Friday, April 30, 2004

American Sexual Torture and Murder of Iraqi Prisoners

CBS's 60 Minutes II reports that "photographs surfaced showing American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqis being held at a prison near Baghdad": "It was American soldiers serving as military police at Abu Ghraib who took these pictures. The investigation started when one soldier got them from a friend, and gave them to his commanders. 60 Minutes II has a dozen of these pictures, and there are many more – pictures that show Americans, men and women in military uniforms, posing with naked Iraqi prisoners" ("Abuse of Iraqi POWs by GIs Probed," April 29, 2004).
According to the Army, one Iraqi prisoner was told to stand on a box with his head covered, wires attached to his hands. He was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted.

Some pictures show Americans, men and women in military uniforms, posing with naked Iraqi prisoners. There are shots of the prisoners stacked in a pyramid, one with a slur written on his skin in English. In some, the male prisoners are positioned to simulate sex with each other.

Another shows a detainee with wires attached to his genitals. Another shows a dog attacking an Iraqi prisoner. There is also a picture of an Iraqi man who appears to be dead -- and badly beaten. In most of the pictures, the Americans are laughing, posing, pointing, or giving the camera a thumbs-up. ("Arab TV Shows Iraq Abuse Photos," April 30, 2004)
60 Minutes II had the goods two weeks ago, but it caved in to "an appeal from the Defense Department, and eventually from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, to delay this broadcast" (April 29, 2004). It finally aired the images of sexual torture and murder of Iraqi prisoners on Wednesday, as the photos were "beginning to circulate elsewhere, and with other journalists about to publish their versions of the story" (April 29, 2004).

See the images in question at The Memory Hole, "Photos of Iraqis Being Abused by US Personnel" (April 30, 2004); and Anthony Harwood, "Outrage at American Torture of Iraqi Prisoners" (April 30, 2004).

Despite the graphic evidence, the family members of the two of the soldiers who engaged in sexual torture are in denial:
The Baltimore Sun's Friday editions identified two other soldiers facing court-martial. The newspaper cited unidentified Army officials in naming Sgt. Javal S. Davis, 26. His wife, who also spoke to the newspaper, defended her husband.

"We really don't know how those prisoners are behaving," said Zeenithia Davis, who is in the Navy in Mississippi. "There's a line between heinous war crimes and maintaining discipline."

A Sun reporter on Thursday showed a photo of one of the nude prisoner scenes to Terrie England, who recognized her daughter, reservist Lynndie R. England, 21, standing in the foreground with her boyfriend.

The alleged abuses of prisoners were "stupid, kid things -- pranks," Terrie England said. ("Arab TV Shows Iraq Abuse Photos," April 30, 2004)

The East Is a Career

Edward Said used a quotation from Benjamin Disraeli's Tancred as an epigram for his celebrated critique of cultures of empires Orientalism: "The East is a career." So is occupied Iraq, for a great variety of workers, professionals, and mercenaries, fighting Iraqis and rebuilding Iraq in the American image. Halliburton alone is said to employ "25,000 civilians in the Middle East who work as water testers, electricians, truck drivers and clerks" (Sandra Murillo, "Riverside Trucker Is Among Fatalities in Iraq," Lost Angeles Times April 28, 2004). It is estimated that there are "up to 20,000 private security consultants, bodyguards and other armed protectors active in Iraq" (Karim El-Gawhary, "The Privatized Occupation," Al-Ahram Weekly April 29-May 5, 2004). Though we know the numbers of US and allied troops serving in Iraq with relative accuracy, the total numbers of foreign mercenaries and civilian employees serving the occupier in one capacity or another have yet to be fully disclosed, and I doubt that anyone has even attempted to do the counting.

