Friday, December 30, 2005

Torture Documents Hit the News; more on Uzbekistan. posted by Richard Seymour

The Times is now covering this story, and Radio 4's PM programme has just carried some lengthy coverage including an interview with Craig Murray. The story has also made Al Jazeera, The Scotsman and the UPI newswire. Bloggerheads has an account of some of the reaction to the material, particularly from US wingnuts like Michelle Malkin, anxious to impugn the motives of the man behind the claims. They will look very silly in very short order.

It's worth contextualising this story in the background of Western relations with Uzbekistan. The simple fact is that the US and UK in particular support the government in Uzbekistan against all internal foes because it is a friendly regime that will ensure its rich energy assets will be made available to American energy corporations. Take a look at this:



It isn't news, but this documents the involvement of Bush and his friends in Uzbekistan and its energy interests long before the Bush presidency. It was during the 1990s that Uzbekistan formed several wide-ranging agreements with then un-named US oil companies and its state-run concern, Uzbekneftegaz, and it was in 1996 that Enron first formed a business alliance with the Uzbek government.

Indeed, the US established for itself in a 1994 report the extraoardinary energy resources available in the Fergana Basin (including Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan & Kyrgyzstan). We're talking 4,538 million barrels of oil and 2,403 trillian cubic feet of gas. That's big money, and immensely important for the US economy as Lay points out in his memo to Bush. Consequently, the US took the opportunity provided by 9/11 to establish a large military presence in Uzbekistan, within striking distance of those oil interests. It suited Karimov too, since it would legitimise his war against internal foes as part of a 'war on terrorism'. And if you want to know what the administration thinks of torture in Uzbekistan, consider this exchange:

BBC RADIO: Second question. Second question is to what extent the assistance provided by the U.S. Government to Uzbekistan is linked to the human rights issue and the release of Mrs. Makhadirova which has been mentioned today, the mother of the person who was in detention in Jaslyk camp, who actually died, and the scientists from Glasgow have confirmed that the person died as a result of serious torture. To what extent have you heard about this case?

RUMSFELD: I’m not knowledgeable about every aspect of this. The Ambassador has responded that the United States is pleased with the release that’s been made, And the answer is that the relationships between sovereign nations tend not to be on a single pillar. They tend to involve economic, political, and in this case human rights as well as, security issues.


The answer to a serious question of torture that caused a person to die is that a) the US has applauded the release of the person's mother, and b) we're making money and expanding influence here so kindly fuck off.

The United Kingdom, for its part, has some interesting links with the Uzbek regime. Among these are the awarding in 2001 of a major oil contract to a subsidiary of the UK-based Trinity Energy, a total trade value of £205 million, and UK training for Uzbek troops. That was weeks before the same troops carried out this massacre. As you may recall, the US blocked a probe into this massacre for fear of 'provoking' Uzbekistan, and thereby upsetting it's strategy of placing 'lily pads' (military bases) in the country.

Oh yes, it's all a rich and pretty pageant. And if Uzbekistan wants to supply 'us' with the ripe fruits of its intensive labours in the torture chamber - where a chap might reasonably expect to have his fingernails pulled out, be raped with a broken bottle, boiled to death, asphyxiated, have his limbs broken with blunt objects, be forced to watch relatives get raped - then who are 'we' to ask questions?

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"Spies, lies and censorship" posted by Richard Seymour


The Morning Star has published the banned documents on its front page today. It's well worth a look - if you haven't a subscription, many good newsagents stock the paper. Or you can have a look at the front page here. Apparently, the BBC featured this front page in their review of newspapers this morning, but not a word has been allowed to appear on their website.

Of the mainstream newspapers, only The Independent has bothered to cover the story, but it has carefully ommitted to mention the fact that the news was first released in the blogosphere, a tactic which has ensured that the documents have now been seen by tens of thousands of people across the world (I hear it's in the region of 100,000, and growing). Daily Kos, Antiwar.com and Empire Burlesque have all picked up on the story. The latter also has a rolling list sampling blogs that are discussing these documents. Chicken Yoghurt has an excellent run-down of the material and of the government's denials and callous public equivocations on the matter of torture.

The use of that vocable, the t-word, has forced its way into the public discourse as it has become increasingly apparent that the use of torture by Western states is not merely ubiquitous (they have always used it), but becoming normalised. The first step in this procedure was the public appeals, from various news outlets, to "discuss the matter honestly". The possibility was insidiously inserted into the daily political intercourse by simply raising questions: is torture ever justified, what if the guy knows a code for a nuclear trigger, what if it's a ticking clock etc? Coterminously, of course, the United States government was putting in place a system of international prisons in which 'terror suspects' were tortured. Subsequently, as these facts-on-the-ground have become subject to more scrutiny, particularly after Abu Ghraib, Western states have tried to outsource torture, seeking more habitable terrain for their practises, or allowing some trustworthy agent to do it for them (like the Badr Corps, or the peshmerga). They have tried to maximise deniability. Hence: we find your information very useful Mr Karimov, please continue whatever you were doing. It is that shape-shifting system of international torture that the government has been trying to protect in censorsing these documents.

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Update on Foreign Office Torture Censorship. posted by Richard Seymour

The story is now Live. It is appearing and being replicated on blogs all over the world.

Bloggerheads says:

The challenge is two-fold, because the government is currently taking action to withdraw these documents from circulation. Craig Murray, the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, has been ordered to return these documents to the FCO, and delete any reference to them from his forthcoming book. Post them on your website, and you can be sure that the government will take an interest.

Nevertheless, we urge you to mirror these documents on your website, add your own research/analysis, and then urge others to do the same. This damning evidence must not be allowed to disappear.


The documents are now in circulation and can't simply be taken out any more.

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MI6 involvement in abductions, torture. posted by Richard Seymour

The British government slapped a gag order (or D-Notice) on the British press to obstruct the naming of the MI6 officer and station chief who is alleged to have masterminded the arrest and torture of Pakistani 'terror suspects'. The Guardian was gracious enough not to mention the name of the officer involved, although they know perfectly well who it is. In fact, most of the world knows who it is. The man's name is Nicholas Langman.

Greek blogger Histologion names him here.

Now, the thing about the D-Notice is that it is an entirely voluntary arrangement, totally unconnected to - say - the Official Secrets Act. This means what you think it means: the press willingly collude with the British government in keeping certain information secret that you really ought to know. There were claims that the story about the non-existent ricin plot was given a D-Notice, but it turned out (at least according to the Guardian) that the government had instead applied a Public Interest Immunity Certificate, which does have certain legal force.

At any rate, there is no reason on earth why anyone with half a brain should feel constrained to accept this sordid collusion. Here's a nice document for you to look at, confirming that Mr Langman is indeed the alleged torture/abduction mastermind:



Via Global Echo.

According to Histologion, these agents are very likely to end up in court:

[T]he public prosecutors' office is stating that the complaints are "absolutely valid" and is preparing to call the named Greek Intelligence officers to testify. This is something that the Intelligence Service (EYP) has already stated that it will not allow its employees to do, on grounds of "national interest". The lawyer of the abducted immigrants, however, is preparing to sue the named EYP officers. This will make not appearing in court difficult for the agents accused.


That's a fuck sight better treatment than any of abducted and tortured got.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Foreign Office Tries to Censor Craig Murray on Torture. posted by Richard Seymour

Craig Murray, the former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan, has been trying to expose the government's complicity with the Uzbek regime in obtaining information through the use of torture. Two documents in particular are being suppressed, because the FCO has instructed Mr Murray not to include them in his new book and to hand over all copies - fortunately, however, they have already made their way into the public domain by some means. And I, of course, have received no instructions from any official. Here they are:



Michael Wood is the legal adviser to the Foreign Office, (it was to him that Elizabeth Wilmshurt's resignation letter was addressed), and he is explaining that the government's position on obtaining information that it is not illegal under the UN to receive or use information obtained under torture. The only limitation is that it may not be used in court. It is addressed to Linda Duffield, who I assume is the same Linda Duffield who acts as UK ambassador to the Czech Republic, which has recently been implicated in the hosting of CIA prison sites. Its Interior Minister claims that the Republic turned down a US request to set up a detention centre on its territory.

