Thursday, November 30, 2006
Born Suspect. posted by Richard SeymourBabar Ahmad and Haroon Aswat are to be extradited to the United States, and thence to the protective custody of Guantanamo guards if I'm not mistaken. Babar Ahmad, whose terrifying arrest left him with horrible bruises on his face, arms, legs, feet and back and barely able to walk, has had no charges brought against him in a British court. He was instead released without charge, and the IPCC had forwarded his case of mistreatment to the Crown Prosecution Service when the Americans filed their extradition request.
The basis of America's claims are pathetic, and I've written about them before:
One of the claims the affidavit makes is that Ahmad sought to purchase 5000 tonnes of "sulfur / phosphate based fertilizers" from Pakistan, and it is alleged that he was trying to funnel this stuff to groups in Chechnya and Afghanistan. This is what the US generally calls free trade, but I bet one or two hairs are already standing up. Fertilizer equals explosives, right? Nope: ammonium nitrate based fertilizer equals explosives, sometimes. Sulphur or phosphate based fetiilizers equals vegetables. Further, to get 5000 tonnes of any substance at all into Afghanistan and Chechnya would require some considerable resources and logistical clout - which would be a great deal of effort just to grow pretty flowers in Kabul or Grozny. Ahmad was also accused of being in the possession of a "a several page tourist brochure of the Empire State Building" which, although dating back to 1973 when Ahmad's father visited the building, could entail a fiendish plan to detonate a major public building. The affidavit promises a specific reference to Mohammad Naeem Noor Khan in some of Babar Ahmad's 1997/8 correspondence, but never delivers it. What it does say is that someone asked a company to contact Ahmad in connection with the export of "mangoes" (scare quotes in original). Now, what various things can a Muslim man mean by "mangoes"? Presumably US intelligence imagines that there is some Quranic code in which "mangoes" is deciphered as "lots of weapons".
Ahmad is accused of mon-military support for mujahideen in Afghanistan or Chechnya during the late 1990s, but even if it is true, this was not illegal.
Haroon Rashid Aswat's case is even more strange. This man, alleged by two former American intelligence officials to have been an MI6 asset, is also blamed in the papers by unnamed "counterterrorism officials" of having been instrumental in the 7/7 attacks. He is said to have been to Afghanistan, trained in camps, and met bin Laden before being deported from Zambia to the United Kingdom in August last year. He is accused of having scoped out a potential terrorist training base in Oregon, the same surveillance operation attributed to unnamed Egyptian operatives under the instruction of Abu Hamza (Aswat was born in Yorkshire and is of Indian origin).
If there is evidence against these two individuals, then it would cause no difficulty at all to try them in the UK. Even supposing the two men are treated to a New York court rather than an offshore gulag, one assumes they will have stun belts to prevent any unfortunate outbursts.
"Routine" posted by Richard Seymour"The Palestinian sources say that the youth, Shadi Naif, was with several dozen youths who were hurling rocks at soldiers conducting a routine operation in the village."
They're spoiling it. posted by Richard SeymourThe latest rhetorical turn from Washington is that their occupation would be going perfectly fine, thank you, if the Iraqis would stop ruining it. "We all want them to succeed," Democratic Senator Evan Bayuh comaplained. "We all want them to be able to stabilize their country with the assistance that we've provided them." But "too often they seem unable or unwilling to do that." Senator Linsdey Graham, a Republican, reckons that "the Iraqis are incapable of solving their own problems through the political process and will resort to violence". And Carl Levin, who has always opposed the Iraq adventure and is on the liberal end of the Democrat party says "We cannot save the Iraqis from themselves." "Our commitment, while great, is not unending". Further: It's all Sadr's fault.
This is the mainstream critique of the war. The insistence of Bush that he will persist until "the mission is complete" and the recent hints that the British army will keep their troops in Iraq until 2016 reflects the fact that there is an interest and a strategy at stake that the occupiers can't afford to give up without a fight. They know that withdrawal will be seen as a massive defeat with global reverberations. A large part of the US political class which supported the war has decided that there will have to be a carefully managed extrication, and the pedictable line is therefore that Iraqis weren't up to the lofty goals that America had crafted for them. It conserves the empire, which will have many more battles ahead of it, offering a way out of the quagmire without conceding any important ideological claims.
The European ruling classes, meanwhile, are dragging their feet about supporting the Bush-Blair axis any further. They certainly don't want Afghanistan to fall to insurgents, but nor are they happy with continuing to throw cash and military capacity into operations run by a political alliance they no longer trust. They presumably want the Democrats to take the executive and mount a more cautious strategy to achieve essentially the same goals.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The capitalist class on its own would not be able to so completely hegemonise the ideological scene, even with the collapse of the USSR. Its main allies have been segments of the middle class, which in every country is the largest social base for neoliberalism. Enthusiastically supportive of the essential co-ordinates of the neoliberal roadmap, but disappointed by the mainstream right and its insistence on polarising the working class, these segments swung sometimes decisively behind Third Way-style candidates in the 1990s. The conservative parties still tended to talk in the language of national sovereignty, whereas they were persuaded of the need for straightforward American tutelage (even if their strategy for neoliberalism involved appeals to European monetary union as an 'alternative' to America). Without the empire and with the labour movement defeated, the appeal to petit-bourgeois nationalism was seen as comical. And in a period of relative capitalist recovery (what was variously and fatuously referred to as the 'goldilocks economy' or the 'new economic paradigm'), they could even afford some concessions. The price paid by Third Way parties for accepting the fair weather support of this social class was the internal erosion of their base, something New Labour leaders in particular were perfectly complacent about. This has meant a recomposition in the passive and active support for those parties, which have become disproportionately male, white, middle class and professional. They have come to embody a new set of interests, a process underway long before Rupert Murdoch offered his endorsement.
This particular neoliberal 'left' was already fully signed up to American dominance and a thousand year reich of liberal capitalism. There would be no more putches, since there wasn't a combative working class to suppress - indeed, many members of this class seem to have persuaded themselves that the working class no longer existed, even as they had to pay their cleaners a new minimum wage. Instead, the United States would democratise - prudently, of course, but without hesitation. They would overthrow authoritarian populists and ideological relics of the Cold War and intervene in crisis situations. They would help strengthen government capacities and enable states to negotiate their way through this 'globalisation' business. They might be a little selfish and hypocritical, perhaps even downright bounders from time to time - but have you seen the alternative?
That class was solidly behind the attacks on Yugoslavia, applauded "British steel" in Sierra Leone, and were even uneasily supportive of the bombing of Afghanistan. They entered into passive compact with that section of the working class that tends to reflexively support the military. That compact broke down over Iraq: the disgusting legacy of sanctions reminded people of America's grotesque indifference to Iraqis; because of 9/11, real questions about US power were being asked; the Israeli incursions into Palestine became an issue of real significance, perhaps for the first time, and so Zionism - usually a means by which people have moved to the right - was deligitimised; and it was far from easy to raise militarist hysteria over such a humdrum 'challenge' as Iraq. Some of the most pro-American commentators across the world were unconvinced by the case for attacking Iraq, and as a result were forced to reconcile what was happening with their idolatry of the stars and stripes (hence the Bush demonology, almost as popular in some conservative quarters as in the liberal papers). Many of those who supported the war later recanted. Perfectly content with neoliberalism and the Clintonite imperial strategies they saw as being congruent with that, a large part of this class was appalled by Bush's polarising rhetoric and failure to see the world in the many shades of grey that they perceived. The middle class neoliberals had split: one segment pushed to the left, and another pushed into coalitions with the hard right.
For if 9/11 appeared to raise the stakes and force concentration on hitherto neglected issues, it and various attacks since, also raised a massive wave of racism, which parties of the right have benefited from. At the start of this year, 26 OECD countries were governed by parties of the right. The remainder of the pro-war left has one answer to this, given its fanatical insistence on staying the course: capitulate. Whether bandying more or less explicit endorsements of fascism by Sam Harris, complaining about the 'neglect' of the white working class (as per Margaret Hodge), or moaning about an alleged threat to free speech and Enlightenment values from 'Muslim leaders' (who are held responsible for separating Muslim voters from their natural political allegiances, stirring up anger and so on), the only question is to what extent one gives in.
In Britain, the likelihood is that David Cameron's Tories, having adopted the cynosures of the centre-left, will regain a large number of former Blair voters, disillusioned in the Bush-Blair axis but certainly not ready to abandon the macro-economic consensus, even though Cameron himself is careful to stick to strict orthodoxy on Iraq and Israel. They will see off the Liberal Democrats to some extent, but the latter too will mop up disaffected middle-class Blairites. Some will go to the Greens, perhaps a few to Respect, but an even larger bloc will remain unaligned for the time being. The 'pro-war left' will be the husk that remains.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006
Scavati! posted by Richard SeymourI thought you might fancy a quick look at some snaps from my recent weekend visit to Rome. These are a few from a sample I uploaded quickly. There are more, but not necessarily better, shots. My camera didn't handle the light of Rome very well, I fear. Plus, I stayed at the cheap end of town, near the Termini, where there an inexplicable number of expensive gourmet restaurants lodged sharing space with dogshit, cheap hotels, and graffiti.
