the use of torture is ubiquitous suggests that the US ruling class is in a panic.

It is a similar story with the aggressive posture of neoconservatives toward the United Nations: of course, it was on US soil under the direction of a US bureacrat named Leo Pasvolsky that the UN was created - specifically as a 'balance of power' mechanism, through which the most powerful states might regulate their affairs and condescend to the natives in the General Assembly. A two-month enclave in San Francisco put the finishing touches on agreements previously reached at Dumbarton Oaks and Yalta. Essentially, (although Americans sometimes seem to imagine it to be a foreign conspiracy) the UN was an American creation that was supposed to solidify and embody to some extent US power. The UN supported the Korean adventure, as it did numerous other escapades, including the Gulf War in 1990. It retroactively legitimised the most recent one as well, and provided the means by which the Kosovo intervention would be considered not an abrogation of international law, but a fundamental reconstitution of it (from 'state sovereignty' to 'cosmopolitanism'). The UN has only really been troublesome a few times with the arrival of newly liberated ex-colonial nations and the Non-Aligned Movement. And it does have some embarrassing things in its books about occupied peoples having the right to resist the occupiers by any means necessary. But as an organisation, it has largely been only too susceptible to US hegemony. Yet, Bush felt compelled to effectively threaten the UN with foreclosure if it did not support the war on Iraq.

No longer confident of their ability to control the processes of international law, the interpretations of the Geneva Conventions and even the direction of some ordinarily docile formations like the Organisation of American States, the United States is abandoning its old modes of legitimation. Casting about for new sources of moral authority, US neoconservative intellectuals (I speak loosely) have finally settled on Empire, the British Empire, the one which was less than fifteen years ago sponsoring far right loyalist death squads in my former home. Well, they might have done worse, but wasn't that affair rather on the opposing side to Paine and Jefferson?

If nothing else, the United States has inherited the British colonial flair for absurdity. I today obtained a transcript of an interview with one Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Martin, a PR person at Guantanamo Bay. In it, he is asked about the hunger strike of some 131 of the approximately 505 inmates at the island prison. He replies: "The detainees began refusing meals to protest their continued detention. This is a technique consistent with al-Qaeda training, and reflects the detainees' attempts to elicit media attention and to try to bring pressure on the US government." (Emphasis added). Notice that on this interpretation, any protest about human rights violations is potentially congruent with "al-Qaeda training". He might as well have said it was 'consistent with Mau Mau training' for all the difference it would make. The fact that these are not tried and convicted criminals makes the invocation of 'al-Qaeda' utterly specious, especially given that they have already been obliged to release a number of people whom they admit they have no evidence against. Further, asked about the forced feeding of those on hunger strike, the Lt Col responded gravely:

And another thing I might add about the hunger strike, there's some misinformation out there that states that those on hunger strike are in bed and near death – nothing could be further from the truth, that's false. The detainees who are choosing not to eat are bedridden but active, they walk and exercise, they take showers, they send and receive mail, they have access to the ICRC, and are allowed to practise their religion, and we've also rotated the involuntary feeding schedules to accommodate Ramadan for that religious and cultural practice of our detainees.

Bedridden, but active, walking, exercising, taking showers. Tubes stuck down their noses, but sending letters and moving about. Forcible feeding in violation of human rights laws, but they shut off the food during daylight hours to accomodate Ramadan. I've heard of politically correct racism before, but politically correct gulags?

12:00:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Three studies in consumer desire posted by bat020

A peculiar microtrend in consumer advertising has recently caught my attention: a penchant for unexpected dialectical reversals in the normal ideological discourse of consumerism.

Whether this constitutes a symptom of something significant underlying — perhaps mass advertising reaching a certain saturation point, or more prosaically, an impending consumer debt crisis — I'll leave for you to judge. For now I'll outline three examples of what I'm talking about.

1: Persil commands you to get dirty

The first example — both in terms of chronology and simplicity — is Persil's recent Dirt Is Good campaign. The telly adverts feature luvvable kids getting all mucky in a suburban garden, overseen at just the right distance by a wry and knowing Mum figure.

The superficial message is standard feelgood Live Life To The Full fare... but there's something not quite right. The oddity is that Persil — a brand that we expect to promote the virtues of cleanliness — is instead extolling dirt.

Of course you're meant to notice this. Consumers are thoroughly resistant to washing powder firms ordering them to be clean(er). So instead Persil orders you to be dirty. Momentarily beguiled, our defences come down, and Persil-qua-signifier ruthlessly lodges itself into our unconscious. Ker-ching.

It's an ecological commonplace that we in the West consume far more washing powder (and other "cleanliness" products) than could ever be justified in terms of need — which is why firms like Persil embarked on promoting cleanliness-as-ideology in the first place (fast moving consumer goods were pioneers in mass advertising, cf "soap opera").