And here is the text of the second document, a sequence of telegraphs from Craig Murray to the FCO. In particular, I quote the following:

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture.

On behalf of the intelligence services, Matthew Kydd said that they found some of the material very useful indeed with a direct bearing on the war on terror.


They are using information obtained under torture, then, because intelligence services consider it "very useful". Further, Murray responds to Michael Wood's legal position:

I have been considering Michael Wood's legal view, which he kindly gave in writing. I cannot understand why Michael concentrated only on Article 15 of the Convention. This certainly bans the use of material obtained under torture as evidence in proceedings, but it does not state that this is the sole exclusion of the use of such material.

The relevant article seems to me Article 4, which talks of complicity in torture. Knowingly to receive its results appears to be at least arguable as complicity. It does not appear that being in a different country to the actual torture would preclude complicity. I talked this over in a hypothetical sense with my old friend Prof Francois Hampson, I believe an acknowledged World authority on the Convention, who said that the complicity argument and the spirit of the Convention would be likely to be winning points.


He further responds to a decision taken to continue to use information obtained under torture:

I understand that the meeting decided to continue to obtain the Uzbek torture material. I understand that the principal argument deployed was that the intelligence material disguises the precise source, ie it does not ordinarily reveal the name of the individual who is tortured. Indeed this is true – the material is marked with a euphemism such as "From detainee debriefing." The argument runs that if the individual is not named, we cannot prove that he was tortured.

I will not attempt to hide my utter contempt for such casuistry, nor my shame that I work in and organisation where colleagues would resort to it to justify torture. I have dealt with hundreds of individual cases of political or religious prisoners in Uzbekistan, and I have met with very few where torture, as defined in the UN convention, was not employed. When my then DHM raised the question with the CIA head of station 15 months ago, he readily acknowledged torture was deployed in obtaining intelligence.


So, the Foreign Office does not want anyone to understand that it has taken decisions, in collaboration with MI6, to continue to use information obtained by the use of torture despite the fact that it is, as Craig Murray points out "highly coloured material which exaggerates the threat" or, more prosaically, "dross". At the very least, that serves as yet another introduction to the morally bankrupt universe of the British State.

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Male Fantasies posted by Richard Seymour

Klaus Theweleit:

After the creation of a unified Germany in 1870, and their defeat of the French in 1871, it was absolutely the military constructing the body. The model for all people was male, grim and disciplined. The military was said to be the school of the nation; you had to go and bear it, and come out of it a different person than you had been before. You came out German whereas before, implicitly, you were not.

Medicine, psychoanalysis, and religion go on in a way, but weakened. Sports, now and since the World Wars, has entered very strongly into this fear of how the body is constructed and how a person has to function: "training"; what is "fair play" and what is not; winning. The whole "beating and defeating" kind of language has gone from war to sports. I see it especially in the American newspapers: "Knicks burn the Bulls." (Interview with Genevieve Fay & William Stern).


The "new man" sired in the drill (the drill as organized battle of the old man against himself) owes allegiance only to the machine that bore him. He is a true child of the drill machine, created without the help of a woman, parentless. His associations and relationships bind him instead to other specimens of the new man, with whom he allows himself to be united to form the macro-machine troop. All others belong only "under" him - never alongside, behind, or in front.

The most urgent task of the man of steel is to pursue, to dam in, and to subdue any force that threatens to transform him back into the horribly disorganized jumble of flesh, hair, skin, bones, intestines and feelings that calls itself human. (Klaus Theweleit, Male Fantasies, p 160).


Michel Foucault:

By the late eighteenth century, the soldier has become something that can be made; out of formless clay, an inapt body, the machine required can be constructed; posture is gradually corrected; a calculated constraint runs slowly through each part of the body, mastering it, making it pliable, ready at all times, turning silently into the automatism of habit; in short, one has 'got rid of the peasant' and given him 'the air of a soldier'. (Discipline and Punish, p 135).




Travis Bickle:

June twenty-ninth. I gotta get in shape. Too much sitting has ruined my body. Too much abuse has gone on for too long. From now on there will be 50 pushups each morning, 50 pullups. There will be no more pills, no more bad food, no more destroyers of my body. From now on will be total organization. Every muscle must be tight.


Because there's just too much sentimentality about the troops.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Unacknowledged Devastation. posted by Richard Seymour

George Monbiot on top form:

When an El Nino drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, government officials were ordered "to discourage relief works in every possible way". The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited "at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices." The only relief permitted in most districts was hard labour, from which anyone in an advanced state of starvation was turned away. Within the labour camps, the workers were given less food than the inmates of Buchenwald. In 1877, monthly mortality in the camps equated to an annual death rate of 94%.

As millions died, the imperial government launched "a militarized campaign to collect the tax arrears accumulated during the drought." The money, which ruined those who might otherwise have survived the famine, was used by Lytton to fund his war in Afghanistan. Even in places which had produced a crop surplus, the government's export policies, like Stalin's in the Ukraine, manufactured hunger. In the North-western provinces, Oud and the Punjab, which had brought in record harvests in the preceding three years, at least 1.25m died.


Empire is about exploitation, and its subjects are entirely dispensable.

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Business As Usual. posted by Richard Seymour


New Orleans Police Shoot, Kill Man:

The city's embattled police department will have another internal investigation to face after a swarm of converging officers gunned down a man brandishing a knife.

A police spokesman said the officers who fired on the man Monday will be reassigned pending the outcome of the probe, but he defended their response, saying at least one officer's life was in danger just prior to the barrage of gunfire.

"You have a subject who's lunging at them with a knife... swinging wildly at them and they're fearing for their life," said Officer David Adams, a police spokesman. "They had no other choice but to resort to lethal force."

Officers repeatedly asked the man to drop the knife and used pepper spray to try to subdue him, but he used a cloth to cover his face and was still able to walk toward an officer and threaten him, authorities said.

"Evidently the pepper spray had no effect," Adams said.


How long before we are told that the guy had no knife, was issued no warnings and was actually affected in the normal fashion by the pepper spray before receiving at least half a dozen bullets?

Actually, never mind that for now. The guy was supposed to have had a knife with a three-inch blade. I just took out my tape measure - it's about the size of a pen-knife. And three or four police officers surrounding him couldn't disarm him? They had guns and pepper spray - yet their lives were in imminent danger? Already there is a suggestion in some reports that the guy "appeared mentally unbalanced".

I was going to say that this was reminiscent of the shooting of civilians in New Orleans during the post-Katrina crisis, the one where police claimed they fired at snipers who were shooting at relief contractors. And then there's Menezes and Rigoberto Alpizar. And then, frankly, it just occurs to me that there are so many comparable instances that I'm not going to bother. Just chalk it up as another body taken in the increasing aggression and militarisation of the state. Oh, and that Alpizar thing? The one where police shot an innocent man and then lied about him, claiming he threatened to blow shit up? Six days after it happened, the government gave the same federal air marshall dipshits greater powers to identify suspects.

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Birth of a Nation: from the ashes of Palestine. posted by Richard Seymour


There is an obvious and glaring problem with discussions of the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the one hand, it is altogether too easy to discuss Israel as an occupier, human rights abuser etc. On the other hand, so few understand what the war is really all about that most are obliged to rest their thoughts on the pre-digested pabulum of media stock phrases. Greg Philo and Mike Berry describe some of the consequences of this in their Bad News from Israel (Pluto Press, 2004). There's an essay by Philo summarising some of this here. Even those who are not left supposing that the Palestinians are aggressively trying to claim more land from The Only Democracy In The Middle East, or that the war is over some sort of Levantine Kashmir situated between two nations who both exert a claim on it, still end up regurgitating carefully contrived myths - that the occupation of Palestine began in 1967, that Israel was built by escapees from the Nazi judeocide, that the Palestinians are awfully-aggressive-too, that the motor for for the conflict is sectarian hatred, religious enmity, Extremists on Both Sides, a Cycle Of Violence (in which it is always Israel who takes 'revenge') etc. I maintain that you can't understand 1967 or anything that came after it without understanding the roots of the 1948 war, the one in which the Zionist project was consummated. The Palestinians call it the Nakba (catastrophe), although the reasons are poorly understood.