This is the colloseum:
Apparently this structure would have been covered by marble and gold-plating and such, but it was stripped by successive Christian rulers for other buildings, which almost makes me wish I'd crossed the Tiber and visited the Vatican. All the Roman authorities have done is built a steel enclosure, put a price tag on and stuck a size-nine halo on top of the edifice. Those little tunnels floored with grass were apparently underground chambers where they would keep animals and things to swipe at the gladiators.
The colleseum arches all present lovely portraits:
However, you can't beat the view from the Palatine, or the early-morning smell (you have to understand that the hills in Rome are covered with herbs and orchards, and that the temperature during November is a moist 20C):
These are some ruins, apparently the gutted innards of some emperor's palace or something. I didn't pay that much attention:
This is the weather-eaten edifice of a court-house with a brass door:
And this is the Roman Senate House, a considerably smaller affair than textbooks and tourist guides would have us believe:
This is the sort of place where Tiberius or some bastard would have given out about the taxes and the peasants. And here is the view from inside the Pantheon:
Originally a temple for all the Gods, it was taken over by Christians and plastered with crosses and that kind of thing. They didn't take well to the mass executions. Directly opposite the Pantheon is a McDonalds, cunningly disguised as a restaurant. If you stand outside it for a while and look touristy, then you will either have something snatched or at least five couples will ask you to take their picture. I personally fucked up quite a few happy memories.
Here are the Spanish steps, which you apparently must see if you're a tourist:
They're crap. A man came with fresh-cut cemetery roses covered in pesticide and told me I was a very very romantic guy. He forced one on the person I was with and then, pleased with his artistry, wondered if we might donate to his funds. He told me once more what a romantic guy I was. Very romantic. I laid some of my much-needed Euros on him, and that's when I realised he wasn't coming on to me.
Here are some government buildings up on the Quirinale - cold, windy, largely empty and frequently swept through by convoys of military men, rather like the politicians who occupy them:
Indeed, as I crossed that rather lonely square, a naval bus almost ran me over impatiently. The navy guys looked at me with pity and contempt as I fumbled onto the pavement. Anyway, there was a great deal of political polarisation evident too. Lots of apparently fascist graffiti, such as this:
And the communists shared public space with Forza Italia (no sign of Ulivo):
Finally, this is a pointless picture of Paddington Station I took when I realised that we were back to 10C temperatures. I like 10C temperatures in November: that's what it's supposed to be. Rome - what did it ever do for anyone?
Tripoli posted by Richard SeymourSven Lindqvist's A History of Bombing really can't be recommended highly enough. Some particularly suggestive passages deal with Italy's pitch for colonial status. There had been, in 1911, a convention at the Institute for International Law in Madrid, to discuss the question of whether this new technique of air bombing on population centres should be permitted. The Hague Conventions of 1907 discusses naval bombardment only and forbids solely the bombing of "undefended" cities. What constitutes an "undefended" city is somewhat vague. Some argued that as an aircraft couldn't carry a great deal of explosives, certainly much less than traditional technologies of attack that were permitted, it should be allowed. Others argued that because air bombing was so imprecise, the killing of civilians could not be avoided, and therefore the technique should be banned.
But this was rather the point: noncombatants would be churned up by these bombs. In the same year as the conference, the Italian government embarked on a belated grab for the last Ottoman space in North Africa - a miserly goal compared to the extensive rule of the Romans whom they sought to emulate - and in the process pioneered the bombing of cities from the air. The bombing was not initially of great military significance, and the Arabs were almost able to drive the Italian ground forces back to the sea. The Italians responded, as did all colonial powers to such affronts, with indiscriminate and savage attacks, tearing up babies and the elderly with bayonets and bullets. Those whom they could not reach with rifles were got at with air bombing. It was an act of revenge, and it had what was gleefully announced as a "wonderful effect on the morale of the Arabs".
The Ottomans gave over, but the resistance did not, and so the bombing went on. The Maghreb was trebly cursed by African savagery, Arab deviousness and Mohammedan fanaticism, and so bombing was extolled by the nationalist poets (such as Marinetti and D'Annunzio) as an act of hygeine, and of civilisation. The dancing Dervishes and Marabouts were legendary material for the Orientalists. Blood feuds, slave raids, rituals - all of which was impeccably European - become part of the atmosphere which conduced to mass slaughter by ubermensch floating on a thousand-foot column of air. Richard Burton, one of the earliest Orientalists, and presumably a constant inspiration to Thomas Friedman, could say that Egypt longed for "iron-fisted and lion-hearted rule". They do like it up them, you see.
So, Italy's eventual conquest, named "Libya" in 1934 under the leadership of failed novelist, was the laboratory for future wars on backward peoples.
In other news, the US Air Force is demanded an extra $33.4bn to conduct its part of the war on terror. Having waged a secret air war on Iraq from 2002, the USAF has gone on to conduct a fairly secret air war since 2005. Civilisation costs money.
Humanitarian intervention. posted by Richard SeymourThis takes some cheek from the French government. As the new revelations about Western intervention into the genocide in Rwanda (ie to assist it) continue to emerge in obscurity, France has struck back by accusing Paul Kagame of assassinating Juvenal Habyarimana, something generally said until now to have been carried out by those who took advantage of his death to launch the genocide. The BBC reports this as a diplomatic crisis brought about by the decision of a French Judge, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, to try and indict nine of Kagame's deputies: no mention of the recent charges that France assisted the genocidaires. You can be as cynical as you like about Kagame - his soldiers have effectively acted as Western footmen, carrying out their own acts of genocide in the Congo while pilfering the resources - but the idea of the French government indicting anyone for what transpired is sinister and absurd. Almost as absurd as world powers 'trying' Milosevic or Saddam for crimes they had a hand in.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Reparations. posted by Richard SeymourLet's get this straight: Iraq pays KFC 'reparations'; Iraq pays Saudi Arabia 'reparations'; Iraq pays Halliburton 'reparations'.
Of course, the biggest chunk of all reparations goes to Kuwait's state-owned oil industry, but it is, like the Saudi equivalent, a proxy property of Western capital. The deal is, in return for being allowed to shared in the privileges of the Western investors, the British-created Kuwaiti royal family and its narrow penumbra suppress the rest of the population, most of whom are denied citizenship rights. A work force formerly composed to a large of Palestinians who fled to the country in the 1950s, but now migrant workers from nearby states and the Indian subcontinent, continues to build and maintain the economic infrastructure. Only about one fifth of the Kuwaiti workforce are permitted citizenship, and only those who have had citizenship for more than thirty years are allowed to vote (which means the tiny propertied elite is allowed a say in how its loots is managed). Fred Halliday once characterised it, in Arabia Without Sultans, as a new form of slavery: it is one, moreover, entirely at the service of Western investors.
That's a round about way of saying that Iraq is paying reparations to those who have already squeezed it dry. Halliburton!
Sadr City. posted by Richard SeymourThe US attacks Sadr City, repeatedly blasts it to smithereens, kills dozens of civilians, and claims to have killed about 50 'insurgents' thus far. This is part of what they are calling Operation Together Forward. Sadr City has repeatedly fought the occupation and refused to be run by its troops, and the occupiers have been unable, despite their best efforts to take it over. A brutal US-imposed blockade was defeated at the beginning of the month. On 23rd November, last week, a series of six parked cars exploded with hundreds of kilos of explosives tore through markets in the city, home to about 2 million people. They managed to kill 202 of them, and wouned hundreds of others. The day after, there was once more intense warfare between the US forces and 'insurgents' there. Mortars have also been landing on the city, apparently courtesy of Sunni 'insurgents', while gunmen have opened fire on the Iraqi Ministry of Health, run by a supporter of Sadr. Over the weekend, mortars from near Sadr City hit a US post, but the Americans are refusing to describe the impact. The Sadrists have also threatened to walk out of the government if Maliki goes ahead with meeting Bush, thus potentially causing it to collapse.
It's now reported that the Mahdi Army are a bit pissed off with the attacks from occupiers and alleged Sunni insurgents, and took over the state-run television station to complain. The US-funded al-Iraqiya station has usually been the receptacle for programmes featuring heroic Special Police Commandos interrogating tortured 'terrorists'. It is reported in this piece that a number of Sadr supporters denounced the occupation, branded Sunnis 'terrorists' and threatened attacks on Sunni neighbourhoods. If true, this would be the first occasion on which the Sadrists had openly threatened sectarian attacks. It is widely reported that Sadr's followers have carried out such attacks, and this includes some lurid stories of Sunni patients being killed in Iraqi hospitals (the Iraqi Ministry of Health is run by a Sadr supporter). However, previous reports have tended to indicate that the Sadrist leadership discourages such actions. As this news item argues, the Mahdi Army is modelling itself on Hezbollah, providing welfare services, clearing up after bombings, and militarily defending its community.