What this ad marks is a new departure that draws out the diabolical irrationality of consumer capitalism: we are now consuming so much washing powder that firms have to encourage us to get more dirty in order to sell us any more packets. A milestone of sorts has been passed.

2: Orange commands you to turn your mobile off

The dialectical reversal in the Persil campaign is at the level of discourse — the sales patter switches from Clean to Dirty, but the consumption of the product is unaffected. Persil is not telling us to wash our clothes less, it is telling us to get actively filthier and then wash our clothes more.

The latest adverts for Orange exhibit a deeper level of reversal. They operate through a pair of slogans, one of which is Good Things Happen When Your Phone's On. This line promotes Orange mobiles through the standard tactic of listing all the "features" that your life is incomplete without. It amounts to nothing more than the missionary position of techno-porn, and need not detain us further.

The second slogan is the crucial one: Good Things Happen When Your Phone's Off. Yup, that's right, Orange wants you to buy its phones in order not to use them. The Useful silently and effortlessly flips over into the Useless.

Of course Orange can still make money with your phone switched off, what with all the "value added" messaging services it offers: voicemail, texts, email — all of which is faintly repulsive (diseases get communicated too, y'know). But that's not really the point here.

What Orange have latched on to is that the greatest enjoyment we get from our mobiles these days is when we switch them off. The delicious guilty pleasure we get from this (doubled for us Londoners, who can also lie about it by pretending we were stuck on the Tube) is worth immeasurably more than any number of idiotic bleating ringtones or affectless digipix.

In an age of 3G gizmos bristling with ever more "features", our desires inexorably condense around the degree zero of electronic gadgetry, their universal "feature" — an off switch (also, incidentally, one of the most likely components to malfunction).

So: in this case the dialectical reversal is not just at the level of discourse, but penetrates deeper into commodity consumption itself. The mobile phone ceases to be a functional object and instead becomes a pure object of desire — all the better when not used.

3: Ikea commands you to work less

The third and final example penetrates deeper still — beyond the sphere of consumption altogether and into the murky realms of productive labour, capitalism's dirty little secret. And where the Persil and Orange ads are at best irritating and at worst presumptious, this one is truly obscene.

Ikea's latest Life Outside Work campaign for its flatpack furniture promotes itself on its allegedly low prices. But it's not the usual "buy this bargain and spend the spare cash on something else" line — instead it argues that lower prices mean you don't have to work for so long.

This breaks a tacit taboo in advertising discourse against explicitly referencing the source of all wealth. Rather than flatter us by pretending we're bourgeois consumers, it rubs our noses in our grubby proletarian status.

As if the concept of the advert wasn't humiliating enough, the execution goes further still. The telly ad features a white collar office (and it's not just the collars that are white) with a lone worker suddenly getting up and calmly/heroically walking out of the building early.

And in a grotesque mockery of collective action, the other workers start gormlessly clapping and cheering and singing Negro spirituals all the while remaining firmly in their places as Our Hero flounces out to meet his Perfectly Pretty Wifey. They embrace. We puke. Credits roll.

What makes this so cruel is its illustration of what Marx called absolute surplus value. The simplest and most brutal way that the bourgeoisie can squeeze more labour out of us is by extending the working day. And limiting the working day was one of the first demands and key battles of the 19th century workers movement (as detailed by Marx in Capital).

Fast forward 150 years and we now have the extraordinary spectacle of Ikea urging us to take back our absolute surplus value (on a strictly individual basis, natch). And why? For justice, liberty, solidarity? Nope. So they can get their grubby mitts on a larger slice of our ever decreasing wages.

And all this is happening while the global ruling class is openly discussing plans to prop up its profits by increasing the retirement age to 70 — a move that would represent a truly staggering ratcheting up of absolute surplus value, and a historic setback for the working class. Little wonder that Ikea was set up by a fascist.

"We consume the product through the product itself, but we consume its meaning through advertising. Picture for a moment our modern cities stripped of all signs, their walls blank as an empty consciousness. And imagine that all of a sudden the single word GARAP appears everywhere, written on every wall... Advertising's true referent is here apparent in its purest form: like GARAP, advertising is mass society itself, using systematic arbitrary signs to arouse emotions and mobilise consciousness, and reconstituting its collective nature in this very process."

2:16:00 am | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Anyone here called Rachel and dead? posted by levi9909

The good news is that there is a cantata celebrating/commemorating the tragically short life of Rachel Corrie, the International Solidarity Movement activist murdered by an Israeli caterpillar driver.

The bad news is that the sickos at the Zionist Federation are seeing fit to hold a demonstration against the performance at the Hackney Empire.

Ok, first things first: here's the detail on the main event, but please hang in there for details of the most ghoulish demo imaginable.

The event itself is at the Hackney Empire on 1st November 2005. It is billed as follows:

A concert for justice and peace.
In memory of all the lives lost during the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
Introduced by Harold Pinter.