Introduction: Ideology, nationalisms, early conflict.
The Arab-Israeli war of 1947-8 was the culmination of the coterminous development of Jewish Nationalism and Arab Nationalism in the mid-19th Century. (There are, at the very least, some necessary qualifications to make to this claim. Adeed Dawisha makes a creditable case that Arab nationalism was really a superficial phenomenon until it became initially an adjunct of British imperialism and then a rebellion against it. Arab Nationalism: From Triumph to Despair, Princeton University Press, 2003.) Palestinian nationalism had its roots in an 1834 revolt against Egyptian rulers who had taken the territory of Palestine and Syria from the Ottomans between 1831 and 1840. Ibrahim Pasha, charged with ruling these territories, made himself unpopular through his demand for conscripts – for many Palestinians, conscription was a death sentence, while for a number of villages it threatened the labour supply. When a number of notable families in Palestine insisted that they could not supply the required number of conscripts, Pasha responded by relaxing the policy in other areas while making efforts to strictly enforce it in Palestine. This precipitated a rebellion against Egyptian rule in which Egyptian troops were ousted from several cities, including Jerusalem, until eventually they mounted a brutal response, reducing several cities to ash. When Egyptian forces were finally able to retake Palestine, Pasha imposed disarmament on the population (though not on those of contiguous lands): the state would monopolise the means of violence. The revolt had been characterised not by loyalty to the Ottoman Empire, but by a populist movement of peasants that was galvanised by leading feudal families, in a way that would become familiar in the 20th Century. In many ways, it would be the threat and example of Zionism that would be crucial in moulding Palestinian nationalism as it is known today. However, Rashid Khalidi crucially qualifies this point by outlining certain historical cultural inputs into the future development of Palestinian nationalism – in particular, a sense of Palestine as “a special and sacred place”, and a concern with the status of Jerusalem and its permanent vulnerability to external threats. See Khalidi, Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness, Columbia University Press, 1997, 29-30.

Jewish nationalism was both a reaction to European anti-Semitism and a reflux against traditional Jewish communities. There had been approximately 24,000 Jews living in Palestine before the first Aliya of 1882, but the migrants among them tended to be elderly European exiles seeking to live their last days in one of the holy cities. The generation that arrived in 1882, by contrast, sought refuge from Russian and Eastern European anti-Semitism (particularly the Tsarist pogroms beginning in 1881), but also built agricultural settlements in which they might regenerate themselves as a people. This was not Herzlian Zionism, but it did involve a self-image of the settlers as ‘pioneers’, laying the foundations for a future Jewish community to be embedded in Palestine. This, very shortly, met a disorganised but often ferocious Palestinian resistance, particularly from those dispossessed by the settlers.

The movement was labelled Zionism by Viennese Jewish writer Nathan Birnbaum in 1885, and it was seen as an attempt by a people scattered since 586 BC to ‘return’ to Zion. It was Theodor Herzl who, witnessing the ferocious anti-Semitism unleashed by the Dreyfuss affair, founded an explicit political Zionism. Jews, he said, could not be emancipated or assimilated in Europe because they were a nation. Europe was “perpetual enemy territory”, and while he himself was happy to ponder any number of possible homelands on which a Jewish State could be erected, for most of his contemporary sympathisers Palestine was the only serious option. Congruent with this goal was Herzl’s convening of the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, which resulted in two Viennese rabbis embarking on an exploratory mission to Palestine. Their verdict upon return: “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man.” Herzl, for his part, received a message from Yusuf Zia al-Khalidi in 1899, in which the latter begged the Zionists to reconsider – if they attempted to occupy Palestine, they would face such an uprising that the Turks, however well-disposed they were toward the Zionists, would be unable to put down. Herzl sent a reassuring reply: the Arabs would find ‘excellent brothers’ in the Jews, who would bring their own “individual wealth” and thereby increase the lot of Arabs. He knew better. As he explained in The Jewish State, immigration would be useless unless based on “assured supremacy”. He recorded in his diary that military strength would be a crucial part of the Zionist strategy for ‘returning’ to Palestine. Uniquely, Jewish nationalism was projected into an external territory. Whatever the Biblical claims to the territory, and however leavened by reassurances from Zionist leaders, as soon as the movement settled on Palestine as the site of a Jewish state, conflict was almost inevitable. For this and other reasons, the Zionists sought to imbricate themselves with the major imperial powers – first, the Ottomans; then after Sykes-Picot, the British; and latterly, the United States. The success in winning the British to a ‘Jewish Homeland’ (not yet a state) was sufficient that the Arab revolt of 1936 was to be directed both at Zionism and the Mandate, and indeed the two occupiers sometimes worked together in military operations against the insurgent population.

From Heimstatte to Judenstaat: the British and the Zionists.
The Sykes-Picot agreement had divided Arab territories up between British and French rule under Mandate conditions. As the British had assumed control of Palestine, leading Zionists were eager to win their approval for their national aspirations. Chaim Weizmann explained that he wished “to make Palestine as Jewish as England is English”. Weizmann’s approaches had been rewarded in 1917 with a letter from Foreign Secretary Arthur J Balfour to Lord Rothschild, known as the Balfour Declaration, in which it was announced that Her Majesty’s government favoured “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people”. At the time, there were 56,000 Jews in Palestine alongside 600,000 Arabs, and the agreement insisted that the civil and religious rights of the Palestinians were to be upheld. The political rights of the Palestinians, however, did not feature at all.

However, contrary to the assumptions of some Zionist politicians, British interests were not synonymous with theirs. The British had settled on a mix of apparently contradictory policies in their aim of controlling some of the former Ottoman Empire. To break the grip of the Ottomans for good, they had declared support for an Arab Kingdom under Hussein, the sharif of Mecca, who in return led an uprising against the Turkish rulers. This conflicted with the Sykes-Picot agreement, which divided what might have been Hussein’s kingdom between France and Britain. The Balfour Declaration wasn’t strictly compatible with either British or Arab rule – however, it may have been seen as solving a number of problems for the British in that might provide, as Sir Ronald Storss put it, a “little loyal Jewish Ulster” in Palestine. Churchill, a Colonial Secretary during the Mandate, was also persuaded that Jewish nationalism was a useful counterpoint to what he described as the “International Jew”.

It was not long, however, before the British felt obliged to curtail their commitment to Zionism – in 1922, Winston Churchill’s white paper limited Jewish immigration based on economic criteria, proposed elected institutions based on proportional representation rather than strict parity between Arabs and Jews, and excluded Transjordan from the zone of a potential Jewish State. These restrictions disappointed not only the ‘revisionist’ Zionists who followed Ze’ev Jabotinsky but also his more moderate opponents who supported Weizmann. The British attitude varied according to circumstances, but there is also a close correlation between Zionist attitudes toward the British and their strength in Palestine. Malcolm Yapp notes that “before 1936 the Jewish community was too small to stand alone and it needed the protection of the British umbrella. After 1936, at 400,000 and 30 per cent of the population, it could contemplate forming a state and if necessary dispense with British supervision”. From Basle, it had been the policy of the Zionists to publicly disavow the intention of building a Jewish State, preferring Herzl disciple Max Nordau’s term ‘Heimstatte’ (Homeland). This was to avoid provoking the Ottomans as much as the Arabs, and later, the British. Yet, following the Arab uprising of 1936, the commission appointed under Lord Peel to investigate the causes of the uprising and propose a solution arrived at a recommendation for partition – the Jewish State would be comparatively small, only 5,000 square kilometres, but it was nevertheless recognition by the British that such a state would exist in Palestine. The Twentieth Zionist Congress in 1937 accepted the plan – despite objections from the Revisionists, Ben Gurion declaimed that this was the beginning and not the end: “we will be able to settle in all the other parts of the country, whether through agreement and mutual understanding with our Arab neighbours or in some other way”. And when the British attempted in 1939 to introduce a white paper that would strictly limit Jewish immigration and regulate land sales, the Zionists reacted with fury: Dr Herzog, the Chief Rabbi, tore up the document in front of a weeping congregation; Arab shops were looted; a general Jewish strike was proclaimed; public spaces and buildings were bombed. The Zionists were becoming confident, but also angry at British equivocation, and Zionism was henceforth a thoroughly militarised affair. Following the Second World War, during which time they had fought alongside the British , the Zionists – assured of their ability to found a state – took up arms against the British Mandate authorities, notoriously bombing the King David Hotel in 1946. The British, depleted after the cessation of hostilities in Europe, announced that they would withdraw in 1947, finally departing in 1948.