Toby Dodge, the renowned historian of Iraq, calls this "anarchy, a war of all against all". It is better regarded as a "strategy of tension". It is believable that Sunni sectarians attacked Sadr City at exactly the same time as the occupiers were doing so, for their own reasons. Various English language websites claiming to be affiliated to the Iraqi resistance hail the attacks on Sadr City as operations against the Mahdi Army, whom they accuse of assisting the occupiers. On the other hand, of course, it isn't at all implausible that US surrogates planted a series of car bombs to attack the city. However, more importantly, the sectarian political process is being driven by the occupiers, and at the moment the effect is that anti-coalition fighters appear to be busily vanquishing one another rather than uniting against the common enemy.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Tis scandalous that in less than Three Hundred Years, a villeinous crime against humanity will be legal. Tis the appurtenance of vile Frenchies.
I believe the bicentenary offerf uf a chance not juft to say how profoundly fhameful the occupation of Iraq will be - how we condemn its exiftence utterly and praife thofe who fought for its abolition - but also to exprefs our deep sorrow that it could ever happen and rejoice at the better timef we live in today.
The Lord Chancellore also announced new initiatives against the heinous Jacobite insurgencie.
The Royal Britifh Telegramf Companie, MDCCXXXII.
For the 'anti-totalitarian' movement, the idea of developing a strong civil society rooted in rights discourse in opposition to the centralised state and big business, was crucial. Civil society would be a space for different publics to compete and collaborate, and would develop a network of institutions capable of exerting democratic pressures against potentially tyrannical powers. People would be protected from the worst of market society by a strong welfare state. Civil society would overcome the atomisation essential to 'totalitarian' state control. This was the rallying cry of people like Ralph Dahrendorf (himself a student of Karl Popper) and Timothy Garton Ash, at the same time as most of the institutions of the public life that represented democratic pressures (trade unions, liberal academia, the health service, welfare, local authorities) were under attack in the West under the rubric of neoliberalism. Social atomisation and the diminution of democratic counter-pressures was one indubitable result. Still, the collapse of the Stalinist states, it was hoped, would lead to the embedding of precisely this arrangement of affairs in all those societies.
But although the shedding of 'communism' was not a popular call for the introduction of capitalism (note here that when I talk about capitalism, I refer specifically to the usual version in which the capitalist class is formally independent of the state), particularly not in its neoliberal version, Jeffrey Sachs and the other pioneers of "shock therapy" were bullish: Sachs specifically rebuked Dahrendorf for endorsing open experimentation rather than capitalism, and proceeded with a process of social engineering whose ideology and subsequent materialisation merits some examination. Peter Gowan has performed this task admirably on numerous occasions, but you have to pay for those.
While people like Dahrendorf endorsed a kind of Millian liberalism, in which an economic system could be elaborated out of the free interplay of actors in a liberal society, Michael Ignatieff was quite explicit that 'civil society' had triumphed already and capitalist social relations had to be enforced through the power of the magistrate. Indeed, for Ignatieff, the principal use of the concept of civil society was as a counter to a potential "authoritarian populism". For this reason, while strong states were to be encouraged, the West should fund 'independent media' (he missed the contradiction there) and maintain ties with the opposition and every branch of the state, in order to encourage "the refusal to privilege public goals over private ones" as well as "the insistence that liberty can only have a negative rather than a positive content". In other words, this student of Isaiah Berlin would insist that states should be uncompromisingly authoritarian in suppressing popular tendencies to seek "positive" liberties, such as the right to eat nutritious food and drink safe water.
Sachs didn't see the need for such crude measures direct bribery and so on. He instead argued that "There is real truth in the marxist label for liberal democracy: 'bourgeois democracy'." A bourgeoisie had to be engineered. Similarly, Western policy had to be so designed that the highly weakened states of the CIS and Eastern Europe would embrace the development of robust capitalist institutions. For this purpose, the Comecon region had to be broken up, and the development of a new capitalist legal structure was to be made the condition for normalising relations with Western states, using economic incentives and sympathetic governments to force these changes through. There was to be fully open trade, full currency convertibility, corporate ownership as the dominant organisational form, and membership of key global institutions such as GATT, the IMF and the World Bank. The West had tremendous bargaining power in all this: "the capacity to open or close their markets to East European products; to decide on debt, on grant aid, on loans, and on the terms for loans for political as well as economic purposes, on technology transfers, on currency support and so on; to decide on entry or exclusion from international institutions; to allow Eastern workers to flow westwards." The beauty of this formula was that the more states accepted such goals as a result of the exertion of Western power, the more the power of Western states over them was augmented.
This involved Western states in alliances with segments of the new elites (often remnants of the old nomenklatura) in order to suppress popular pressures. In Poland, for instance, the worker-based syndicalist element of Solidarnosc demanded the strengthening of self-management arrangements over state enterprises, rather than their being handed over to corporations. The neoliberals in government instead pursued the centralisation of power in the hands of state agencies, and imposed tough wage controls on the public sector, which were not imposed on the private sector, thus producing a demand among workers for privatisation. This is how people like Sachs do it: by the arrangement of legal structures with appropriate incentives and penalties to engineer the desired outcomes. One of his more notable arguments for opposing workers' control was that international investors wouldn't trust them, itself an appeal to the automatic wielding of power by the owners of capital, rather than legal repression. On the other hand, this had to involve the suppression of any form popular resistance, even in the diffused form of the Russian parliament's reversal of its approval for shock therapy. The Economist called for Yeltsin to overthrow the new constitutional state in which he had been able to be elected, and this he did some five months later, to general applause.
The results? Well, on 2nd January 1992, ‘shock therapy’ in Russia began in earnest. The shock came in two ways – first, the price explosion (food suddenly cost four times what it used to), and second, the massive public expenditure cut-backs. Inflation did drop – from almost 250% in January 1992 to approximately 30% in December 1992. Progress indeed. By 1995, it was estimated that 80% of Russians had suffered a serious decline in their income. Income from work for families had dropped from being about half of all income at the start of the 1990s to just 39% in 2000. From a mortality rate of 11 per thousand in 1990, the death rate soared to 15 per thousand in 2000, peaking in 1994 at almost 16 per thousand. In fact, in this “unprecedented peace time mortality”, we find an alarming underlying truth about Russian society. Between 1990 and 1999, there were 3,353,000 excess deaths in the whole Russian territory. Male life expectancy fell from 63.5 years in 1991 to 57.6 years in 1994. Female life expectancy fell from 74.3 years in 1991 to 71.2 years in 1994. (Michael Haynes and Rumy Hasan, A Century of State Murder? Death and Policy in Twentieth Century Russia, Pluto Press, 2003).
The creation of 'civil society' did not democratise the state or allow for free and open experimentation. Rather, it ended up enriching those who were best placed to benefit, usually ex-nomenklatura, and institutionalised a form of private tyranny underwritten by the state. This is what civil society is in essence: in Adam Ferguson's formulation, it is a "commercial state", in which alternative forms of social life, such as the commons and communal life are suppressed.
Curiouser and curiouser. posted by Richard SeymourWe're still on the theme of films, I'm afraid. I didn't want to contribute to the still churning tidal wave of ordure about Borat, but a glance at the Genocide Tribune brought this curious complaint from the right-wing film critic Joe Queenan to my attention:
Baron Cohen is just another English public school boy who hates Americans. It is fine to hate Americans; it is one of Europe's oldest traditions. But the men who flew the bombing raids over Berlin and the men who died at Omaha Beach and the women who built the Flying Fortresses and Sherman tanks that helped defeat Hitler are the very same people that Baron Cohen pisses all over in Borat. A lot of folks named Cohen would not even be here making anti-American movies if it were not for the hayseeds he despises. [Emphasis added]
The poster is Gene, who got it from Norman Geras - both, mind you, ordinarily rather quick to condemn criticism of Israel as antisemitic. Never mind the "we yanks saved you guys during WWII" shtick. That part of the criticism merely complements some of the sniffy neoconservative whinges from Hitchens and the rest, which are basically to the effect that Americans come off rather beautifully despite the efforts of the satirist (because they were polite in front of the cameras). Queenan adds the claim that the Americans liberated the concentration camps, which is no more deluded than the usual. But the last sentence communicates outrage that a Jew, of all people, would be so outrageous as to satirise Americans. Ingrate! How dare he? As it happens, the Soviet Union, of which Kazakhstan was once a part, played a far more significant role in the liberation of concentration camps than the You Ess of Aiii, but Queenan has no problem with the genuinely crude and racist depiction of that country and those people, and the smearing of Kazakhs as antisemites (without, by the way, even being so courteous as to interview anyone and elicit such sentiments). Queenan's slap-down to this Jew merely means that he agrees with Borat: they should be sanctimoniously squashed if they dare criticise Glorious Nation. In fact, he agrees that Glorious Nation should "sue this Jew". Gene and Geras appear to agree.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
So, Mister Bond... posted by Richard SeymourHoly fucking Christ. Someone induced me to go see this in exchange for a free ticket and a bag of sweets. I have always hated Bond films: I found them embarrassing and stupid when I was five, and even the hot flushes of adolescence couldn't get me interested in Roger Moore trying not to be a fat girdle-wearing fuck, or Sean Connery issuing dumbass sadistic one-liners after knocking someone off. Fuck all that in the ear. So, anyway, here's the synopsis: the new Bond movie lasts for about nine hours. It spent the first three hours sending me gently to sleep on a soundtrack of meaningless explosions and soaring orchestrals. For the next three hours, it reached its hand into my trousers and pulled me off. Yoink yoink yoink. And for the remainder I endured what can only be described as the most inept plucking at the heart-strings since Princess Diana kicked the bucket.