World Premiere The Skies Are Weeping.
Cantata for soprano, chamber choir and percussion ensemble, Op 75 by Philip Munger, in memoriam Rachel Corrie, peace activist in Gaza. Original US premiere cancelled after threats were received by principals involved.

UK Premiere The Singer of Wind and Rain – Five songs on Palestinian poems set by Gregory Youtz.
Traditional Palestinian dance and music performed by the Dabka group Al-Hurriyya.

Peter Crockford Conductor
Deborah Fink Soprano
Dominic Saunders Piano
Coro Cervantes
The London Percussion Ensemble

(Surplus funds go to the Israeli Committee
Against House Demolitions and the Gaza
Community Mental Health Programme).

Ok now here's the event being organised by the Zionist Federation. First of all, have a look around their website for details of the fact that they are going to demonstrate against the commemoration of a peace activist who was murdered by the State of Israel. You will search in vain. They're sufficiently ashamed of their despicable behaviour to try to keep it out of the public domain but, as you will see, they've briefed the press and the police as to what they're up to. Here's the Zionist Federation email rallying their supporters to the "cause."

Dear all,

There is to be a lawful and peaceful protest outside the world premier of "The skies are weeping" a concert for Rachel Corrie, the American activist killed in Gaza. While we regret the senseless loss of life of the young idealist, her death has been manipulated as a symbol by anti-Israel protagonists.[This has the support of her family by the way - who are the zionists to complain? I object to their manipulation of the holocaust but I don't picket Holocaust Memorial Day; I boycott it]

The protest will be opposite the Hackney Empire on Tuesday 1st November. It is being done with the full co-operation of the Metropolitan Police. There will be a police presence on the night as well as stewards to assist. [assist with what?]

Our protest will highlight Israelis killed in suicide and terrorist attacks that should also be remembered; the focus is on the numerous Israeli "Rachels" killed in suicide attacks in Israel. [and the Palestinians who have been killed in far greater numbers? do they count?]

Please come, show your support and exercise your right to protest. The demonstration will be peaceful and level-headed. The concert does nothing to build bridges and encourage dialogue nor does it promote an understanding of the issues. [no, for that we need to ignore Israel's war crimes] We really need your support to make this work.

Banners, placards and flyers will be provided, don't bring any literature or banners that may be misconstrued as offensive, there will be press coverage and it is imperative we get it right.

We will meet at 5.45pm at Town Hall Square in Mare Street, next to the Hackney Empire; the play begins at 7.30pm.

Look forward to seeing you there.


Jonny Paul

What breathtaking arrogance! They have a police and press escort for a demonstration against a woman who was killed by a state, whose right to exist is, at best, questionable, that they so uncritically support. And see how they command their supporters not to bring literature. What's all that about? Could it be they don't trust their supporters to be sufficiently tasteful about the way they spit on the grave of Rachel Corrie? If anyone needs more evidence of the sheer vindictiveness of the zionist movement, come to the cantata on 1/11/2005 and see for yourselves the uniquely despicable behaviour of the zionist movement. Of course, you don't have to go in, you can just watch the zionist ghouls being ghoulish.

UPDATE: A friend of mine has suggested that the reason for the Zionist Federation's threatened demo is to make the Hackney Empire feel threatened and cancel the production. This would mean that any hint of a counter-demo could actually play into the hands of the zionists. It is now being suggested that people should buy tickets in advance in case the Empire is being pressured. They range in price from £10 to £17.50 and can be bought here.

9:02:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Rosa Parks: a case of mistaken identity. posted by Richard Seymour

The tendency is for the ruling ideology to slowly come to accomodate rebellion, to sanitise, defang and deodorize its primary practicioners. It's no fault of Marx's that this has happened to him to some extent: cuddly, rumbustious old Marx whom even Wall Street speculators can appreciate for his prophecies about globalisation, the tearing down of all walls (Chinese walls included), the profaning of all that is holy. This gesture cannot be so easily repeated with Lenin, and it isn't even that easy with Malcolm X, despite Spike Lee's best efforts. Gary Younge:

The myth of Rosa Parks is well known. The tired seamstress who boarded a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, in December 1955 and refused to give up her seat to a white man has become one of the most enduring legends of the civil rights era. Her subsequent arrest started the bus boycott that launched the civil rights movement. It transformed the apartheid of America's southern states from a local idiosyncrasy to an international scandal and turned a previously unknown 26-year-old preacher, Martin Luther King, into a household name.

"She was a victim of both the forces of history and the forces of destiny," said King. "She had been tracked down by the zeitgeist - the spirit of the times." The reality was somewhat different. Parks was no victim. The zeitgeist did not track her down; she embodied it. She had a long history of anti-racist activism and had often been thrown off buses for resisting segregation. Far from being a meek lady in need of a foot massage she was a keen supporter of Malcolm X, who never fully embraced King's strategy of non-violence.