Palestinian identity and Pan-Arab Solidarity.
If the Palestinian Arabs were constant in their antipathy toward Zionism, this did not usually take the form of hostility to Jewish immigration. Yapp points out that “From 1923 to 1926, a period when many Jews entered Palestine, the country was quiet. In 1929, at a time when Jewish immigration was at an all time low, the most serious riots until that time occurred.” Often, the immediate cause of hostility to the arriving Jews was the disappropriation of fellaheen, while a more generalised hostility to Zionism had developed among Palestinians, and particularly in the Arab press. The opposition to Zionism was not delimited by class, but different layers of Palestinian society responded to it differently.


Rashid Khalidi, in his efforts to demonstrate that there was a coherent Palestinian identity long before the Zionists’ comprehensive victory in 1948, discloses that most of those who sold their land to the Zionists prior to 1948 were non-Palestinian absentee landlords for whom it was no more than a mere economic transaction. However, David Hirst points out that a large number of Palestinian political leaders did sell their land to the Zionists and were met with no more than verbal abuse – often hypocritical abuse at that, since many of those who waxed indignant about it had indulged in the practise themselves. Further, as Khalidi acknowledges, there was a clear class dimension involved in the land sales, which intersected with the national dimension: the fellaheen were least inclined to sell their land to the Zionists, while large landowners were most inclined to do so. Class was also an important dimension in the relationship between Arab and Jewish workers: if the Arab antipathy to Zionism and the anti-Arab practises of the Histradut (Zionist trade union) weren’t enough to prevent solidarity where it might otherwise have taken place, the generally privileged position of migrant Jews in the economy made it even more improbable. And if it is true, as Khalidi suggests, that most of those who sold their land to Zionists were non-Palestinian, it is also true that many of those who joined in Palestinian uprisings, especially in 1936, were non-Palestinians. The inspiration for the uprising derived, to some extent, from similar disturbances in Egypt and Syria, and there was considerable popular pressure on the semi-autonomous governments of those countries to support the Palestinian struggle. Palestinian nationalism was both contiguous with and often surpassed by Arab nationalism. Nevertheless, the refusal of large numbers of the domestic elite to sell their land to Zionists was an important element binding the emerging political leadership with the masses of peasant workers. And it adverted to the increasingly widespread recognition that Palestine would be a separate national state, formalised at the Third Arab Congress at Haifa in 1920. If it was the fellaheen who initiated and drove the anti-British and anti-Zionist insurgency, the notable families and elites that made up the more conservative Arab leadership were if nothing else obliged by pressure to remonstrate with the British rulers in militant language.

One consequence of the feudal social structure in Palestine was that notables and religious leaders dominated the national discussion. It was they who communicated with the British authorities, petitioned, and formulated demands. That elite, for its part, took its cue from the broader Arab ruling class. Leading notables like Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem and head of the “political wing of the Arab Higher Committee”, were responsible for allowing the initiative in the Palestinian cause to be appropriated by Arab states, preventing the establishment of independent institutions and leadership. (The other side of this was the British policy of expelling Palestinian leaders, thus fragmenting and dispersing an indigenous movement). From the formation of the Arab League in 1944, it established an independent Palestine as one of the principles of Pan-Arabism. It was the Arab Higher Committee that organised the general Arab strike and the boycott of the UN Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP), while the Arab League would coordinate the reaction to UNSCOP’s report, which heavily favoured the Zionists. The main Arab nations involved in the conflict, Egypt and Jordan, were frequently more concerned with recruiting Palestinians to their opposing causes than with encouraging Palestinians to liberate their territory. The Hashemite rulers of Jordan had also formed alliances with the Jewish Agency and had agreed with the British to tacitly support the partition of Palestine. The fragmentation of the local leadership into distinct ruling families, meanwhile, caused fractiousness: at one point before the civil war, there were two national treasuries for Palestine, one controlled by the Husaynis, another by Musa Alami, supported by the Hashemite Iraqi government. The division of the population into local forces prevented a serious national army from emerging: at the onset of the civil war, the Palestinians had a total force, including volunteers, of 12,000, while the active Zionist forces amounted to 22,425.

War, and Aftermath.
The Palestinian and Arab forces entered into combat with the Zionists ill-prepared. The Palestinian leadership was still in disarray, following the British crackdowns after the 1936-9 uprising. Much of it had been or remained in exile. And the bulk of the wealthy elite had simply evacuated at the onset of civil war in 1947. This time, it was the Zionists who were in full revolt. The Palestinians had responded to the partition resolution recommended by UNSCOP with some sporadic attacks on Jewish settlements, but the Zionists had the initiative, having successfully created para-state institutions, a parallel Jewish economy, and a number of well-equipped armies. They had also procured the vital support of the USSR and President Truman. (The Palestinian, by contrast, had “no functioning national-level institutions, no central para-state mechanisms, no serious financial apparatus, and no centralised military force”. Rashid Khalidi, “The Palestinians and 1948: the underlying causes of failure”, in Eugene L Rogan and Avi Shlaim (eds), The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, Cambridge University Press, 2001, pp 12-36.) Such, in fact, was the success of their diplomacy, the Zionists were even able to induce the National Executive of the British Labour Party to publicly endorse a ‘transfer’ of the Arab population, a small embarrassment to Chaim Weizmann at the time. For all that, even as the violence escalated, the Palestinians appeared to have an early advantage, so ferocious were their attacks. By February 1948, the notes from Mapai meetings were sorely critical of the leadership of Ben Gurion, particularly over the isolation of settlements in the Negev. In the same month, the Arab Higher Committee had announced that it would never accept the partition of Palestine. Yet this was also the moment at which the war turned around. Palestinian fighters were running out of ammunition , and the Haganah were able to exploit the divisions between different Palestinian groups.

In May 1948, the war became an international one, with Arab forces finally being dispatched to assist the Palestinians. There had been considerable discord among Arab governments about what action needed to be taken, particularly since the Jordanian government hoped to annexe much of Palestine, arguing that it could not stand alone. In consequence, each nation’s troops fought as a separate army with no collectively determined goals or strategy. The ensuing war proceeded in stages, punctuated by truces: and each stage gave the emerging Israeli state more land, from the Negev to Galilee. A major part of the Zionist success was the implementation of Plan Dalet, a blueprint prepared by the Haganah with two specific objectives: to take any installation evacuated by the British, and to “cleanse the future Jewish state of as many Palestinians as possible”. The means were not exclusively military, but where the refugee flights were not inspired by direct experience of Zionist violence, they were animated by knowledge and often well-founded rumour of what awaited those who remained. The massacre of two-thirds of the inhabitants of the comparatively pacific Palestinian village of Deir Yassin between 4.30am and 12pm on 10th April 1948 by Haganah, Irgun and LEHI forces , stood as a frightful object lesson in this regard. Of 1.3 million Palestinians, it is conservatively estimated that approximately 700,000 were expelled.