The plot is slightly less sophisticated and consistent than your average episode of Bill and Ben. I intend to reveal salient details in what follows, but the concept of a 'spoiler' doesn't apply to this film. Basically, some nebulous, ever-scowling African 'freedom fighters', procure the services of a French money-launderer and investor (whose name is 'Le Shifty' or something like that) who in turn secures the contracts of mercenaries to blow up an airplane. Quite why he makes his money this way is mysterious. Of course, Le Shifty is quite ugly (unlike Danny Craig, with the cornflower-blue eyes), and - get this - he weeps blood. Ooooh, ickeeeeee. He's horrible, Daddy, I don't like him! The freedom fighters have no cause, beyond that of blowing things up. They sneer. They scowl. They kill with a gruelling determination. And they are, of course, utterly styleless (unlike you-know-who). Their inscrutable leader asks the French guy if he believed in God (out of nowhere, as you do), and Le Shifty coldly says "no, I believe in a healthy rate of return!" (Odd how in films like this, the values of capitalism are made illicit, criminalised - none of your actual run of the mill capitalists are so crude as to make a profit, or run sweatshops, or sell expensive goods, or deal with unscrupulous people). So, Le Shifty has bet against the market in short-selling airline shares (this is drawn directly from what happened on 9/11, as it happens), because he fully expects the airplane to be blown up. Problem: Bond foils it through the usual array of yawn-inducing stunts. So, now Le Shifty has to get the money back for the freedom fighters or they're going to kill his ass. He goes to play a card game, and Bond is sent along to play against him using squillions of treasury bills.
"You do realise", Eva Green tells Danny flirtatiously (she's always flirtatious, since the role of every woman in the film is to be a potential fuckbuddy for Bond), "that if you lose, the British government will have funded terrorism?" Well, that would be a fucking novelty, wouldn't it? A look of horror passes over Danny's face. Anyway, it turns out we needn't worry because Danny has some miraculous poker skills (turns out there are these things called "tells"), and he is able to kick Le Shifty's ass at long length, despite the fact that the dastards poison Bond and force him to retreat to his sports car and pull a defibrillator (yes, a fucking defibrillator) out of the glove compartment, whereupon he administers surgery to himself. Anyway, he wins and falls in love with Eva, who is in love with him, but then at the end it turns out she isn't really, but then she is again and then she dies (this while drowning in a lift that's floating through the debris of a recently collapsed house in Venice). And then Bond gets all Hulkamania, and goes after the bad guy and, having shot him in the leg, stands over him in a perfectly tailored tux with a well-hard rifle saying "I'm Craig, Danny Craig". Fade to black, cue titles. At some point in the middle of all this, Bond has been tortured and cracked a few dark witticisms (tee hee, torture is cool), and also shot dead some inconsequential affiliate of the freedom fighters in the middle of the embassy of some country that they never deign to name, and he is unfairly maligned in the press as having killed an unarmed prisoner (that's our spies, for you - always being slandered by the liberal media class).
Danny Boy: "Does my cock look big in this?"
Judi Dench does her usual thing in these films as a flimsy, indulgent matriarch, full of biting witticisms about arse-covering parliamentary bureaucrats who would stop her brave boys from killing whoever they want to. She's the intelligence chief with the heart of gold, constantly outraged by Bond's indiscretions, but secretly adoring him. Mads Mikkelsen is gripping as Le Shifty, and I look forward to his next role as a Serbian communofascist. Jeffrey Wright, a brilliant actor, was utterly wasted as "the brother from Langley". A number of female actresses are introduced to swelling orchestrals as classical Bond Babes. Various unknown actors die competently. Aside from phallic pistols, lots of gadgets are ostentatiously wielded, but I have a sense that writers are getting sick of this: nothing they show us is particularly stunning. There is a curious sense of awe about the cunning use of text messaging and DVDs, despite the fact that Roger Moore and Sean Connery both had to deal with gargantuan laser beams and moon-walkers. SMS fetishism is a miserable excuse for the usual technophilic glee that these films exhibit.
And of course, the film consciously reaffirms the literary cliche that spies are sexually charismatic, unusually intelligent and sadistic, charming their way into the lives and beds of enemies, before wasting them with a one-liner as dry as a shaken Martini. Decisive, effectual, calculating and ultimately superior in every way to the anonymous henchmen they send to their graves every day, they are the modern equivalent of those awesome and thrilling heroes, the aristocrats of early modern Europe. From Percy Blakeney to James Bond, the fixtures of clandestine political subversion have been the same.
I have always been stunned by the popularity of Bond movies, and especially by people who think it's 'only' a bit of entertainment. Bond movies are the most political films you usually get to see from the Hollywood mainstream, and the message isn't exactly shrouded in subtlety. I am also stunned that the audience is so willing to be mind-fucked in public - have some dignity. If you're going to laugh at yet another dull witticism from a cold, unappealling sociopath, then take it home and watch the DVD, for fuck's sake. The only heartening moment was when I realised that someone behind me was listening to their walkman, a lonely and short-lived protest. If the producers are looking for audience feedback, may I suggest a cold shower and an anti-perspirant? Because you fucking stink.
Conspiro! posted by Richard Seymour
Conspiracy is suddenly all the rage on the front pages of UK newspapers. Of course, it is a little difficult to resist the possibility that Alexander Litvinenko was radioactively poisoned by Russian intelligence given that they are said to have legalised the killing of people overseas. And given that Litvinenko, having previously worked for the FSB, had previously dished a lot of dirt, perhaps reliable and perhaps not, suggesting that the FSB had been involved in orchestrating terrorist attacks in Mosvow, and that he was reportedly trying to uncovered information about the alleged assassination of the great Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya - well, okay, it has a passing plausibility about it.
I raise it, in part, because no one questions it. There isn't the slightest eyebrow raised, not even a hint of real scepticism except for some slightly eccentric pro-Russians (the anti-conspiracy theorists are the eccentrics now). I also raise it because it strikes me that conspiracy theory has been a part of official ideology for the last century at least. From Reds under every bed to semites in every closet, all the the way to the Yellow Peril and the ocotopoid threat of various Arabs or Muslims (Saddam's gonna invade Saudi Arabia - the Muslim Brothers are gonna conquer Europe), conspiracy theory in the sense of potent, occult operations affecting global politics, has been the official story.
I remember my lecturer on Politics and the Middle East last year explaining (as a good anti-Orientalist liberal) how he had been obliged to explain to some Arab that the conspiracy theories he had learned in the Middle East might work in Cairo, but this is London (he literally phrased it like this). He thought it was quite funny, and he urged us students to resist the temptation to see things in terms of conspiracies. As a general piece of advice, incidentally, this isn't useless. However, the claim that there are conspiracy theories in the Middle East and nowhere else is patently ludicrous and false. Western states, especially European states, have provided the script. What is more, movies love conspiracy. Television loves conspiracy. The Daily Express, with its endless tittilating nuggets of gossip about Diana's death, loves conspiracy.
I think it's worth distinguishing between a few different things when we talk about conspiracy theories, then: there is that which precedes political analysis, that starts from the proposition that the world works through the secretive actions of a nameable few, which is a kind of magical thinking (Robin Ramsay wonders why interest in conspiracies often goes along with an interest in the occult, and this may be why); there is that which is sensationalist, and which haphazardly picks up on topics where there is some salacious interest and where it is politically harmless; and there is that which is strictly historical and provisional, rooted in a deeper and broader political analysis, (for instance, that provided by Daniele Ganser).