"To call Rosa Parks a poor, tired seamstress and not talk about her role as a community leader and civil rights activist as well, is to turn an organised struggle for freedom into a personal act of frustration," writes Herbert Kohl in his book She Would Not Be Moved.

8:45:00 am | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Monday, October 24, 2005

US: work longer and harder, get poorer, drop dead. posted by Richard Seymour

In the United States, the land of the seersucker suit, or milk and honey (same thing, 'seersucker' derives from the Persian 'sir-o-sakar' meaning milk and sugar), you are now free to earn less money, get poorer, work longer hours and die younger. Just last week, while the US military was being dispatched to protect and expand markets in Latin America, the US Senate turned back two bills seeking to raise the minimum wage a little.

Here's how the real value of the minimum wage has worked out over the last half-century in the US:

Since the mid-1970s, it has risen twice only: once under Bush senior and once under Clinton. It's present real value is lower than it was in 1955. As you can see on this graph, average minimum wage earnings are well below the poverty level, and its getting worse. Now, cynically you might say that at least the US government is working so that these people can get cheap t-shirts, but if New Orleans is any guide, they may as well be considered part of the Third World labour market as well. There are sweatshops in the US as well, you know.

Real household income has been falling dramatically since 2000, naturally with the heaviest burden of cuts being borne by 'minorities'. This is partly because of recession and partly because Bills supported by the present administration have sought to give employers the right to force workers into longer hours for less money. This is actually a long-term trend in the US: average income slumped pretty badly from 1979 for the bottom 20% of workers, picking up only at the tail end of the 1990s, when the bubble was at its peak and the unions started to flex their muscles. They didn't get it for nothing either - American families work much longer hours on average than they did in 1975.

You'll die much younger for your poverty too, especially if you're in Harlem. Infant mortality in the US has been rising (it is now slightly higher than Cuba, and about equal with Malaysia which has one-quarter the average income of the US), particularly among the poor (parts of America are as poor as the Third World, while America is more unequal than Vietnam, Egypt and Albania), and particularly among African-Americans (poverty is doing Bill Bennett's work for him). This is despite the fact that the US has the most expensive healthcare system in the world. The tax burden that pays for this expensive, privatised failure has increasingly shifted from the wealthy to the poor, but it is the poor who die younger, partly due to lack of access to the healthcare system and partly due to sheer impoverishment, along with increased environmental and occupational hazards that go with it.

Yet, poverty must be, as K-Punk once suggested, ethnicised: it can't be treated by apologists for the system as something internal to capitalism. Hence, it is something that happens to a violent, criminal 'underclass', "welfarised blacks", whom God must clean out with a devastating hurricane and flood - and they shall never return to darken the rich man's doorstep unless to work on reduced wages under suspended safety regulations building condominiums for rich hipsters. The poor, as per usual, are pushed to the bottom of every available pile and then blamed for being there. If they aren't the wrong skin-colour, they're welfare queens. If they aren't that, they're single mothers, sluts who should be waitressing. If not that, they're lazy slobs with no drive. If you're not rich like everyone else is, you're a whiner.

Some say this is Rome before the fall.

8:53:00 am | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Iraqis support resistance attacks; more on Zarqawi myth posted by Richard Seymour

This is pretty devastating news for the coalition:

Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed.

The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, shows that up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks and fewer than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security in their country.

I've seen polls showing overwhelming majorities opposed to the occupation, but never one showing widespread national support for resistance attacks. Here's the other results:

Forty-five per cent of Iraqis believe attacks against British and American troops are justified - rising to 65 per cent in the British-controlled Maysan province;

• 82 per cent are "strongly opposed" to the presence of coalition troops;

• less than one per cent of the population believes coalition forces are responsible for any improvement in security;

• 67 per cent of Iraqis feel less secure because of the occupation;

• 43 per cent of Iraqis believe conditions for peace and stability have worsened;

• 72 per cent do not have confidence in the multi-national forces.

I'd like to know how many "don't knows" were returned as well. Bear in mind that these figures include Kurdish parts of Iraq (15 - 20% of the population), whose support for resistance attacks must be close to zero, not to mention one or two areas of British control like Basra, where it was around 25% (this poll was taken in August, before the storming of a Basra jail and the consequent breakdown of relations with occupiers there). I'd suggest that if you take out the Kurdish zones, you've got an even heftier level of support for the resistance attacks (a quick and admittedly dubious calculation suggests that 45% national support becomes approximately 56.25% in just the Arab zones, although the figure would naturally be sky-high among the 29% Sunnis).

If 82% of Iraqis - including Kurds - are strongly against the presence of coalition troops and 45% of the same sample support resistance attacks on troops, then the trajectory strongly suggests that it is the resistance and not the coalition which is becoming hegemonic. The former would do well to sieze on this to consolidate into an Iraqi nationalist bloc with serious political representation. It would have to overcome the divisive impact of the federalist constitution, and suggest a minimal programme for unity which most Iraqis could support. It would have to deal harshly with the sectarian idiots like Tawhid wal-Jihad, not to mention the Badr Corps.

