Sunday, July 04, 2010
The troops posted by Richard Seymour
We have a tendency to speak of the troops either as brave volunteers or as tragic conscripts. In fact, they are more like mercenary traffic wardens with a license to kill, in that their job is to resolve administrative and territorial problems with the skilled application of violence - in this case, the problem is how to control insubordinate population groups and bring Afghanistan fully under the sovereign authority of NATO and its patrimonial client-state. The sick martial fetishism and the rituals that eulogise such evil banality, lathering on about 'sacrifice' and 'courage' and other soap-on-a-rope virtues, is intended to obscure this mundane reality. One does not evoke fascism lightly, but readers of Enzo Traverso's book on The Origins of Nazi Violence will be aware of the history of how violence under capitalism was bureaucratised and de-personalised, and part of the story of imperial nationalism is the attempt to re-invest such everyday killing with a sort of personality.
The issue of 'the troops' has, of course, long been used as a stick with which to beat Muslims, a disciplinary tool. If you don't support the troops, and if you're at all vocal about this, the media has already signalled that it is ready to treat this as treasonous conduct - 'extremist', 'fanatic', etc. So when you get a story that shows Muslims participating in rituals lionising the troops, as if it's inherently newsworthy, the temptation might be to exhale with relief. At last, there's a story that doesn't completely and outrageously vilify Muslims. At last, there's a news item that talks about Muslims which doesn't terrorise people, driving them round the twist with impotent fury about mad mullahs on benefits, or bombers who can't be deported, etc. The BBC has fulfilled its public service remit by balancing out the hysterical racist trash with an understated human interest story. But it's more problematic than that. Such news items actually reinforce the racist hysteria by playing the game of 'good Muslim, bad Muslim'. It lays out the kind of behaviour that is required of Muslims in order that they might not be subject to ritual denunciation and interrogation. It is in essence no different from the kind of antisemitic ideology that counterposed the good 'National Jew' from the malevolent 'International Jew'. The response it nakedly invites us "they're not all bad, then", which is a racist response.
In my racism article, I mentioned polls that detected higher 'identification' with Britain than among the population as a whole. Most people don't really give a damn about patriotism. It has little relevance to their lives, doesn't explain anything, doesn't get them any extra income or Nectar card points, and doesn't improve their sense 0f well-being. During the World Cup, a minority start to indulge a certain amount of flag-waving, which an even smaller minority with a nationalist agenda try to hijack, salivating about the "passion and pride" on display - attributes that certainly become more evident, if less obviously laudible, the more Tetley's bitter is consumed. But otherwise it's a minority of bullies and bigots who actually take nationalism at all seriously.
So when a majority of Muslims express identification with the UK, you know there's something up. And it's very obvious what this is. Newspapers in this country have long used push polls among Muslims to provoke certain kinds of reply that could be used to monger hate and fear. Politicians, and the scum British press, are constantly hectoring Muslims about their alleged failure to fit in, to buy into "British values" and so on. So when some polling agency comes asking stupid questions, the right answer is whatever will subvert these attempts at demonisation. Of course, Muslims shouldn't have to feel any more patriotic than I do in order to have the right to go about their business unmolested, but that's not how it works here. Obviously another aspect of the BBC's warm-hearted little story is that while reinforcing the good Muslim-bad Muslim dichotomy, and the racist ideology underpinning it, it also whitewashes the armed forces - far from being a racist mercenary force, it is a modern, multicultural, democratic army that is out to work alongside the ordinary decent people of Afghanistan and protect them from the bad Muslims who are causing such trouble. Which merely adds to the hypocritical perversity of such ostensible auntie-racism.
In entirely unrelated news, the results from last week's poll on patriotism are as follows: 44.5% of 596 readers say that patriotism can best be defined as "petty, property-obsessed egoism masquerading as social solidarity". In a distant second, 20.3% say it is "a free gift with every four pack of Carlsberg". As I explained last week though, 'the markets' would determine the result whoever you voted for. So what we're going to do is form a coalition between the remaining three answers, who have 34.2% between them, and with the first-past-the-post system they form an outright majority. Now, unfortunately the exigencies of forming a stable, governing definition in these uncertain times means that they may have to abandon some of their promises, so what's going to happen is that the definition of patriotism will now be: "A vital means of ensuring integration and civic cohesion." Don't blame anyone but yourselves. You, the public, failed to give a clear answer, and we had to sort out the mess you left us with. True story.