There is much argument about the significance of Plan Dalet, but Ilan Pappe makes a persuasive case that its importance resides in that it called for the destruction of what were then population centres as a means of creating facts on the ground. While Kimmerling and Migdal point out in opposition to the interpretation of the Palestinian historian Walid Khalidi that a large number of Palestinians had fled before local Haganah commanders had to decide on implementing Plan Dalet, Pappe points out that this in no way alters the fact of the plan’s existence and intent. Benny Morris claims that the plan was marginal to the exodus of refugees because the main wave of the Palestinian refugee outflux took place in April and May 1948, catching the Yishuv leaders and Dalet planners by surprise. Norman Finkelstein, however, compellingly disputes this claim using both the internal evidence in Morris’s texts and reliable extraneous evidence. In particular, Morris appears to have obscured crucial facts, such as that at least as many Palestinians were expelled after the declaration of Israeli statehood as before; that the period after the declaration was much more representative of Zionist policy, given that the accomplishment of partition removed some exiguous constraints on Zionist behaviour; and that the latter period saw Plan D become operative in the field. Finkelstein’s critique is made all the more compelling by the fact that he elicits much tacit agreement to these points from Morris’ text. (See Finkelstein's Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, Verso, 2003, pp 51-87).

Israel had acquired much territory additional to that allotted it in the UN partition plan, and had only relented in taking more land under intense international pressure. When the guns fell silent in January 1949, 90% of the Palestinian population of what would become Israel was situated in refugee camps in the Jordanian occupied West Bank, Lebanon and Gaza. The Hashemite police state would be brutal in suppressing Palestinian nationalism, although an independent nationalist political structure developed all the same. The UN, following principles elaborated by Count Bernadotte, the UN mediator who had been assassinated by Jewish extremists, attempted to cajole Israel into accepting the full and immediate repatriation of the Palestinian refugees, the repartitioning of the land according to the population distribution, and the internationalisation of Jerusalem. Israel, having been accepted as a member of the UN, felt secure enough to resist even discussing such a possibility – under American pressure, it consented to discuss such matters at the Lausanne conference: the talks lasted for one day on May 11th 1949.

The failure of the Arab states to secure an independent Palestine was to have severe implications for the regimes. The fall of the Iraqi monarchy in 1958 at the hands of Qassim’s Free Officers was partially the result of the failure of its efforts. The Egyptian monarchy and its Wafd government fell in 1952, in some measure due to its failure in and indifference to Palestine. The issue of Palestine would fundamentally determine alliances and political fates in Arab countries, not to mention the fate of Pan Arabism as an ideology. Israel, for its part, reduced the Palestinians living in its territory to little more than cheap labour with few political rights. It also sought, through coercion and persuasion, to import Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East and Maghreb - who themselves were subject to racism, scorn and economic exploitation when they arrived.

In starting this post with the "two nationalisms, one land" heuristic, I was being deliberately glib. Such a false equivalence sits well with a certain kind of domesticated liberal discourse, as promulgated by the likes of Amos Oz and even the more critical Baruch Kimmerling. Yet the story becomes more simple each time you look at it: the Palestinians are the victims and the Zionists the manifest colonial aggressors driven by an often messianic nationalist project. This project brought with it an immense baggage of European racism toward the Arabs. (One instance of this was the Hadera settlement, which the Zionists insisted on building over a swamp-ridden area even though they were warned that they would perish in large numbers from malaria. They insisted that they would not take their cue from "barbarians" and that they, unlike the Arabs, would be able to find a way to deal with the malaria. When they duly began to die off, Baron de Rothschild provided a large wad of cash, enabling the settlers to purchase labourers from Egypt to dig ditches for drainage - and they died instead). Aside from racism, the imperative of building a Jewish State in an Arab country and the concomitant concern with 'the demographic problem' led to the ethnic cleansing of 1948, as well as that being perpetrated in the West Bank today, and numerous racist laws imposed by the Israeli government. You can't understand the Palestinians and their plight without recognising this, and you can't understand Israel's military aggression without recognising the expansionism embedded in Zionist ideology.

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Awful Truth: There is No Santa Claus. posted by Richard Seymour





"But what becomes of the Santa Claus when it reveals itself in icons, when it is multiplied in simulacra? Does it remain the supreme authority, simply incarnated in images as a visible theology? Or is it volatilized into simulacra which alone deploy their pomp and power of fascination - the visible machinery of icons being substituted for the pure and intelligible Idea of Santa Claus? This is precisely what was feared by the Iconoclasts, whose millenial quarrel is still with us today. Their rage to destroy images rose precisely because they sensed this omnipotence of simulacra, this facility they have of effacing Santa Claus from the consciousness of men, and the overwhelming, destructive truth which they suggest: that ultimately there has never been any Santa Claus, that only the simulacrum exists, indeed that Santa Claus himself has only ever been his own simulacrum." - Ecclesiastes.

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A Christmas Carol posted by Richard Seymour

Silent night
Holy night
All is calm
All is bright.


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Happy Little Elves. posted by Richard Seymour










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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

"Chavs" posted by Richard Seymour


I am so sick of hearing about this shit. Alright, I get the joke: poverty is big fucking laugh, and anyone who gets ideas above their station (for instance, saves money to buy Burberry gear) is clearly readying themselves for social ridicule. This pathetic, obnoxious middle-class party conversation point is so openly class-supremacist that pointing it out defeats satire. Take this website, which describes the poor who have to eat at McDonalds and whose only social frisson is donning branded sports gear as "Britain's new ruling class". What a service to the actual ruling class that is - those who are accoutured in bespoke suits and leather loafers, whose teeth are perfectly formed, and whose fingers and nails are perpetually manicured.

"Chavscum", as the website is so enlighteningly named, is replete with working class vulgarity that university educated, sneering, 'ironic' liberals can guffaw about. The images are the most potent message, and they do a better job at relaying class-hatred than all of New Labour's subliminal messages about the deserving and undeserving poor ever could. If Blair wanted to justify benefit cuts, he could not say himself that the poor only spend this money on bookies, pubs and drugs. He would have to rely on liberal intellectuals like David Aaronovitch to do it for him. (Delegating nastiness is New Labour's modus operandi). And if he wanted to jusify ASBOs, on-the-spot fines and tougher rules to put them fags out, he'd have no better alibi than this ridiculous cultural pustulation about 'chavs'. And of course, multinationals who purvey mythologies about 'real' brands are immensely assisted by those who deride 'chavs' for wearing 'counterfeit' clothing or jewellery (as if the brand itself was anything more than a signifier of 'authenticity').

Oh, their scorn for the working class woman who happens to be either up the duff or with child is most amusing. (Single mothers, too, deserve to have their benefits cut.) If such a woman dyes her hair and pulls it back in a pony tail, this is known either as a 'Croydon facelift' or a 'council house facelift'. If she pushes a pram along, she is a 'pramface'. This naked and unadorned hatred for the working class could not be made more apparent by adornment, and yet it is accepted because the stilleto knife is coated with the unction of 'satire' before slid between the ribs. Poisonous as it is, the main point is that someone who isn't me is having the piss taken out of them. Shit comics like Jimmy Carr make a living out of that. You can be as vile as you like about fat women, mother-in-laws and even members of your audience, provided it is presented on the prettifying chopping board of irony. 'Little Britain', similarly, provides an 'ironic' veneer for social resentment (of 'chavs', wheelchair layabouts, gays etc), validating the undercurrents of hatred that it purports to satirise.

This is the striking thing about the 'chavs' phenomena - its micro-progenitors are often middle class 'liberals', racist, classist and ignorant to the very marrow, yet who operate under the strange illusion that they are enlightened, liberal, anti-racist while it is their designated 'chavs' who are racist, sexist, vulgar etc.