State lies.
Loretta Napoleoni's new book, Insurgent Iraq, in some extraordinary investigative reporting demolishes some of the myths about the Iraqi resistance, particularly the Zarqawi myth, which certain commentators are still perpetuating. The latter involves a number of claims: 1) Zarqawi is a key and leading player in the resistance or 'insurgency'; 2) Zarqawi is an Al Qaeda placeman; 3) Zarqawi is the connection between the ousted Hussein regime and Al Qaeda. All three claims serve to assist in justification for the occupiers, inasmuch as they support a central pillar of the cassus belli for the invasion of Iraq, and perpetuate a myth about the resistance being somehow an alien invasion of Iraq rather than a domestic movement. Napoleoni shows how Zarqawi's reputation has been puffed up enormously by the present occupiers in Iraq: he was, on the basis of shady Kurdish intelligence, associated with a terrorist act for the first time in November 2001, when he was alleged to have been associated with the Millenium Plot. His name had not been mentioned in the original trial, but in February 2002, he was sentenced in absentia by the Jordanian authorities to fifteen years imprisonment. He was then associated by Jordanian authorities with two assassinations, responsibility for which had already been claimed by an outfit called Shurafa al Urdun. When the FBI took over those investigations, they too were eager to connect Zarqawi with the killings, apparently as part of their drive to bolster Kurdish claims that Zarqawi was an Al Qaeda confederate. They claimed that the Shurafa al Urdun was part of Zarqawi's vast international terror apparatus. They, for their part, issued another statement in 2004 claiming responsibility for the assassinations and denying Zarqawi's involvement: they also supplied the shells from the bullets used.

Then in February 2003, Colin Powell addressed the United Nations, claiming that al Zarqawi had set up a 'poison and explosive training centre' in the north east of Iraq. It was supposedly a ricin source, and behind much of the poisonous material that is allegedly now being transported or housed across Europe. The claim was supposedly substantiated by the arrest of dozens of North Africans the previous month in Britain, France and Spain - all alleged to be preparing ricin and other dangerous weapons. Spain release all suspects when they discovered the poisons were actually bleach and detergents. In France, the substances were discovered to be barley and wheat germ. In the UK, there was a trial of folks supposed to be part of the infamous 'ricin plot' - the plot was non-existent and the suspects were set free when it emerged that the labratory report saying there was no ricin had been altered to say that there was ricin. By the way, much of the 'intelligence' supplied to back up these claims came from Algerian security forces - the very same who have been complicit in terrorist attacks across Algeria and on the Paris Metro. They notoriously tease evidence out of witnesses, with the subtle use of torture.

Incidentally, Powell's claims were riddled with basic inaccuracies - for instance, the camp was supposed to be in Khurmal, whereas it was in Sarget. The camp was opened to Western journalists, who found nothing more than a low-grade military barracks with irregular electricity, no plumbing and certainly no WMD complex. Ansar al-Islam leader Mullah Krekar told the Boston Globe that not only had he never met Zarqawi, his group had always opposed Hussein and was not associated with Al Qaeda. The International Crisis Group issued a report suggesting that Ansar al-Islam was a tiny group of Islamists whose importance had been hugely inflated by the PUK for their own political reasons (they were in combat with the Islamist organisations in northern Iraq) and of course by Washington. Powell claimed that a Baghdad agent had penetrated the leadership and offered the group a safe haven. Even the PUK, however, insisted that the organisation they were fighting was quite clearly hostile to the Hussein regime.

Another piece of 'proof' offered by Powell was the suggestion that Hussein was 'harbouring' an Al Qaeda outfit "headed by Abu Mos'ab al Zarqawi, and associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda lieutenants". That outfit was, of course, Ansar al-Islam, a Kurdish Islamist group operating outside of Hussein's zone of control. Further, Zarqawi was alleged to have visited Baghdad for medical treatment. However, US officials had admitted prior to the speech that this claim was an "inferential leap". Both British and German intelligence officials cast doubt on the story. Even George Tenet, while claiming that Zarqawi had indeed been in Baghdad, told a US Senate Committee that Zarqawi was not under the control of Al Qaeda or Hussein. Even in March 2003, when some British intelligence reports were claiming that Zarqawi had sleeper cells in Baghdad, awaiting invasion, intelligence analysts were saying that there was no cooperation between Hussein and Zarqawi. Zarqawi himself was supposed to have been supportive of Al Qaeda in this narrative, but evidence has accrued that he was opposed to Al Qaeda, a dispute long acknowledged in serious sources and discussed both in Jason Burke's Al Qaeda and in Napoleoni's book.