Still, as a genre, conspiracy theories emerge directly from the ruling class, whose irrationalism (not irrationality, not inattentiveness to their own interests) is boundless, and it is a mistake for us to accept it as a genre even if only to reverse the value significations (as in, "you're the conspiracy Unca Sammy, whaaaa!"). Is it altogether surprising that people like Alex Jones can take classical Cold War anticommunist, Christian, pro-gun, 'libertarian' politics and now offer it as a form of dissent (in which the Federal government are now the communists)? The genre is tainted at source. This is not to say that you shouldn't dream of considering the possibility that Nato left stay behind terrorist armies in Europe (there is no doubt that they did, and it has senior admission behind it) or that the US organises death squads in Iraq (ditto) or anything else that could plausibly be considered as a secretive operation by powerful ruling class interests. This happens to be one of the ways in which politics is conducted. But let's not forget the politics and the cultural output that has encouraged people to map their whole understanding of the world in this fashion, to make conspiracy the master-signifier. And let's bear in mind that there is usually little we can do about any putative conspiracy beyond strengthening our class and making sure it is capable of minimising the effects of such activities.
Friday, November 24, 2006
Deathly and toxic. posted by Richard SeymourDominic Fox's new blog Necrotic Toxicity is a laugh, despite the fact that he personally cuts an unfairly dashing and romantic figure in real life. I think he's started the new blog as a refuge from the over-scrutinised blog that he maintains elsewhere. Why not spoil it for him by visiting? Tell him I sent you, and he'll give you a free kick in the face.
On the matter of the creaming off of billions of Iraqi cash, there is an uncharacteristically interesting post at Crooked Timber courtesy of it's gnarled Australian branch. The Australian Wheat Board, which is a privatised monopoly - that is, it is legally guaranteed by the state, but floated on the stock market, rather like the arms industry - took about $100 million from the Iraqi people through the oil-for-food programme. Iraq is a big wheat importer, and US and Australian agribusiness have competed for its markets for years. Earlier this year, AWB Ltd once again beat the Americans for the contracts. Well, the latest revelations suggest that AWB Ltd had an inside track on the plans for war, this as a result of it being still effectively a state enterprise (but one in which the costs are covered by taxpayers and profits accrue to the private capitalist class), and of its chief Trevor Flugge being told by the Australian ambassador to the UN in February 2002 that the war was on. I'm less interested in the Downing Street Memo aspect of this - we already knew that the war was on for months if not years before it began - than what it tells us about the imbrication of the state and 'private' enterprise, particularly when it comes to imperial adventures.
It's an old Leninist insight that when it comes to imperialism, the largest sectors of capital meld with the state to procure investment opportunities (ie to mop up surplus capital), which becomes especially aggressive when domestic growth opportunities are limited. The neoliberal model involves simply a global system of tutelage and bribery in which well behaved statesmen accept 'loans' for themselves, their governments and their families provided they open up the economy to Western capital. Meanwhile, domestically the US capitalist class seeks to neoliberalise all the remaining welfare institutions (what are usually called 'middle class entitlements' for some stupid reason), and have so far failed to do so, even during a state of permanent declared war. At the same time, there remain states that are either sufficiently secure and economically strong as to have a measure of independence or that embody some kind of democratisation and popular will (respectively, you might say, Iran and Venezuela). And so, they are ideal targets of war and blockade, both of which are excellent business opportunities, but also are forms of class war, the attempt to reduce the risk of democracy to the health of capitalism.
Imperial states involve often very precarious coalitions between narrow but powerful interests, which operate precisely through the leverage of political and not purely economic power, and which are always massively corruptible and therefore susceptible to the liberal critique that they're not properly capitalist (as per the Crooked claim that AWB Ltd isn't really privatised). Perhaps also, because they have need of a great deal of evangelising zeal to mobilise populations, they are susceptible to the kind of apparently immanent critique in which they don't appear to live up to their 'usual' best (ie, Bush is becoming as bad as Them).
Confessional. posted by Richard SeymourAs far as the ruling class is concerned, the world really does reflect how its interests dictate it should be, and its behaviour really is virtuous. This necessarily means that its victims are nothing but chaff, people who lost the cosmic struggle for survival and supremacy. The system really is impeccably sane and meritocratic, and no reasonable person could see it any other way. What is more, any internal antagonism, any failure of the chaff to live up to its role as power house or fertiliser, has to be explained as an exogenous: it's all agitating Reds, a global conspiracy of semites of one kind or another. McCarthy will find them out. Stalin will find them out. When Stalin's henchmen tortured people for confessions, they wanted an admission that what it was doing was right, not merely for the records, not merely for public consumption: after all, they could have simply faked evidence of a confession, or even not bothered with a confession at all. It isn't as if anyone would have known worse or better. The confession has the function of confirming for the ruling class that its system is perfect, and that it is virtuous.
The pursuit of confessions is also a sadistic exertion of power, the forcing of a person to admit that the ruling class determines what is true and what is not. If the Fuhrer wants it, two and two equals five. The persistent use of torture even where it is known full well that no reliable information is to be obtained, say in Bagram or Abu Ghraib can't be explained in strict utilitarian terms, but it can be understood as an attempt to secure submission.
There is also the propagandistic function of course. Years of terrorism and sanctions against Libya, followed by a sudden and rather welcome bribe, produced an utterly phoney confession of guilt as to WMD development and involvement in terrorism. It corroborated the story that there were these Arab states that pursued these two evils, and did so at an important strategic moment. Factually, it was rubbish: I've touched on the preposterousness of the Lockerbie trial before, and again I urge you to consult the late Paul Foot's writing about this, and of course there was even an admission at the time that Libya did not really possess WMDs or even the beginnings of a programme. But it was most welcome, and it proved that the world really does work according to the maxim that "you're either with us or against us".
Finally, there is the straightforward cover for extortion. The occupiers of Afghanistan have, in securing the country, shipped a huge amount of cash to Hazrat Ali's gang. Ali, an old-time warlord who runs approximately 6,000 soldiers in the east of Afghanistan, has an interesting way of raising cash. His gang arrests alleged Taliban supporters, tortures them and gets the family to pay 'compensation' to get the person released. The belief that punishment itself proves guilt is thereby compounded by the family's tacit confession, in the form of compensatory payments.
And now the question is, can the same logic be applied to Syria? The Baker commission may well recommend 'dialogue' with Assad, but can this in practise mean a thorough confession of guilt in various assassinations - not by Assad himself, but perhaps by rogue elements - and a declaration that Syria is with, rather than against, 'us'? Will a combination of threats and bribery result in Syria paying out compensation, as Libya offered to pay the victims of the Lockerbie bombing? Perhaps Syria did actually do it, but it seems to me that the matter of who actually did assassinate Pierre Gemayel is not going to be determined by thorough investigation from the ever-pliable UN. It is going to be determined by power politics. It is, of course, unthinkable to blame Israel or the United States, despite the fact that they are obvious suspects. It is unthinkable because the world doesn't work that way: such an assassination by the US or Israel would, if acknowledge, annihilate the notion that the West only assassinates the bad guys, the chaff (which, of course, it does so openly and celebrates the results). So, as I say, the question is not going to be whether the Syrian government killed the fascist Gemayel, but whether the Syrian government will abandon even the pretense of independent nationalism and corroborate the West's story.
(I omit one other kind of confession, the kind that is offered defiantly and ironically - yes, yes, I am an extremist, I am indeed a witch, also a fanatic, and a terrorist to boot. I am evil. But this kind is no use to the ruling class.)
Thursday, November 23, 2006
Theories, theories. posted by Richard SeymourCompeting theories about what happened to Pierre Gemayel's brains. Naturally, Maronite sectarians think it was Syria what done it, while "Syrian observers" say it doesn't serve Damascan interests, and so it must have been a US-Israel attack. So, now it's a game of fucking Cluedo, with the mooted possibility of civil war in the balance. The Angry Arab reports that Syrian workers are already being harrassed and beaten. The UN will investigate what it has already called an attack on Lebanon's sovereignty, and will presumably find, given the conclusion it has already drawn, that it was Bashir in the drawing room with the pistol.
Here's a theory: in mid-2006, Israel spent roughly 30 days assassinating civilians by the truck-load (and the ambulance-load). They were caught on camera doing it, and left physical evidence of amazing clarity. Would the UN care to investigate this scandalous assault on Lebanese sovereignty?
"You want some water? Keep running." posted by bat020From the London Metro:
A video showing US soldiers in Iraq taunting thirsty children with a bottle of water has caused outrage. The footage shows a group of children desperately chasing a truck so they can get a drink.
Today the US Department of Defense confirmed the video showed US soldiers and said the images were 'unfortunate'. The faces of the two men in the vehicle are not revealed but they can be heard saying in American sounding accents: 'You want some water? Keep running.'