The discourse is notable for one other curiosity - it 'ethnicises' poverty. K-Punk asked some while back: "Why is it that the desire to eliminate poverty - which, presumably, we all share - inevitably becomes a desire to eliminate the poor? It is because, in capitalist ideology, poverty has to be thought of as an ethnic, rather than a social or economic, trait? The poor are those who are genetically destined to fail, those who lack 'middle-class skills' as the Herald and Tribune put it the other day". The very word 'chav' appears to derive from the 'gypsy' word 'chavo' meaning 'little person'. It has long been used in the South East, and has now become a chic reference for 'culturally aware' apolitical liberals. Often it is the same people who indulge in gypsy-bashing who retail the schtick. They also seem to be the same who purvey and circulate the hysteria about "hoodies". Much of the e-mail traffic in workplaces is saturated with knowing references to this sort of shit. Office workers, unaware that they are allowed their e-mail and internet usage as a means of releasing job resentment, indulge in it as if it were slightly subversive and witty. And the news media, forever amused by the sumptuary proclivities of the working class, feed off this meme when they illustrate their stories about late night drinking with footage of some pissed women falling on their arses and disporting themselves across the pavement.

I can't say I wish these fervid nightmarish imaginings about the working class (violent, drunk, uncouth, branded, depoliticised, unsophisticated, thuggish etc) were expressed more honestly. Because they couldn't be expressed more honestly. It is exhibited in front of your very nose, and you are invited to revel in it. The victims of the Thatcherite purge on welfare and unions, of the atomisation and deprivation that this has produced, are now to be endlessly mocked for their condition, and this is authorised by the hilarity about "chavs". What a larf.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Johann Hari, liberalism, Islamism, Palestine and more discursive debris. posted by Richard Seymour


While you puny earthlings have been working, travelling on the tube, and pursuing similarly contemptible human pursuits, I have been lying around on the sofa with my fingers prodding several orifices, reading newspapers and books. Today, boys and girls, I read Johann Hari, for perhaps the first time in months. I'll give Hari this: unlike most of his colleagues at the Independent, he does appear to read the very occasional book or two. He still evinces extraordinary ignorance, of course, not least when confronted with a left-wing intellectual whom he can't possibly match (Derrida, Negri, Pinter, Chomsky, Hobsbawm etc). I recall when he was still doing his best to land a few blows on George Galloway, and he claimed (in his "review" of Galloway's book) that 800,000 Jews were 'ethnically cleansed' from Arab countries after 1948. I won't disclose private correspondence, but his reply when asked about this raised a chuckle or two, reminding me of the gentleman who when asked by Mark Twain if he believed in baptism replied "Believe in it? Hell, I've seen it done!" (If anyone is interested in the actual history of the Jewish exodus to Israel, you could do worse than read, for instance, Abbas Shiblak's Iraqi Jews: A History of Mass Exodus, 2005, which documents the complicity between the Jewish Agency in Israel and the pro-British Hashemite monarchy in forcing Jews to flee Iraq. Just like the Mizrahi Jews of the Maghreb, the Sephardic Jews in Arab countries were treated by the Zionists as a pool of useful labour, not to mention as footsoldiers for expansionist war).

Well, anyway, here he is again, worrying about the success of Hamas in the Palestinian elections. As a good liberal secularist, he is horrified at the prospect that Hamas will now use its power to oppress women and gays, which is a reasonable and valid concern (unless the whole thing is harnessed to an apologia for Israel, in which case it becomes an empty shell, a fascia, a simulation of principle). I can't accuse Hari of being anything but a liberal two-stater on that matter, however, and there are worse things to be. A few glaring moments caught my eye, however. For instance:

Palestinian identity has evolved many times since it was first smelted in reaction to Zionism in the 1930s and 40s. At first, the Palestinians saw themselves primarily as Arabs and looked to the rest of the Arab world – led by Colonel Nasser – to destroy the "Zionist entity" and restore them to their homes. This pan-Arabism died on the battlefields of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It was replaced with a more local, romantic Palestinian nationalism – familiar to Europeans – that reveres the peasant and the shepherd and dreams of reaping the land. It focused on Yassir Arafat and his Fatah Party.


Here, the glibness and snarkiness that is the hallmark of liberal journalistic idiom is encapsulated. By mere insinuation, one is led to the supposition that there is a causal chain leading from Palestinian identity to their dependence upon Arab regimes and thence to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Forget, if you like, that Palestinian identity could be said to pre-date the 1930s and 40s (Arab states recognised Palestine as an independent, sovereign identity in 1921, and as Rashid Khalidi shows in Palestinian Identity: The Formation of Modern National Consciousness, 1996, there is a case for dating a unique Palestinian identity that superseded Arab nationalism well before that - histories of the Palestinian people by Baruch Kimmgerling & Joel S Midgal as well as Ilan Pappe locate its origins in the 1834 revolt against Pashim). The reliance of the Palestinians on Arab leaders resulted partially from the feudal social structure and the consequences of the 1936-9 upheavals. The feudal structure placed families, often hostile to one another, at the head of the Palestinian national movement. And it was leading notables like Hajj Amin al-Husayni, the Mufti of Jerusalem and head of the “political wing of the Arab Higher Committee”, were responsible for allowing the initiative in the Palestinian cause to be appropriated by Arab states, preventing the establishment of independent institutions and leadership. I hope I don't need to explain why the ethnically cleansed and scattered Palestinian populace then took a couple of decades to develop resilient nationalist structures, particularly under the watchful eye of the pro-Zionist Hashemite police state in Jordan. Further, the British exiled much of the leadership as part of its crackdown on the revolt. What is more, the 1967 war was really more to do with Israeli expansionism in the 'demilitarized zones' as well as its opportunistic carping over the Tiran Straits 'blockade' than a Nasserist attempt to crack the 'Zionist entity'. By all accounts, this was a war that neither Nasser nor the Syrian leadership, nor especially the Jordanian leadership wanted. See any number of books by Yapp, Shlaim, Kimmerling, Pappe, Finkelstein etc for a thorough account of that war if curiosity really prods your divinely shaped rear.

Also noticeable is that Johann must think he is providing an unusually sympathetic portrayal of the Palestinians here, and yet he cannot help but describe every stage of alleged Palestinian identity with condescension and derision, from Colonel Nasser to idle rural nationalist fantasies and now to the dread "Islamism". Then there's this:

Has ethnic cleansing, topped with four decades of occupation and bone-breaking, driven the Palestinians so crazy that they will turn to this?


And this:

The Hamas victory is an urgent tick-tock underneath Ariel Sharon’s hospital bed. The longer this occupation goes on, the more enraged, incoherent and fundamentalist the Palestinian people will become. The annexation of a great chunk of the West Bank will simply be a continuation of the occupation by other means. If Sharon sticks to his current mockery of a peace plan and continues to rule out “any possibility of a return to the 1967 borders”, his people will be locked in a bloody tango with Islamic fundamentalism for another century.


The 'again' in the last sentence is redundant, since Israel has been in conflict with no one or nothing for a century, least of all 'Islamic fundamentalism'. But the penny drops: this is a plea to the supremacist Israeli state to cease winding up the Arabs so much, lest they go Islamic and "fundamentalist", become "incohrent". And "fundamentalism" undergoes some curious shifts in definition. To attenuate the notion that Palestinians really voted for "Islamism", Hari remarks that: "To gain mainstream support, Hamas has had to flirt with a ceasefire and indicate it would accept a two-state solution along the 1967 border." The axis of acceptability has shifted from treatment of homosexuals and women to one's attitude to Zionism.

This reminds me of Johann's reaction to the July 7th bombings, in which he wrote that "The best way to undermine the jihadists is to trigger a rebellion of Muslim women". This is to be achieved by implementing Irshad Manji's idea(!) of instituting a system of low-interest loans for women across the Middle East to set up businesses. Muslim women, then, if they are not concerned about usury are at least desperate to join the petit-bourgeoisie. This suggestion presumably strikes Hari as a deft combination of munificence and strategic prowess, and yet the New Labour idiotology underlying it is glaringly apparent. "Jihadis" are to be brought to heel by a Western-created class of female employers, Prada-wearing, maid-owning, 'empowered' women who idolise their 'assertive' role models in Sex and the City. Feminism is to be subsumed into a movement of US-sponsored poujadistes. This troop of would-be Irshad Manjis, aspiring capitalists, will march on every mosque and announce to the mujahids secreted within that they have replaced religious garb with Jimmy Choo high heels and lipstick - to which, the "jihadis" will reply: "you're too late, the Taliban have already tried that." This imaginary social force, which is supposed to be seeded and fertilised by the West, will not think of anything so distant to their immediate interests as colonialism and imperialism - heaven forfend! - but shall instead think of how rich and free they will be when they turn Arabia into wholly owned subsidiary of the United States.