It is worth mentioning that Napoleoni's book is not as sceptical about Zarqawi's involvement in the New Iraq as others have been. Juan Cole has stated that he doubts whether Zarqawi is in fact operative there, or indeed is even still alive. While Napoleoni accepts the veracity of a well-known letter attributed to Zarqawi in which he outlines a 'war against Shiites', some have suggested that as the letter is actually an electronic document on CD-ROM it is hard to substantiate in terms of handwriting or signature, and as it comes from Kurdish groups who have a history of dissimulation, it may not be entirely trustworthy. Like the recent al-Zawahiri fairy tale, in fact. Similarly, Napoleoni seems to accept that Zarqawi's alleged claims in this alleged letter about Sadr's alleged attempts to 'get even' with Sunnis is accurate. This is extraordinary, since not a single attack on Sunnis has been attributed to Sadr's militias, and indeed Sadr has led joint Sunni-Shiite demonstrations in Firdos Square. In fact, she seriously misdiagnoses the political divisions among Shi'ites claiming that it is Sadr who wants politicised clerics while the SCIRI want devolved parliamentary democracy: as I've pointed out before, this is nonsense.

However, if Napoleoni is insufficiently skeptical about a number of claims coming out of Iraq since the invasion, she does at least round up some of the empirical facts that ought to be more widely known. She correctly places Zarqawi's group as a tiny sect in a small and schismatic Islamist movement operating in Iraq, whose agenda diverges considerably from that of the domestic resistance. She cites reports of fighting between such groups and the majority nationalist resistance - some of which I had missed. This, for instance. Citing the CSIS and Department of Defense findings (summarised here), Napoleoni rightly points out that the domestic resistance overwhelmingly refuses to target civilians, since its aim is to evict an occupation. Far from being a Ba'athist-Jihadi conspiracy, it is a diffuse grass-roots movement whose components are often but not entirely defined by religion or ethnicity. She also notes the repressive role of the Special Police Commandos, an outfit initially set up for the occupiers by a former Ba'athist general, which is now ranging across Iraq using death squads in an effort to crush the backbone of the resistance. And finally, Napoleoni notes that the efforts against the resistance, both in terms of propaganda and military force, have taken on a highly sectarian character. The television show, Terrorism in the Hands of Justice, a ludicrous coalition propaganda effort in which Sunnis are demonised relentlessly and in which audiences are given to believe that the resistance is composed of people who have gay sex in mosques, molest children and drink excessive amounts of alcohol, helped fuel a great deal of sectarian hostility. The often false confessions of 'insurgents' are supplied by the Special Police Commandos. Similarly, the use of Kurdish and Shiite death squads was designed to isolate the resistance as a largely Sunni phenomenon. Napoleoni also suggests that Operation Salvador may well backfire on the US - while in El Salvador, the Americans had a very friendly client-regime with a long established state and repressive forces to deploy against a poorly armed peasant rebellion and an unarmed populace, Iraq's new state is in its infancy, is ambivalent about the occupiers and is trying to control a country that is awash with arms and military proficiency.

The Zarqawi myth, once used to justify invasion, is obscuring a very important reality about the new Iraq: that the occupation is desperately unpopular, that Iraqis are resisting it in growing numbers, that others still are providing logistical and moral support for the resistance, and that this resistance is on the whole little different to those encountered by the colonisers of Algeria, Ireland, Aden and Vietnam.

12:24:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Friday, October 21, 2005

Zizek on Katrina posted by Richard Seymour

Slavoj Zizek is on excellent form with this able demolition of the racism in the reactions to Katrina. First, the psychoanalytical distinctions:

According to a well-known anecdote, anthropologists studying “primitives” who supposedly held certain superstitious beliefs (that they descend from a fish or from a bird, for example) asked them directly whether they “really” believed such things. They answered: “Of course not—we ‘re not stupid! But I was told that some of our ancestors actually did believe that.” In short, they transferred their belief onto another.

We do the same thing with our children by going through the ritual of Santa Claus. Since our children (are supposed to) believe in him and we do not want to disappoint them, they pretend to believe so as not to disappoint us by puncturing our belief in their naivety (and to get the presents, of course). Isn’t this also the usual excuse of the mythical crooked politician who turns honest? “I cannot disappoint the ordinary people who believe in me.”

Belief, fear, brutality, naivete etc is therefore transferred onto another, the subject supposed to know, believe, fear etc. And now we have another example of this phenomena:

The events in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck the city provide a new addition to this series of “subjects supposed to…”—the subject supposed to loot and rape. We all remember the reports on the disintegration of public order, the explosion of black violence, rape and looting. However, later inquiries demonstrated that, in the large majority of cases, these alleged orgies of violence did not occur: Non-verified rumors were simply reported as facts by the media.