The video is here:
Pierre Amine Gemayel, aside from being one of the Hariri gang pushing brutal neoliberal policies on Lebanon, was inextricably linked with the fascist Phalange. The Phalange have only occasionally been correctly designated in the Western press as fascist, and even less frequently as mass murderers. Among their crimes was the attack on the Sabra and Chatila Palestinian refugee camps in September 1982. I'll quote from Robert Fisk's account:
"What we found inside the Palestinian Chatila camp at ten o'clock on the morning of 18th September 1982 did not quite beggar description, although it would have been easier to re-tell in the cold prose of a medical examination ... there were women lying in houses with their skirts torn up to their waists and their legs wide apart, children with their throats cut, rows of young men shot in the back after being lined up at an execution wall. There were babies - blackened babies because they had been slaughtered more than 24 hours earlier and their small bodies were already in a state of decomposition - tossed into the rubbish heaps alongside discarded US army ration tins, Israeli army medical equipment and empty bottles of whisky ... Down a laneway to our right, no more than 50 yards from the entrance, there lay a pile of corpses. There were more than a dozen of them, young men whose arms and legs had been wrapped around each other in the agony of death. All had been shot at point-blank range through the cheek, the bullet tearing away a line of flesh up to the ear and entering the brain. Some had vivid crimson or black scars down the left side of their throats. One had been castrated, his trousers torn open and a settlement of flies throbbing over his torn intestines.
"The eyes of these young men were all open. The youngest was only 12 or 13 years old ... On the other side of the main road, up a track through the debris, we found the bodies of five women and several children. The women were middle-aged and their corpses lay draped over a pile of rubble. One lay on her back, her dress torn open and the head of a little girl emerging from behind her. The girl had short, dark curly hair, her eyes were staring at us and there was a frown on her face. She was dead ... One of the women also held a tiny baby to her body. The bullet that had passed through her breast had killed the baby too. Someone had slit open the woman's stomach, cutting sideways and then upwards, perhaps trying to kill her unborn child. Her eyes were wide open, her dark face frozen in horror." (Robert Fisk, Pity The Nation: Lebanon At War, Oxford University Press, 1992).
What had happened was this: the Israelis had formulated a plan with the Phalangists to attack the camp, and had set up observation posts in the surrounding area for that purpose. They bombarded the place with ordnance and then, on the evening of 16th September, two days before Fisk and his colleagues arrived, the Phalanges and a number of SLA fighters entered the camp, with the perimeter sealed by IDF troops, and set about mutilating and destroying every living human being that they could find. The whisky bottles are telling. This was a business that took some time. The killers had only left when Fisk et al arrived, and one of the bodies was still issuing warm blood. There is no sign of there having been any fighting. Rather, witnesses report the sound of laughter from the Phalange - an effortless task, and a pleasurable one.
For all the talk of 'Islamo-fascism', the only fascist party ever to have emerged in the Middle East has been the Phalange, and its genocidal skills were deployed on behalf of Israel and no one else. This is the tradition represented by the deceased Pierre Amine Gemayel.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Al Qaeda is Misunderstood. posted by Richard SeymourMohammed Mahmoud Ould Mohamedou is a fairly conventional liberal, yet he is perhaps the first liberal to attempt a fully secular understanding of Al Qaeda, in Understanding Al Qaeda: The Transformation of War (Pluto Press, 2006). For Al Qaeda has been deliberately misunderstood for reasons that are far from mysterious. We are used to the usual tryptich of reasons given for Al Qaeda's behaviour: Hatred, Envy and Bestiality. Mohamedou is unsatisfied with this baby talk. He suggests that with the refusal to ask the right questions, the United States has become a land where institutionalised racism and, shortly thereafter, secret trials, ghost detainees, secret prisons, censorship, witch hunts and torture was tolerated and implemented. A reassertion of imperialism was the medicine, not a reassessment of policy: non-military approaches have been dogmatically disdained. “Eradication – the preferred approach of French colonial authorities in 1950s Algeria and Algeria’s authoritarian government fighting Islamist militants in the 1990s – is the dominant approach”. This is imbricated with the discourse of evil, which Bush himself evokes as a noun, as an actual force in the world, with repeated emphasis.
Mohamedou therefore sets out, within his discipline of conflict research, to provide a properly materialist and international account of Al Qaeda as a political movement embedded in geopolitical realities. There's a bunch of peeee-yook stuff at the start, a half-hearted sociological critique of American society's fall from a once resplendent democratic grace, which you don't absolutely need to read to understand this book. It's a pre-emptive strike against charges of anti-Americanism, and as such isn't strictly relevant to understanding what he has to say.
Dating the clash-of-civilisations.
Mohamedou first seeks to displace the usual fetishism of that date that we all know so well, by pointing out that Al Qaeda's war with the United States began in 1991. “Contrary to what many believe, the September 2001 attacks did not mark the opening salvo of the contest between the United States and Al Qaeda … that long-coddled conflict had been going on for a while”. It was part of a a war opened by the invasion of Iraq and the placing of US troops on Saudi soil. The US intellectual class had already been initiating the formulations, such as Huntington's 'Clash of Civilisations' thesis, that would legitimise a new wave of imperialism centred on the Middle East, and this was reflected in the media coverage, so that on January 21st 1996, the NYT produced a lead story: “Seeing Green: The Red Menace is Gone. But Here’s Islam.” Concepts such as the West and Islam carry weight and meaning, they “summon loyalty” – but in the US, such cultural references are used to reinforce oft-repeated notions about Islam, which “has ‘a problem’”, is “intolerant and anti-modern”. The issues that mobilised Al Qaeda were power and justice. In a message broadcast by Al Jazeera on 29th October 2004, Osama bin Laden explained that the best way to stop future attacks would be to stop threatening Muslims’ security: this is the casus belli, and it has been repeated every time a message has emerged from Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri.
It is a cherished theme of pro-war apologists that Al Qaeda was attacking long before the invasion of Iraq in 2003. True, between 1991 and 2001, the US sustained six major assaults by Al Qaeda: 26th February 1993, the first WTC attack; 13th November 1995, the attack on a base in Riyadh; 25th June 1996, the attack on the al Khoar towers near Dhahran (a housing site for crews enforcing no-fly zone); simultaneous bombings of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya on 7th August 1998; a kamikaze attack on USS Cole warship in Yemen on 12th October 2000. And then there were two thwarted attacks: one to explode 11 American airliners over the Pacific in January 1995, and a December 2000 plot to detonate a bomb during millennial festivities in Seattle. By the same token, however, according to the US State Department, between 1980 and 1995, the US undertook 17 military operations in the Middle East. During the 1990s, of course, three specific nations came under attack: Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.
New paradigm of war.
Al Qaeda legitimises its campaign in terms of a response to US aggression which Arab states are neither capable of nor qualified to deal with. This campaign emphasises what Mohamedou thinks is a substantial change in the nature of war. The “grammar of war” has undergone generational changes – from the Middle Ages, the main mode of war was massed manpower; before and during WWI, the focus was on destruction by airpower; from then, especially during WWII, the central tactic has been the destruction of command and control. But all three paradigms have been organised as violence between states, with civilians nominally left out of battle. The definition and codification of international law was inherently exclusionary: didn’t include colonised subjects. The German historian Heinrich Von Treitschke (incidentally the originator of the 'sonderweg' thesis about German history that was taken up by leftish historians in West Germany after the war), said that “international law become phrases if its standards are also applied to barbaric people”. During French rule of Algeria, war became total, with Algerian populations regarded as non-conventional enemies, who could be subjected to collective reprisals, summary execution and mass torture.
This is the classic war paradigm: monopoly (of the means of violence); distinction (between civilian and military); concentration (of forces); brevity (of battle); linearity (of engagement). The last two were framing principles as early as the Lieber Code drafted by Francis Lieber at Lincoln’s request in 1863. Article 29 of the Code says: “the more vigorously wars are pursued, the better it is for humanity. Sharp wars are brief”. You can see the expression of this strategy in Blitzkrieg, and the US strategy of Rapid Dominance (known commonly as 'Shock and Awe'). Mohamedou has it that Al Qaeda represents one aspect of the way in which the traditional war paradigm has broken down, specifically the "Westphalian" system. I think this is mistaken, not simply because the "Westphalian" business is largely mythical, (see Benno Teschke on 'The Myth of 1648'), but because the claims about de-statisation have been drastically exaggerated. Yes, Al Qaeda pursues sub-state warfare - but the twentieth century is littered with the debris of such modes of warfare.
However, if the novelty is a little exaggerated, Mohamedou still draws some useful insights. Al Qaeda is "positioning itself consciously and functionally on different planes of the power continuum, using the full range of kinetic force" to influence its enemy. Disparity of force is no deterrent inasmuch as it no longer functions on a straightforward plane of quantitative advantage. Asymmetry spells a disinclination to prosecute wars swiftly: it is no longer merely a condition of war, but a full-blown strategy in which the non-state group avoids constant exposure to the enemy state, and offsets the state’s calibration of its use of force. By extending the conflict, it enables itself to strike when it is ready, while its enemy is constantly in a protracted state of defensive anticipation. The geographical indeterminacy of its operations has much the same effect.