There is an even more grotesque notion at work in Hari's thought here: Muslim women are posited as an inert mass to be operated on by cunning anti-terror strategists, with no agency of their own. Meanwhile, who are these "jihadis"? The term is a suitably vague one, and so is widely used since it appears to mean something and conveys and appropriately condemnatory stance. The term connotes more than it denotes: "Jihadis" are wicked, evil people, who chop off heads, kidnap civilians, crash planes into buildings and blow themselves up on a crowded London Underground. Yet, in simple terms, it denotes any fighter for a cause using any method, and who can be found to be doing so in the name of some variant of Islam. Movements from the FLN moujahidine to the Palestinian and Lebanese groups with some affiliation to Political Islam to the Iraqi resistance, can be "jihadis". The use of the term is that it obliterates all distinctions and provides a negative mirror to Western self-adulating fantasies. The old word would have been "terrorists", which isn't without its own problems of consistency, but being a "jihadi" appears to be worse - as if being Muslim while detonating a bomb somehow compounds the offense.

This is all part of Hari's version of the Prime Minister's "evil ideology" thesis. "Islamism" is merely spread - like a contagion, one assumes - through various vectors like mosques, universities and secret gatherings in that reputedly enclosed community (how are they so unresponsive to the White Man's Serenade?). Hari's psychologising - Islamism's adherents are all, apparently, sexually repressed, hence the armies of female antibodies - is really diagonisis and suggested cure all at once. And if the phenomenon cannot be medicalised, phrenologised, then it remains an inexplicable eeeevillll, issuing from the heart of darkness.

Call me an idle fantasist, but there will be a time when even liberals will resile from these synecdoches, cliches, and cynosures of imperialist discourse: when the decadence of empire is more apparent than it already is, perhaps. The perceptual violence wreaked by this intellectual clutter will be so embarrassingly apparent that only the lunatic right will avail itself of such rhetoric. And again, I don't think I am being hopelessly Whiggish when I suppose that there may also be a time when liberals will not try to master oppressed groups whom they purport to support. Every declaration of such support will not be appended with a series of prefatory clauses, conditions and stern instructions that insists the group lives up to one's ego-ideal of secular, liberal and - oh dear me, yes - 'nonviolent' resistance. They will not try to make every movement congruent with their own attachment to capitalist democracy. They will engage with the oppressed as equals, with a right to articulate their own narrative about their suffering and elaborate their own strategies for dealing with its causes - not uncritically, but without continually asserting their right as Western liberals to demand some emollient unction for their residual prejudices. And they will be humble enough not to pretend to enlighten their readers as to the history and background of the oppressed unless they have also taken the trouble to know of which they speak. You may call me a dreamer, and indeed I do colour my dreams with Johann Hari - but I know, reader, I am not the only one.

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New York Strike. posted by Richard Seymour


Watch this very closely:

New York transit workers walked off the job for the first time in 25 years on Tuesday, stranding millions of people who rely on the bus and subway system each day.

Last-ditch talks between the Transport Workers Union and the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority collapsed shortly before a 12:01 a.m. (0501 GMT) strike deadline when the union rejected the MTA's offer and left the bargaining table.

"Transit workers are tired of being underappreciated and disrespected," TWU chief Roger Toussaint said in announcing the walkout about three hours after the deadline.

"The Local 100 has voted overwhelmingly to extend strike action to all MTA properties immediately," he added, referring to the union that represents 34,000 transit workers.

The strike shut down the entire subway and bus system, which carries 7 million daily passengers, and promised to cause an arduous if not chaotic morning rush hour.

As dawn approached, police set up checkpoints as part of a plan to ban cars carrying fewer than four people from midtown Manhattan. The city has contingency plans such as strict car pool rules to help avoid gridlock.


Isn't it interesting that the only time the United States government shows any interest in reducing the use of cars is when they're on a strike-breaking contingency plan?

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Morales wins Bolivian election. posted by Richard Seymour


With 51% of the vote:


"We have a responsibility to change Bolivia's history," Morales — who has vowed to roll back the U.S.-funded drug war here and hike taxes on foreign energy companies — said in a rousing victory speech. "We must get rid of the neo-liberal (economic) model and our status as a colony."


More here.

Morales is, importantly, the first South American Indian to lead a government in the continent. He has already credited the insurgency of Bolivian workers and peasants with having produced his victory, as well he might. Morales didn't lead this movement, and tended to lag behind in terms of his demands, but I suspect that - like Chavez - he has been radicalised by a recognition of what he owes to the masses. It is worth bearing in mind that Morales accepted the deal to help end the strikes and revolt earlier this year on the advice of various Latin American leaders, including Chavez. There are good reasons to suppose that if too much faith is placed in Morales, the revolt will find its terminus in another failed neoliberal government like Lula's in Brazil.

However, much more important for now is that Bolivia has elected a leftwing leader from the workers' movement who intends to cease the promulgation of an economic model and orthodoxy that is robbing Bolivian workers blind and working them to death. Latin America is slipping out of the hands of the US and its client ruling classes, and is limited to failing covert policies to try and retrieve it.

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

Iraq Elections: What's Changed? posted by Richard Seymour

Peshmerga and Badr Corps interfere with voting. Dead Men Vote. United Iraqi Alliance claims victory.

Baghdad Burning wrote some while back that many secular voters might back Iyad Allawi's list, despite his backing the atrocities in Fallujah, because "He who sees death, is content with a fever." I doubt the vote for Allawi will be very much more significant than it was in January. The LA Times indicates that Allawi has not done very well at all.

One thing that has changed however is the alignment within the Shi'ite voting bloc. It appears that the Sadrists did better than any other partner in the UIA coalition, and that the SCIRI did rather badly. (See Cole's caveats on this). Also, of course, the Sunni Arab voters who had largely boycotted the vote last time round voted in very large numbers this time. Adnan al-Dulaimi of the National Concord Front, an Islamist group, thanked the resistance for protecting voting booths, as they had during the constitutional referendum. He also indicated his willingness to join in a coalition with Shi'ites, Kurds, or indeed anyone who will reject "communal dispensations". The other major winner from the elections is Salih Mutlak, a secular Arab nationalist who has been doing the rounds on television denouncing the occupation.

There is an awful lot of talk, and rather too much of it, from Bush and his apologists to indicate that the US thinks the vote will now start to swing things its way. Sunnis (and, one might add, Sadrists) embracing 'the democratic process' is allegedly going to staunch the flow of violence, isolate the evildoers and allow the US to begin withdrawing troops. We've got to hear the last of this stupidity soon. The US resisted having any kind of elections to begin with, only ceding them when the SCIRI threatened to join the armed insurrection. Now that there have been elections, the US candidate has been creamed twice. The only question for the US is just how adamantly against the occupation the government is likely to be, how easily it can be bought off, how much they can temporise, how quickly their vast bases can be built and protected. For this much is transparent: the US has no intention of withdrawing. It may well wish to make some reduction in the open presence of troops in Iraqi towns and cities, diminish the exposure of soldiers to enemy fire and generally retreat to its bases. There may be some draw down in the numbers come March 2006. But then again, perhaps not. Either way, this will not be the beginning of the end of US troops in Iraq.