Among the countless professionals who have found that Iraq is a new career are pollsters such as Richard Burkholder (the director of international polling for Gallup, interviewed by Doug Henwood on WBAI on November 6, 2003 and yesterday), upon whom today's occupier of Iraq relies, much as the British empire looked to great orientalists. Alaa, an Iraqi civil engineer whose blog The Mesopotamian presents itself as "one more Iraqi voice of the silent majority," writes, perhaps with a hint of lament: "The British relied on an educated, high level of intelligence gathering recruiting some very high caliber people including many orientalists and wizards of the culture of the region, who loved the work and considered it as grand romantic adventure" (April 25, 2004). Indeed, Janet Wallach writes of Gertrude Bell ("Adventurer, archaeologist and Arabist, Gertrude Bell was a counselor to kings and prime ministers; a colleague of Winston Churchill and Lloyd George; a crony of T.E. Lawrence and St. John Philby, and an intimate of Arab sheiks"): "she could fathom who would be friends and who would be foes of the British" ("Daughter of the Desert," Smithsonian, April 1998). However, cultural experts of empires, be they archaeologists or pollsters, are given an impossible task: to gather the knowledge of the "natives" that the empires colonize and to legitimate the colonizing enterprise at the same time. Empire-building facilitates acquisition of information, first of all bringing imperial experts into physical contact with native informants, but only up to a point. The need to legitimate the empire's very existence, which entails an unequal relation of power between the colonizer and the colonized, stands in inherent contradiction to the task of discovering what the colonized really think. The knowledge of the "natives" produced through empire-building is inevitably an odd mixture of facts and fantasies, shaped by both what imperial experts want to hear from the "natives" and what the "natives" think imperial experts want to hear. Even Bell's knowledge of the friends and foes of the British could not prevent the 1920 rebellion. Today's experts, paying less attention to social classes than Bell did (who wrote in her June 1, 1920 letter to her father: "There's a lot of semi-religious, semi-political preaching and reciting of poems, and the underlying thought is out with the infidel. My believe [sic] is that the weightier people are against it -- I know some of them are bitterly disgusted -- but it's very difficult to stand out against the Islamic cry and the longer it goes on the more difficult it is"), are less capable of predicting Iraqi actions than she was.

The Mesopotamian, like Niall Ferguson, argues that "studying and understanding the British 'Mesopotamian' campaign is more relevant and important" than studying the occupations of Japan, Germany, Bosnia, and Kosovo (April 25, 2004). I agree that it is, but not necessarily for what British orientalists had to say about the Iraqis. Instead, what is most revealing as well as instructive is what the British said to each other about what they were doing in Iraq -- for instance what Bell wrote in her letter to her father: "[T]he chiefs of the Euphrates are tumbling over one another to make submission. The last coming is 'Abdul Wahid of the Fatlah, with whom we lunched. This is the result of British arms not of native institutions and on the whole I think the quelling of the rebellion is better done by force than by persuasion. But our tether is very short. Already India is clamouring for the return of the divisions she lent us. Very soon the force won't be here. We must therefore do the best we can; patch up matters and leave them to the Arab Govt to settle" (November 7, 1920). Jacques Lacan says that "a letter always arrives at its destination" ("Seminar on 'The Purloined Letter'"). Will Bell's letter find its destination?

Thursday, April 29, 2004

A Very American Occupation, Cont'd

Gallup claims, with regard to its latest poll of Iraq: "The cooperation rate was 98% -- that is, only 2% of those households we contacted refused to be interviewed." The claim reminds me of . . . a referendum on Saddam Hussein: "Iraq has declared Saddam Hussein the winner with 100 percent of the votes in a referendum granting him another seven-year term, bringing bursts of celebratory gunfire in Baghdad's streets. The statistics-busting result were seen in Baghdad as a message of defiance to U.S. President George W. Bush and his declared desire to end Saddam's 23-year rule" ("Saddam Gets Perfect Poll Result," CNN October 16, 2002).

A Very American Occupation

Gallup just released a new poll of Iraq. You can read an excerpt of the Gallup analysis at the archive of LBO-talk, a listserv moderated by Doug Henwood, the editor of the Left Business Observer.

What makes the current occupation of Iraq so very American -- notwithstanding the shrinking multicultural Coalition of the Willing -- is the occupier's apparent determination to poll, caucus, and focus-group the occupied to death.

If any independent film-maker is plotting a satirical attack on the US occupation of Iraq, I'd suggest that the film's protagonist (or rather its straight man) be a hapless Iraqi surveyor employed by an American polling firm.

Here to Lead or Here to Be Led?

That more than one million women -- a third of whom appeared to be young women in their 20s -- marched for the right to abortion should give us a reason to rejoice. It buries the myth that women today -- especially young women -- are post-feminists who take women's rights for granted, expressing no interest in feminist activism.

However, is it really true, as the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health youth organizer Caricia Catalina said, that "We are here to proudly announce that young women, women of color and poor women are here to lead. . . . We are not here as foot soldiers, we are here to lead. We are not here to hold signs, we are here to make decisions. And we are here to build a broad social justice movement" (Jessica Azulay, "A Million 'March for Women's Lives,'" April 25, 2004)?