While traditional ius ad bellum involves states being the sole legitimate actors in warfare, Al Qaeda undertakes to carry out an autonomous domestic and foreign policy, given the paucity of the Arab states. This has a history: the Muslim Brothers were to be a nothing more than a welfare association promoting its version of Islamic reform until the Arab states lost the 1948 war. Only then did they take up arms against domestic states. In an analogous fashion, the defeat in 1967 also led to a flourishing of combat Islamist movements that increasingly took up arms against the state. Similarly, Al Qaeda legitimises war on civilian targets by privatising collective responsibility, holding citizens accountable for the actions of war-making powers. Bin Laden told ABC’s John Miller in May 1998: “Any American who pays taxes to his government is our target because he is helping the American war machine against the Muslim nation”. This is a theme he has gone on to repeat, as has al-Zawahiri, and as did Mohammed Siddique Khan in his video will.
If Mohamedou is right that “the geographical indeterminacy of the group’s action speaks of the dissolution of territorial power”, then he would be correct in his assessment that international law has been fundamentally altered and humanitarian law in particular, based as it is on the state-structured mode of warfare, is threatened. I think he is wrong about this, but let's hear the argument a bit more fully: international law assumes an equality of the parties involved. Recognition is the sole thing makes such standards relevant; and as international law is tautologously state-centred, states are not bound to recognise sub-state movements as equal forces. Again, Mohamedou (drawing on such writers as Mary Kaldor) seems to me to overemphasise 'de-statisation' and its consequences. To be sure, to the extent that the periphery is able to export violence to the centre, this begins to call into question the notion of a centre: but realistically, how far have these power relations altered? With the best will in the world, how could Al Qaeda possibly win as long as it remains a peripheral, subaltern force? Wasn't its most pragmatic move the decision to ally with a movement (the Taliban) that already possessed a state? International humanitarian law is not threatened here: for it is the form in which torture, starvation and mass murder has been imposed. This is reflected in the way that the US responded to the OAS when it demanded to know the status of Guantanamo: the US didn't snub the OAS or put on a swagger, but instead sent amply documented legalistic arguments for its policies.
The demands of the Prophet, perpetuated by four different caliphs, would appear to vitiate Al Qaeda's claim to piety: Do not mutilate; Do not kill little children or old men; Do not cut down trees etc etc. I'd say that at the very least Al Qaeda must have cut down a tree or two in one of its blasts. This is what Bin Laden said on 20th October 2001: “They say the killing of innocents is wrong and invalid, and for proof, they say that the Prophet forbade the killing of women and children, and this is true. It is valid and has been laid down by the Prophet in an authentic tradition. However, this prohibition on the killing of children and innocents is not absolute … God’s saying ‘And if you punish your enemy, O you believers in the Oneness of God, then punish them with the like of that with which you were afflicted’ … The men that God helped did not intend to kill babies; they intended to destroy the strongest military power in the world, to attack the Pentagon that houses the strength and the military intelligence”. Sheikh Nasser Ibn Hamid al Fahd argues that since it is permissible (according to Islamic scholars) to use a catapult to bombard the enemy, and this doesn’t distinguish between men, women and children, this establishes the principle that it is permissible to destroy infidel lands and kill them. We've come a long way from catapults, baby.
This is, however, an argument that would resurface in Iraq when al-Zarqawi, having declared loyalty to bin Laden, was upbraided by his former mentor Abu Mohammed al Maqdissi, who wrote an open letter urging him not to target non-combatants, “even if they are Infidels or Christians”. This did not result in a reduction in the killing of infidels, Christians, or even Muslims, (albeit it is important not to exaggerate the role of the Zarqawists in Iraq), but it did cause Zarqawi to issue statements denying this attack, excusing that one, pointing out that the accidental shedding of Muslim blood was "unavoidable" etc.
But the strategy of targeting civilians remains. Ayman al Zawahiri explained in his pamphlet Knights Under The Prophet’s Banner the rationale for these measures in terms of “the need to inflict the maximum casualties against the opponent, for this is the language understood by the West, no matter how much time and effort such operations take.” This is a tactic understood by Pape as an extreme measure undertaken for national liberation against a perceived aggressor in asymmetrical warfare. It threatens civilians usually in democratic societies from whence some threat from troops is imminent. Since it has been pursued by secular and religious forces alike, Mohamedou suggests we drop the lazy assumption that this has to do with some idiosyncratic psychology of Islam or the Arabs and instead see the theological claims as the circumstantial byproduct of a pragmatic strategy by an elite commando group. That is to say, “Al Qaeda is an industrious, committed and power-wielding versatile organisation exerting an extraordinary amount of influence and waging a political, limited and evasive war of attrition – not a religious, open-ended, apocalyptic one.”
A very brief history.
Al Qaeda is "a political movement with a demonstrated military ability, which has sought to bypass the state while coopting its attributes and channelling its resources". It has concluded that the Arab state system is dying, and incapable of defending the population’s interests. Forging itself as a vanguard, it has separated two tactical fights: the domestic war against failed states, and the international war against the ‘far enemy’: the latter involves husbanding financial and logistical resources with professional cadres and a corps of officers and permanent contacts. For instance, Abdallah Azzam, a Palestinian leader of the ‘Arab Afghans’, had set up an office for logistical coordination, the Maktab al Khadamat lil MuJahideen – an international bureau for some 25,000 people. The organisation remained more or less intact after the winding down of the Soviet campaign – before Azzam’s death in November 1989, he put in place the elements of an international army in alliance with Osama bin Laden, who was later Joined by Ayman al Dhawahiri. This entity was initially dubbed ‘Al Qaeda al Askariya’. The new organisation did seek to displace traditional states to some extent: pace bin Laden’s unsuccessful offer to the Saudi government to use his force to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait. Initially, the structure was hierarchical – bin Laden, leader, Dhawahiri deputy, and both receiving advice from 31-member Shura, divided into five operational committees. The military committee, headed by Abu Obaida al Banshiri and Mohammad Atef, oversaw activities of local units, including the 300-strong 055 Brigade which was integrated into the Taliban army in its war with the Northern Alliance. It also oversaw growing number of international cells. From 1996, Al Qaeda mostly maintained its training camps while assembling a coalition of operatives and overseeing the preparation of several parallel missions.
In the Declaration of War against the United States, on the 23rd August 1996, Al Qaeda noted: “Due to the imbalance of power between our armed forces and the enemy forces, a suitable means of fighting must be adopted, namely using fast-moving light forces that work under complete secrecy … It is wise in the present circumstances for the armed forces not to be engaged in conventional fighting with the forces of the … enemy … unless a big advantage is likely to be achieved.” Al Qaeda's sophistication grew: its unsuccessful attack on USS The Sullivans off the Yemeni coast was followed by the successful kamikaze attack on the USS Cole. One of their recruits was Ali Mohammad, a serving sergeant in the US army, who trained Al Qaeda recruits in surveillance techniques, cell structures and detailed reconnaissance. Perhaps up to 100,000 were trained in the camps: maybe up to 10,000 remain active and scattered through the world, perhaps even more.
Al Qaeda had expected that when its spectacular organisation in America on - well, I forget the date - was carried out, it would have to mount a retreat. It sacrificed its foothold in a state and fought only brief battles with invading US forces where it thought there was an advantage to be gained. It lost some officers, but easily replaced these. It then sought to proliferate other groups (mini-Al Qaedas) with loose connections to the mother ship. It provides, in its more diffused form, an umbrella for 1) attacks directly commissioned by Al Qaeda through sophisticated urban operators; 2) attacks inspired by more populist associated groups in the periphery. The peripheral branches and central organ operate differently. For instance, ‘Al Qaeda in Iraq’ beheaded hostages and pursued anti-Shia violence, something bin Laden had not done. In the 1996 declaration, there is the insistence that “there is a duty on the Muslims to ignore the minor differences amongst themselves”. This apparently caused some brief friction between the leadership and Zarqawi himself.
Having reorganised itself, it has intervened in several elections, including the US election in November 2004 (in which Americans were advised to dislodge rulers who would pursue anyone who threatened Muslim security), and in the Spanish elections (in which a North African militia carried out attacks on Madrid trains). Since then, the newly elected Zapatero government withdrew its troops from Iraq, and bin Laden announced that there would be no further attacks on Spain. There followed an attempt to offer a truce to America's European allies, and in early 2006 to America itself. It wasn't the first time Al Qaeda had stressed that its violence would be proportionate with that of the US. In 2002, bin Laden suggested: “Whether America escalates or de-escalates this conflict, we will reply in kind”. Of course, these were rebuffed. The White House Chief of Staff put it thus: “We do not negotiate with terrorists. We put them out of business”. At this point, the Toby Keith gene is supposed to kick in and goad you into leaping to your feet and waving an imaginary red, white n blue, in a drooling, saucer-eyed state.