The pleas of innocence that followed usually took the form of,
this is what we were being told by survivors, it was literally a case of being misled, we certainly intended no racial slur...
However, in Zizek's Lacanian court, this plea is scoffed at, firstly because of the consequences:

The reality of poor blacks, abandoned and left without means to survive, was thus transformed into the specter of blacks exploding violently, of tourists robbed and killed on streets that had slid into anarchy, of the Superdome ruled by gangs that were raping women and children. These reports were not merely words, they were words that had precise material effects: They generated fears that caused some police officers to quit and led the authorities to change troop deployments, delay medical evacuations and ground helicopters. Acadian Ambulance Company, for example, locked down its cars after word came that armed robbers had looted all of the water from a firehouse in Covington—a report that proved totally untrue.

Further, we finally have an answer to the old question 'Is it paranoia if they're really out to get you?' The answer is: yes!:

[T]he (limited) reality of crimes in no way exonerates “reports” on the total breakdown of law and order—not because these reports were “exaggerated,” but for a much more radical reason. Jacques Lacan claimed that, even if the patient’s wife is really sleeping around with other men, the patient ‘s jealousy is still to be treated as a pathological condition. In a homologous way, even if rich Jews in early 1930s Germany “really” had exploited German workers, seduced their daughters and dominated the popular press, the Nazis ’ anti-Semitism would still have been an emphatically “untrue,” pathological ideological condition. Why? Because the causes of all social antagonisms were projected onto the “Jew”—an object of perverted love-hatred, a spectral figure of mixed fascination and disgust.

And exactly the same goes for the looting in New Orleans: Even if all the reports on violence and rapes had proven to be factually true, the stories circulating about them would still be “pathological” and racist, since what motivated these stories were not facts, but racist prejudices, the satisfaction felt by those who would be able to say: “You see, Blacks really are like that, violent barbarians under the thin layer of civilization!” In other words, we would be dealing with what could be called lying in the guise of truth: Even if what I am saying is factually true, the motives that make me say it are false.

This is a case Zizek has made before (I think in The Ticklish Subject), and one often encounters instances of it. For instance, a person says to me "my mate's house was burgled by a black guy" (this did occur in a conversation). Whether true or not, the curious question is why he even raised the question of skin pigmentation. Including it suggests that one considers such matters more than a minor descriptive detail. But of course, having offered up an intimation of racist fantasy (ebondark intruders eloping from the Englishman's castle with the VCR), it is immediately withdrawn - as in, "not that that matters or anything". Zizek goes on:

Of course, we never openly admit these motives. But from time to time, they nonetheless pop up in our public space in a censored form, in the guise of denegation: Once evoked as an option, they are then immediately discarded. Recall the recent comments by William Bennett, the compulsive gambler and author of The Book of Virtues, on his call-in program “Morning in America”: “But I do know that it ‘s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.” The White House spokesman immediately reacted: “The president believes the comments were not appropriate.” Two days later, Bennett qualified his statement: “I was putting a hypothetical proposition … and then said about it, it was morally reprehensible to recommend abortion of an entire group of people. But this is what happens when you argue that ends can justify the means.” This is exactly what Freud meant when he wrote that the Unconscious knows no negation: The official (Christian, democratic … ) discourse is accompanied and sustained by a whole nest of obscene, brutal racist and sexist fantasies, which can only be admitted in a censored form.

Zizek goes on to look at the resurgent racist authoritarianism of the state: from the EU's construction of a border police force to keep out immigrants to the recent assassination of migrants fleeing G8-engineered famine (covered by Bat here), and:

This is the truth of globalization: the construction of new walls safeguarding the prosperous Europe from a flood of immigrants. One is tempted to resuscitate here the old Marxist “humanist” opposition of “relations between things” and “relations between persons”: In the much celebrated free circulation opened up by the global capitalism, it is “things” (commodities) which freely circulate, while the circulation of “persons” is more and more controlled.

And what makes the racism around Katrina acceptable in polite society is that:

The “subject supposed to loot and rape” is on the other side of the Wall—this is the subject about whom Bennett can afford to make his slips of the tongue and confess in a censored mode his murderous dreams.

Interestingly, one of Zizek's Lubljana colleagues, Alenka Zupancic, draws out in a very fine way the Lacanian-Kantian attitude to racism, particularly that which is either unconscious or is formally or publicly disavowed, in her Ethics of the Real:

The most pointed example would be that of fetishism: a certain object, for instance, may leave person A completely cold, whereas in person B it can incite a whole series of actions, procedures and rituals, without person B being able to do anything about it. This is because the object at stake does not play the same part in the libidinal economy of the two people ... the subject has to be considered as playing a part in this. We must attribute to the subject the decision involved in incorporation of this drive or incentive into her maxim, even though this decision is neither experiential or temporal ... The decision in question is, of course, to be situated on the level of the unconscious or, in Kantian terms, on the level of the Gesinnung, the 'disposition' of the subject which is, according to Kant, the ultimate foundation of the incorporation of incentives into maxims.