The speaker lineup -- from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton -- revealed that, while formal and informal leaders of local activist groups indeed had taken leadership in getting women (and men, too) on the buses to the D.C. march, the leadership roles were taken away from them once they arrived inside the beltway. "Urging the crowd to elect a pro-choice President come November, Clinton remarked, 'if all we do is march today it will not change the condition the country is in'" (Hillary Frey, "Marching for Women's Lives," April 26, 2004). For the march's national organizers and speakers like Clinton, women on the march were "foot soldiers" for the Democratic Party in the November elections, notwithstanding Catalina's statement to the contrary.

For financially secure women who can afford to focus on the protection of the legal right to abortion, supporting the Democratic Party probably makes sense. However, for poor women -- especially poor women of color -- whose interests are sacrificed by the neoliberal economic policy that the Democratic Party leadership promotes (the clearest example of which is the "Welfare Reform" for which John Kerry voted), electing "a pro-choice President" is hardly the solution. There is a great gap between what poor women need -- workers' rights to organize, good jobs with living wages, shorter working hours, paid parental leaves, child care, universal health care, social security that does not leave more old women than men in poverty ("[s]even out of ten poor elders are women, and the poverty rate for older women [11.8%] is over 70% higher than that of older men [6.9%]"), etc. -- in order to become truly free to choose (free to choose whether or not to bear and raise children according to their wishes) and what the Democratic president can or will deliver. And the gap continues to become wider every year.

What might a feminist movement look like if and when working-class women truly lead it, rather than get mobilized for a political party that exploits them on behalf of big business?

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Iraqis Offer Bounty for US Officials

According to Al-Jazeera, "Resistance fighters in the Iraqi city of Falluja have placed a $15 million bounty on the heads of key US occupation figures, including Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld" ("Iraqis Offer Bounty for US Officials," April 28, 2004). The photo of a leaflet displaying "the wanted men" included in the Al-Jazeera website is not to be missed.

John Kerry's Underpants

José Carlos Mariátegui wrote in 1923 that Western political personalities "appear in their day-to-day familiarity, in direct contact with the Western public. . . . Their practiced faces smile at us in the newspapers from behind the masks. We are abundantly informed of their ideas, their schedules, their menus, their words, their friends" ("Lenin" [September 22, 1923], The Heroic and Creative Meaning of Socialism, ed. and trans. Michael Pearlman, Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1996, pp. 9-10). What was only an emerging trend, noticeable to shrewd cultural observers like Mariátegui, in the early twentieth century has by now become an inescapable part of our lives today, creating a dominant structure of feeling about the Western power elite that even diehard anarchists and socialists would find it difficult to resist. Take, for instance, this New York Times article about John Kerry's "factotum," Marvin Nicholson Jr., in which we learn all we want (and don't want) to learn about Kerry's and Nicholson's campaign lives: "The man who would be president takes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches — on whole wheat, strawberry jelly preferred to grape — twice a day on the campaign trail. He wears $15 reading glasses, off the rack at CVS. Before bedtime, he starts but rarely finishes movies like 'Seabiscuit' and 'The Blues Brothers' in his hotel suite. Come morning, he leaves $20 for the maid" (Jodi Wilgoren, "Part Butler and Part Buddy, Aide Keeps Kerry Running," April 28, 2004).

Cultural critics on the left often complain about "the ascendancy of style over substance" in the media coverage of politics (and all things besides), but the complaint misses the point. Style is substance. Why do the media wish to introduce us to John Kerry's breakfast cereal ("Do you have any sort of bran cereal, like Total?") and have us imagine his underwear ("'I've seen him in his underwear,' Mr. Nicholson said, declining to elaborate on size or style")? Because the main purpose of the media coverage of politics is to build an illusion of intimacy with the power elite, to which activists and intellectuals on the left are hardly immune, even if we may call this or that American politician a "war criminal" and denounce the US government as a "rogue state" (and many of us in fact do). We may intellectually understand that consequences of actions and inactions of the US power elite (as well as multinational power elites allied with them) are far more destructive on the world scale than those of dictators and terrorists who become Washington's official enemies (many of whom used to be its former allies). Our feelings give lie to our arguments, however. Washington's official enemies are abstractions -- creatures of myths that leftists may love (Che Guevara) or hate (Saddam Hussein). US politicians whose schedules, menus, and friends populate our imagination are another matter entirely. They -- not even George W. Bush, who has launched millions of liberal books, articles, websites, and organizations devoted solely to attacking him -- inspire neither love nor hate in the way that icons of good and evil do. Rather, they "appear in their day-to-day familiarity, in direct contact with" all of us, revealing their human vulnerability, standing in their underpants, butts of our jokes.

