Thursday, December 21, 2006

On decent internationalism.

Here's a cheerful Christmas message. Of course, one cares - passionately cares - about politics in other places. One is angrily supportive of "Iranian democrats" and "Venezuelan democrats" and "Palestinian secularists". One supports "Iraqi trade unionists" whenever they say the right things. One is animated to frenzied disgust by the depredations of "Islamofascists" and their "apologists". One is perhaps even uneasy about certain excesses of the nevertheless necessary 'war on terror'. One dislikes racism, misogyny and homophobia. The sum of this care is that one will fire off polemics all year round and even attend a rally to defend free speech from dem Muslims innit. That's how much one cares. One is of the left, but decent. One is avowedly not an apologist for bad things and bad people. One is an internationalist.

Of course, there are not severed heads and drilled corpses appearing in bins in Burnley. There are not military checkpoints on the M26, where a soldier might well relieve you of your ID and refuse to let you pass, or arrest you, or shoot you for not smiling nicely. There are not torture chambers that we know of on the Isle of Man. There are not rapists in army uniforms driving through your residential area in Humvees, with almost complete legal immunity and an institutionally encouraged contempt for you. If the state had shot your fourteen year old daughter, you would expect to be able to attend the funeral at least. The main production centres are not sweatshops surrounded by steep wire fences and armed guards. You will not have Coca Cola death squads visit your house if you happen to belong to a trade union. The minimum wage, though pathetic, is somewhat higher than 35 cents an hour. You do not have an air force bombing the council estates, then bombing the ambulances that pick up the victims, then bombing the cars with fleeing civilians.

All of this may one day no longer be the case, since imperial violence, repression and hyper-exploitation tends to filter back to the metropole. Nevertheless, for the moment, it doesn't form an immediate and daily perceptible part of your social environment. It is otherwhere, beyond the tinsel-strewn screen, beyond the little island of intimacy and emotional sincerity that one reserves for friends and family. It is, in fact, an alternative universe, populated by creatures that one can't quite see as fully human, following a distinct logic that has nothing to do with this universe. That their cosmos has irrupted into ours in a few brief moments of horror is a warning that they are getting out of control, and that we must improve matters for them.

Hence, one can be persuaded of the virtue of Western states, and urge them to be even more virtuous. By all means, don't stop at helping Iraqis. Help the Darfurians next. We hear they are having problems with the "Islamic fundamentalists" too. Help the Somalis and the Iranians and the North Koreans. With an exaggerated awareness of the crimes attributable to various psychotic Others, and resolute purblindness about the criminality of the system and its main beneficiaries, one can live with the hundreds of thousands of bodies that are piling up in Iraq, Haiti, Afghanistan, Palestine, Colombia etc without ever considering that people living in those conditions may wish to defend themselves, to resist their being murdered and raped and tossed into austere prison camps and flown to secret prisons and tortured. No - that would be a human reaction. The empire is virtuous, it is not to be resisted. And it's all their fault for not being the West to begin with, and for not accepting imperialism's ameliatory mission. If they didn't resist, they would be taken care of. Bush would have brought them food, and medical supplies, and education for girls. Blair would have tended to the physical and psychic wounds of refugees shivering on mountain slopes. Had there been dancing in the streets, with sweets and flowers for the armed missionaries, there would today be tranquility and the promise of Westernisation in Baghdad and Kabul and the Cité-Soleil. As it is, there are only a few of Them who have accepted our rescue operation. So we are embroiled in the tumultuous logic of their universe and must see it through, even if it involves us in occasionally becoming almost as bad as they are. That is what internationalism is all about.