I don't quite get the last bit either, but you see the point: you are obliged to take responsibility for your unconscious predispositions. You can't hide behind "I didn't mean it" or "I'm just telling you what the survivors said" or "well, there were a lot of rumours going round and...". Racism, and a certain amount of displaced class-supremacism, is no more innocent in America than, say, Venezuela (where the makers of the documentary The Revolution Will Not be Televised found rich, blonde, upper-class elites snarling about the ignorant, workshy poor and worrying about whether their domestic servants might be spies for Chavez). In fact, the reporters and politicians and media pundits who took part in that febrile charade are guilty as hell.

2:24:00 pm | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Staged election; staged trial. posted by Richard Seymour

Jonathan Steele in The Guardian this morning:

With the issue out of the spotlight, it is a fair bet that when the official result is declared - perhaps today - the announcement that the constitution has passed will be treated as pretty dull since we already "know" that from the weekend leaks by Condoleezza Rice, Jack Straw and the Iraqi government.


Turnout figures in such cities as Najaf doubled from an initial figure of 45%. In Nineveh and Diyala, another province with a Sunni Arab majority, officials initially talked of startling yes votes of up to 70% in each. Later, they changed the Nineveh figure to say the no votes had won - but the figure was only 55%, and so below the crucial 66% threshold for rejection

Gareth Porter for the Inter Press Service reports:

According to the widely cited preliminary figures announced by the spokesman for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq (IECI) in Nineveh, 326,000 people voted for the constitution and 90,000 against. Those figures were said to be based on results from more than 90 percent of the 300 polling stations in the province.


However, according to the U.S. military liaison with the IECI in Nineveh, Maj. Jeffrey Houston, the final totals for the province were 424,491 "no" votes and 353,348 "yes" votes. This means that the earlier figures actually represented only 54 percent of the official vote total – not 90 percent, as the media had been led to believe. And the votes which had not been revealed earlier went against the constitution by a ratio more than 12 to 1.


The final figures revealed by the U.S. military liaison with the IECI suggest a voter turnout in Nineveh that strains credibility. On a day when Sunni turnout reached 88 percent in Salahuddin province and 90 percent in Fallujah, a total of only 778,000 votes – about 60 percent of the eligible voters – in Nineveh appears anomalous. Even if the turnout in the province had only been 70 percent, the total would have been 930,000.


A total of 350,000 votes for the constitution in the province is questionable based on the area's ethnic-religious composition. The final vote breakdown for the January election reveals that the Kurds and Shiites in Nineveh had mustered a combined total of only 130,000 votes for Kurdish and Shi'ite candidates, despite high rates of turnout for both groups.

To have amassed 350,000 votes for the constitution, they would have had to obtain overwhelming support from the non-Kurdish, non-Arab minorities in the province.

And those minorities were, suffice to say, hugely against the constitution, particularly the Assyrian Christians who are frightened of a clause that will allow Kurds to expropriate their lands, a process already under way, and which the Christians call ethnic cleansing. So, did they suddenly decide that they were eager to meet such a fate?


Today Hussein is being prosecuted only for 19 charges relating to the massacre of some 150 people in the village of Dujail in 1982. The murders followed a failed assassination attempt on the Baathist leader by alleged members of the Shiite fundamentalist Da’awa organisation—the party of the current Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari.

The Dujail massacre has been carefully chosen, instead of other Baathist crimes that were encouraged or sanctioned by the major powers. These include the slaughter of Iraqi Communist Party members in 1979; the murder of thousands of Shiites in the lead-up to the 1980 US-backed Iraqi invasion of Iran; the use of Western-supplied chemical weapons against Iranian troops and civilians during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war; the pogroms against the Kurdish population in the late 1980s; and the butchery of tens of thousands of Shiites and Kurds following the 1991 Gulf War.

It seems that the 'trial' will proceed rapidly, Saddam and a few of his former cronies will be sentenced to death and thus a large amount of evidence destroyed. Perhaps, who knows, the twenty-minute tape delay on the broadcasted proceedings will allow the odd aperçu from Saddam to slip by. "Ah, David Mellor - the Mr Melon we used to call him - how nice of him to double our export-credits after we put down the Kurdish traitors! Please extend my condolences for his electoral misfortune - he should have taken a leaf from my book..." All of which inept farce will unfold to the soundtrack of car bombs, bullets, tortured screams and airjets pounding people to pink mist. "Yes," Saddam will say, "I love the smell of mass murder in the morning".

10:34:00 am | Permalink | Comments thread | | Print | Digg | | reddit | StumbleUpon | diigo it | Share| Flattr this

Search via Google



Against Austerity cover

Subscription options

Flattr this

Recent Comments

Powered by Disqus

Recent Posts

Subscribe to Lenin's Tomb




Organic Intellectuals

Prisoner of Starvation