If an effect of familiarity protects politicians, the effect is, ironically, often induced by the techniques of alienation, estrangement, and defamiliarization devised by socialist modernists such as Bertolt Brecht and Victor Shklovsky for critical education of senses and arousal of capacity for action. Drawing upon the traditional Chinese theater, Brecht argued, for instance, that the actor in the epic theater "observes himself" and "expresses his awareness of being watched," rather than allowing the audience to have "the illusion of being the unseen spectator at an event which is really taking place" ("Alienation Effects in Chinese Acting," Brecht on Theatre, trans. John Willett, NY: Hill and Wong, 1964, p. 92). What was avant-garde in Brecht's times has since become the norm of the postmodern media. The New York Times claims in the article about Kerry and Nicholson that "[v]oters do not learn these tidbits about Senator John Kerry, the all-but-crowned Democratic nominee for president, from his campaign Web site, his public speeches or his television advertisements" ("Part Butler and Part Buddy, Aide Keeps Kerry Running"). Its claim to be a rare invitation to a behind-the-scenes view, however, is disingenuous. The media daily invite voters to observe the making of a president -- as a product of social labor, no less -- to the exclusion of anything else about politics. By the time D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus' documentary The War Room was released in 1992, the audience had become so familiar with such once avant-garde techniques that not only would they look at presidents as actors (literally in the case of Ronald Reagan) -- they would pay to enjoy the experience of a presidential candidate's handlers as actors observing themselves and expressing their awareness of being watched. Defamiliarization has become familiarized, safe for profitable use in the mass media, which, unlike both the epic theater and the dramatic theater, seduce the audience to identify with the knowing self-consciousness (often expressed in the form of self-deprecation) of politicians, their handlers, and journalists who observe the politicians and handlers observing themselves -- all parties maintaining the sense of irony. Such ironic identification, rather than naive faith in politicians and the media, is the strongest chain -- a tale of John Kerry's underpants is one of its links -- with which the culture industry of late capitalism binds us.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Talk Left, Walk Right

More often than not, political parties best at implementing neoliberalism have been parties that "Talk Left, Walk Right," to borrow the memorable title of Patrick Bond's new book on the political economy of South Africa in global capitalism. The African National Congress is certainly one of the most remarkable examples of the parties that have perfected the art of talking left and walking right. Stephen Gowans reports that, since the ANC'S adoption of a neoliberal austerity policy recommended by the World Bank, known as GEAR (Growth, Employment, and Redistribution), "[t]he official jobless rate grew from 16 percent in 1995 to 30 percent by 2003. . . . And when discouraged job-seekers who had given up looking for work were factored in, the jobless rate was 43 percent, and over 80 percent in some rural areas," sinking the average income of black households 19 percent from 1995 to 2000 and increasing "[a]bsolute poverty (the percentage of households earning less than $90 of real income) . . . from 20 percent in 1995 to 28 percent in 2000"; and that, at the same time, corporate taxes have been slashed "from 48 percent in 1994 to 30 percent in 1999," helping increase "the average income of white households . . . 15 percent" ("Communists for Capitalism" CounterPunch, April 3-5, 2004). The ANC's neoliberal turn had such dramatically negative impacts on the South African working class that, "by late-2002, more than 60 percent of South Africans thought the country had been governed better by the white minority" ("Communists for Capitalism")! Nevertheless, the April 14th election results show that, with no mass political party to its left, the ANC won by a landslide, receiving nearly 70% of the votes, "its largest majority since coming to power" ("ANC Election Landslide Confirmed," April 18, 2004), which suggests that South Africa may remain a de facto one-party state for a foreseeable future. The fact that "[o]nly 56% (15,806,380) of all eligible voters (27,438,897) cast their ballots" (Dale T. McKinley, "South Africa: A Disillusioned Democracy", Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004), the lowest turnout ever since the end of apartheid, registers the frustrations of South African voters, battered by the ANC and yet unable to find or create a political alternative to the left of it.