Nor, to tarry with the negative, do these elections signify the end of the resistance, armed or unarmed. There has been a clear shift in tactics by the resistance, which started well before the elections. I don't know whether suicide bombings will end as such - initially, much of this aspect of the resistance was driven by advice from Hamas, not by the Salafis. But there is a dual politico-military approach emerging. The new strategy is, as Juan Cole points out, much more like Irish Republicanism's bullet and the ballot box strategy than a farewell to arms. It is reported, in fact, that the nationalist resistance is about to "announce a Front for the Iraqi Resistance", to be led by a Consultative Council with the aim of ending attacks on civilians and expelling the occupiers. The Iraqi National Foundation Congress is, I am told, moving to fulfill its name and become a political front for all anti-occupation forces. The occupiers really aren't entitled to their unworldly confidence.

In other election news: The Democrats will not take a position on Iraq in 2006. The major opposition party not taking a stance the most important foreign policy decision taken by the incumbent government - I don't think there is a word for just how gutless, venal and pathetic this is.

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WTO deal a sham. posted by Richard Seymour

Focus on the Global South:

“This text is a recipe for disaster, and many developing countries will not be able convince people back home that they have come back with a good deal. The intention of the final G20 meeting headed by Brazil’s Celso Amorin and India’s Kamal Nath was to compliment one another to cover up the fact that they have agreed to a disaster,” said Dr Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South.

In agreeing to slash tariffs in their agricultural, services and industrial markets, developing countries sanction of the text is a failure for development and a victory for corporate globalisation.

On export subsidies, the EC is extracting a high price, in return for doing nothing. A large proportion of EU supports go into subsidizing exports. However, only a small part is classified as export subsidies. Most fall into the WTO-legal “Green Box” which has escaped disciplines in the current negotiations.

‘The G20 has sold the developing countries out. They know well, that there are no real cuts in domestic supports and export subsidies by the EU or US with this text. This is a box-shifting exercise and EU export subsidies will simply still take place in another form to the tune of 55 billion Euros per year,” said Aileen Kwa of Focus on the Global South.

“India and Brazil have led the developing countries down the garden path in exchange for some market access in agriculture for Brazil, and services outsourcing for India.”

Despite a completely hollow package on agriculture, the developing world has been forced to swallow the bitter pill of aggressive services market access. The text sanctions the launch of sectoral negotiations, which will force developing countries to provide foreign investors with the same rights as local suppliers. This would lock up their ability to develop their own services sectors. The G90 along with countries such as Venezuela, Cuba fought a valiant battle to preserve the flexible nature of the GATS but they were thwarted with Brazil and India joining hands with the US and EU.

‘It’s clear once again that the WTO cannot subordinate the narrow goals of market access and trade liberalisation to the genuine concerns of development,’ said Dr. Bello.

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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hong Kong protester dead. posted by Richard Seymour

I've just had a quick message from Guy Taylor, the Tomb's correspondent at the Hong Kong protests to indicate that one demonstrator has died in hospital. The state has embarked on a huge spree of violence against the protests. The BBC reports:

Protesters with bamboo sticks stormed police lines, as officers used pepper spray and batons to push them back.

Nine hundred demonstrators have been "rounded up", police say, and are being held on a road near the talks venue.


Bamboo sticks? How does one "storm" several lines of shielded, tooled-up riot police with fucking bamboo sticks? Bamboo is what they use to make Kendo sticks, so I'm sure Hong Kong's finest thugs can handle it. Especially if they have pepper spray handy. Nevertheless, the tactic of 'rounding up' and isolating hundreds of protesters in small spaces where you can kick the fuck out of them without anyone noticing is fairly familiar, and not just from Genoa.

One reason why they've decided to turn nasty on the protests is that they are having the desired effect: emboldening poor and developing countries to unite against an imposed deal. The talks may be near collapse, which is the best thing that could happen under the circumstances.

Aside from Guy Taylor's regular dispatches, you can follow the protests here.

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BBC & Cultural Hegemony posted by Richard Seymour


Well, this is a perfect example of what Joseph Nye calls "soft power":

The BBC World Service announced Tuesday it would close 10 foreign language radio services, mostly to eastern Europe, and open an Arabic-language television news and information service in the Middle East.

BBC Arabic Television Service- is to broadcast 12 hours a day across the Middle East, beginning in 2007, and will be free to anyone with a satellite or cable connection.

The move will make the BBC the only"tri-media international news provider offering Arabic news and current affairs on television, radio and online," the company said in a news release.

Broadcasts in Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Greek, Hungarian, Kazakh, Polish, Slovak, Slovene and Thai will stop by the end of March 2006.

Hosam el-Sokkari, head of the BBC's Arabic Service, said there was no political motivation behind the new Arab channel. It will be"there to inform, educate and entertain, not to take part in the political process," he told reporters.

The new Arabic TV channel was formed at the request of the British Foreign Office, which funds the World Service through a direct grant worth 239 million pounds in 2005-2006.


The BBC has a mythical reputation among some as an impartial, quality provider of news and information about world events. I have never found it to be that, exactly. For instance, a study of reporting of the Iraq war conducted across five countries found that the BBC had the least expression of antiwar views, a mere 2 per cent of its coverage. (And don't we remember the demobilising saga of endless military experts, punditry, guesswork, false stories fed by the army etc?). Then there was its retailing of fake news fed to it by the MoD. And of course, there was the hiring of the disgusting big-eared lout Andrew Marr as political editor, a man who announced when he took the job that his Organs of Opinion had been removed, and then creamed his pants over the Iraq war. And yet, despite all, the BBC has been a very effective signifier of quality and depth which, as the Foreign Office notes, enhances Britain's reputation across the world, even as 'hard power' makes its effects felt in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, the former Yugoslavia, Palestine, Aceh etc etc.

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

US Tortures its Own Prisoners. posted by Richard Seymour


We used to hear quite a bit, and no doubt will hear more in the future about official enemies torturing their own people (the implication being that torturing Others, as the CIA did, was perfectly natural). Well, forget about that for a second: are you still shocked by this? Click on the link, and watch the video of a BBC4 documentary that shows US prison guards torturing prisoners - in some cases to death. If the treatment of these prisoners is disgusting, you won't be able to contain your revulsion at the rhetorical strategies used to justify this behaviour. The prisoners, some of them mentally ill, are dehumanised beyond belief; the Sherrif in charge of the revolting prison in Phoenix takes pleasure in putting the prisoners down and hearing of how tough his regime is; some of the prison guards display lumpen arrogance and conceit.

If for any reason you can't watch the video, there's a brief synopsis by the documentary's author, Deborah Davies, on the site:

The prison guards stand over their captives with electric cattle prods, stun guns, and dogs. Many of the prisoners have been ordered to strip naked. The guards are yelling abuse at them, ordering them to lie on the ground and crawl. ‘Crawl, motherf*****s, crawl.’

If a prisoner doesn’t drop to the ground fast enough, a guard kicks him or stamps on his back. There’s a high-pitched scream from one man as a dog clamps its teeth onto his lower leg.

Another prisoner has a broken ankle. He can’t crawl fast enough so a guard jabs a stun gun onto his buttocks. The jolt of electricity zaps through his naked flesh and genitals. For hours afterwards his whole body shakes.



Lines of men are now slithering across the floor of the cellblock while the guards stand over them shouting, prodding and kicking.

Second by second, their humiliation is captured on a video camera by one of the guards.

The images of abuse and brutality he records are horrifyingly familiar. These were exactly the kind of pictures from inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad that shocked the world this time last year.

And they are similar, too, to the images of brutality against Iraqi prisoners that this week led to the conviction of three British soldiers.

But there is a difference. These prisoners are not caught up in a war zone. They are Americans, and the video comes from inside a prison in Texas.


And so how can this be surprising, given the kind of state we are discussing? How can Abu Ghraib be a surprise? We knew that the CIA had been using torture for decades. We knew that the US government was prepared to murder its own citizens - in Waco, on Ruby Ridge, in John Africa's community, and now also in New Orleans. The cops shoot people to death quite frequently, as they are increasingly doing in the UK. There were reports of torture and ritual beatings in the US before. But it's the first time I've ever seen it on video footage. And it needs to be said, and repeated and amplifed: the US government tortures its own people. And some are prepared to trust these people, these sociopaths, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Haiti?

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