Both the United States and Al Qaeda have reckoned on a long war. Joint Vision 2020 emphasises ‘Full Spectrum Dominance’ over ‘adaptive enemies’, which is mirrored by Al Qaeda operative Sayfr al Adl’s seven-phase strategy until 2020. Only a reconsideration of policy by the US could reverse this course, but it is unambiguously opposed to such measures. Rumsfeld told the National Press Club in 2006: “The United States is a nation engaged in what will be a long war … fading down over a sustained period of time … The only way that terrorists can win this struggle is if we lose our will and surrender our fight”. This perspective was fleshed out in the National Security Strategy of the United States of America in March 2006. Bush's recent statements while in Vietnam ("we can only lose if we quit") sustain the strategy. The 9/11 Commission similarly concluded that Al Qaeda's was “not a position with which Americans can bargain or negotiate. With it, there is no common ground – not even respect for life – on which to begin a dialogue. It can only be destroyed or utterly isolated”.
Martin Creveld, almost two decades ago, said that: “If, as seems to be the case, the state cannot defend itself effectively against internal or external low-intensity conflict, then it clearly does not have a future in front of it. If the state does take on such a conflict, then it will have to win quickly and decisively. Alternatively, the process of fighting itself will undermine the state’s foundations”. Most such combats in the 20th Century have been concluded with political settlements, and the settlement with Spain suggests that a de facto agreement (not a literal treaty) is available to the United States. In fact, it is the only thing available if the United States is actually interested in winning the war (which is something Mohamedou does not address).
To keep this perpetual war going, the group’s political goals have been muted by US planners and ideologues, and its impress limited to terrorism, in which only a strict dichomotising and moralising condemnation is permitted. Terrorism, however, is merely one way to employ force, and the blanket condemnation of it as such simply avoids the important political scrutiny and analysis required. Terrorism is valuable as a category only if “beyond all semantic positional warfare” it locates what is specific to “certain economies and strategies of political violence”. Since terrorism is a political tool and a malleable one, it can at any moment be replaced by another one, potentially one that is legitimate in the terms of traditional war-making. Al Qaeda's cells are “no different in their organisation from secret Pentagon battlefield intelligence units”, while its strategic thinking is “akin to the military doctrine developed by the United States Army during the Vietnam War”. In that sense, the US is perfectly placed in terms of morality, and also its strategic position, to chat terms with Al Qaeda. It is not interested in doing so, so long as massive extraneous benefits accrue from the pursuit of the 'war on terror'. For this reason, Al Qaeda is misunderstood.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
La principessa di New York, la Clintonessa, the radiant host with impeccable manners and shoes from the Via Condotti, introduces our esteemed guest, Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman, an eloquent proponent of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinians and the killing of Arab politicians in Israel, was recently added to the Israeli government. Kadima was encomiastic, praising the new minister for creating a "sane and more stable coalition". Next to Binyamin Netanyahu, who calls for removing Palestinians from that part of Palestine that is legally called Israel, Lieberman is the second favourite politician to become Prime Minister among the Israeli public. He has recently advocated assassinating the Hamas leadership, ignoring the Fatah one and abandon any pretence of pursuing a "peace process". He has said that he would be happy to send the IDF into the West Bank in order to bomb the place and "destroy everything". Arthur Neslen, the Tel Aviv journalist, writes that the problem with Avigdor Lieberman is that his politics are in the Israeli "dead centre", not on some outlying extreme.
The Saban Forum at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy will be "honoured" to welcome Lieberman to chat Middle Eastern politics together. He will, lucky thing, be sandwiched between the Clintons who have both, in their various ways, done so much to facilitate the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. That happens this December 8th in Washington DC, the number one shopping destination of genocidaires today.
And it isn't only among Washington liberals that appeals to genocide excite respect and admiration.
At one time, the Zionists expressed the same political goal as the Nazis: to get all the Jews out of Europe. Many Zionist leaders worked with the Nazis to accomplish this. (The Nazis wanted to put them in Madagascar.) Now, the Zionists want to get all the Palestinians out of Palestine. The Nazis are one with them on that as well: on November 12th, the BNP wrote a news editorial indicating that Palestine was an "imaginary country", that all boundaries in the Middle East are "drawn with the sword" at any rate, and that they were "moderately and prudently more sympathetic to the Israeli side, simply because a) Israelis are not trying to conquer the world and subject it to their religion, b) their adversaries very much are, and c) Israel is a part of Western, if not European, Civilisation, and the Arab world is not."
Having pointed this out, I await more fruitful discussion of whether the far right is penetrating the Palestinian cause.
Lay Off MPAC posted by Richard SeymourThe usual scumbags are out in force to attack MPAC over the revelation that Asghar Bukhari once imagined that David Irving was an unfairly impugned anti-Zionist, and sent funds to him on that account. Irving is not, of course, simply an anti-Zionist being targeted by the state. Irving is a man who fabricates history in the service of fascism, and this has been proven in a court of law, in a case that he brought as a plaintiff against Deborah Lipstadt (who correctly referred to him as a Holocaust-denier). The messages sent by Bukhari to Irving were politically stupid. The language used about "the Jews" is preposterous. I don't think Bukhari intended to be antisemitic, in fact. Antisemitism is more than the arrangement of words: in its classical phase it was a structure of oppression promulgated through law and perpetuated through various social arrangements. There is nothing like this today: there is, however, a racist, expansionist state that purports to speak for the Jews. Some people who think they're defending Palestine, and start from that axis of oppression, will be open to language and arguments that reflect classical antisemitism. They will also be open to having those arguments challenged, and the fact that MPAC has repeatedly denounced antisemitism, while Bukhari has denounced Irving's views (which he didn't believe Irving held), demonstrates that this is so.
However, more importantly, The Observer did not make clear in its report that Bukhari's actions were in 2000, a couple of years before MPAC was formed. Hence, a sequence of blog posts (from people like the despicable apologists for Israeli state murder at Harry's Place and the inflatable Oliver Kamm) implying once more that MPAC is an antisemitic organisation. Kamm simply titles his post 'MPAC and David Irving' even though he is not commenting on any alleged relationship between MPAC and David Irving (he would not, of course, deign to check the facts before publishing, despite bloviating about the 'incompetence' of Bukhari).
MPAC is not an antisemitic organisation. I have all sorts of disagreements with MPAC's politics (which are too narrow), and with the cavalier approach to what sort of material may appear on their website (which is too loose), but the organisation is not antisemitic. The Observer allows you to think that MPAC is impugned here by following up its news with discussions about accusations of antisemitism against MPAC, including a disgraceful NUS 'no platform' policy pushed through by Labour Students and their supporters in 2004. And in that way, The Observer's piece is a straightforward smear. An organisation with more funds would probably sue, and win.
The main reason that MPAC is being targeted along with some other organisations is that it challenges the Labourite mosque hierarchy. It does so in the name of challenging oppression - of Palestinians, Iraqis and Muslim women in particular. It also challenges groups like Hizb ut-Tahrir and Al-Ghurabaa. But Labour is terrified of losing Muslim votes and wishes to chasten any sign of real militancy. The British ruling class has decided that, having so closely affiliated itself to the United States ruling class for fifty years, it's going to continue to support the ruthless destruction of the Middle East. If Muslim countries are the target of that, then Muslims will be the in the frontline of opposition, and so it becomes imperative to stigmatise and deligitimise that dissent. Strategically, the charge of antisemitism works best among liberals: they know this. If you were talking to Sun readers, you'd puff the Mad Mullahs angle. But when you're dealing with Labour activists and Guardian readers who might otherwise be on the antiwar marches, you stigmatise Muslims (yes, all Muslims, not merely MPAC or a few groups) as, barring a few progressive exceptions, the source of reactionary ideology, conservatism, misogyny, antisemitism etc. When MPAC emerged and started to work against Labour candidates who supported Israel (it emerged specifically in response to the assault on Jenin), the people working for the Labour leadership made a simple calculation: MPAC's politics are impeccably liberal, but their anti-Zionism leaves them vulnerable to attack as antisemites. One London newspaper recently referred to MPAC as a "hate" group. We've been here before, of course. During the 1960s, when the FBI was running its Counter Intelligence Programme, black civil rights groups were demonised in the official language as "hate" groups. Those who defend themselves are full of "hate", always and everywhere. And since the oppressed are no more perfect than bilious liberals are, they will be vulnerable to attack on some fronts.
Of course, no blog or newspaper that continues to side with New Labour, particularly in its murderous imperialist campaigns, has any right to talk about anyone else's standards. We know all about their standards: any fanatical bigot, liar and mass murderer will do, so long as he's killing darkies. We know how far Harry's Place will go to legitimise the murder of female civilians, so long as it is Israel that is doing the killing. We also know what pathetic smears the Guardian Media Group will allow Peter Beaumont and Emma Brockes to produce in defense of power, and in slandering the opponents of power. To put it politely, if you're in the business of supporting the murder of civilians so long as Western states do it, and so long as non-Western civilians are targeted, you aren't entitled to appropriate the language of anti-racism. (Nor, if you think it's okay for racist IDF troops to shoot at female civilian protesters, is it your business to talk for all the world as if you were a feminist offended by Islam's allegedly poor treatment of women). So, in the interests of being slightly less vile hypocrites than you already are, lay off MPAC.
Update: Asghar Bukhari replies...