In contrast, in Japan, an older virtual one-party state, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (which has continuously been in power since 1955 -- longer than the Chinese Communist Party, if we count the period between 1948 and 1955 when the LDP's two constituents alternated in power) has talked right and walked center, much to the dissatisfaction of neoliberals at home and abroad who demand more "labor flexibility." Despite over a decade of deflation and stagnation, real hourly earnings in the manufacturing sector indicate that a full force of neoliberal reforms have yet to be unleashed on Japanese workers. Paul Burkett and Martin Hart-Landsberg document:
[D]uring both the 1983-92 period, and up until the most recent nonrecession years, the only reason that real unit labor cost fell more in the United States than in Japan in nonrecession years was because of relatively stagnant or declining real wages in the United States compared to Japan. It is only in the most recent years that real hourly earnings grew more slowly in Japan than in the United States, and this explains why the reduction in Japan’s real unit labor cost compared “favorably” with that of the United States in the nonrecession years of 1999 and 2000. ("The Economic Crisis in Japan: Mainstream Perspectives and an Alternative View," Critical Asian Studies 35.3 (2003), p. 350)
See, also, "Table 6. Productivity and Labor Cost in Manufacturing" (p. 349) in Burkett and Hart-Landsberg's essay.

Given the enduring power of a faction of the LDP that is dedicated to the maintenance of doken kokka (the construction state) -- an alliance of LDP politicians, powerful bureaucrats, general contractors, and gangsters built on the use of public works projects for patronage -- the LDP may not be up to the task of restructuring Japan in neoliberalism's image:
Takeo Hiranuma, a senior member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party who wants to ease curbs on public spending, said he might try to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister when the 62-year old leader steps down.

"If I got the chance and conditions were right, I would take the post," Hiranuma said in an interview.

Koizumi, who has said he will step down when his term as LDP president ends in September 2006, faces a national election in July to pick 121 the nation's 242 upper house lawmakers. A loss of seats in that poll would encourage LDP conservatives, who want to undo his spending cuts and divert more money to road construction and other public works. (Tim Kelly, "Japan's Hiranuma Aims to Succeed Koizumi, Ease Curbs [Update2)]," April 23, 2004)
If and when a full-fledged neoliberalism arrives in Japan, the most likely vehicle for it will be the Democratic Party of Japan:
The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) supported by the biggest trade union federation “Rengo” (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), increased its representation by 40 seats to 177. *2 It gained more than 22 million in total votes from the regional proportional representative constituencies which elect 180 seats, more than the LDP’s vote of less than 21 million. The DPJ, which merged with the smaller right-wing nationalist Liberal Party (LP) just before the general election, is an amalgam of former members of the Social Democratic Party and a conservative split from the LDP. It is now the only opposition party in parliament which is capable of challenging the LDP's monopoly of government for nearly 50 years. . . .

All the spokespersons of the ruling class and the mainstream mass media welcomed the results of the general election [the Lower House elections on November 9, 2003]. They claimed that a “realistic two-party system” which enabled a smooth change of regime had been established for the first time and that through electoral competition between these two parties, the LDP-Komei bloc and the DPJ, Japan could resolve its imminent economic and social crisis by eliminating the old-style corporatist system. Supported by the “Rengo” trade union bureaucracy, the DPJ has presented itself as a neo-liberal “reformer” party. Naoto Kan, the DPJ's president, said “We should carry out both Margaret Thatcher's and Tony Blair's projects at the same time”. When Jun'ichiro Koizumi took office after victory in the LDP’s presidential race in April 2001 saying “I will break with the LDP if the majority of the party does not accept my ‘reform project’”, Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ's leader at that time, welcomed Koizumi's discourse to facilitate neoliberal policies. The DPJ's platform at the election campaign proposed speeding up privatization of public services and deregulation of job security. It stressed the destruction of an outdated social system controlled by the state bureaucracy and encouraged free competition of the private sector. In the name of “civil society”, DPJ represents the interests of big business. (Jun'ichi Hirai, "Japan: After the Elections," International Viewpoint 356, February 2004)

Monday, April 26, 2004

Out Now -- Before It Is Too Late

Now that resistance to the US occupation of Iraq has begun to unite Sunni and Shiite Iraqis across the allegedly deep religious divide and to show the sign that it may grow into a viable national liberation movement sooner than many outsiders -- including myself -- anticipated, US public opinions, in turn, have begun to change. According to the Pew Research Center, "Just 50% of Americans favor keeping troops in Iraq until a stable government is established there, while 44% support bringing the troops home as soon as possible. In January, the public by nearly two-to-one favored maintaining U.S. troops in Iraq until a stable government is formed (63%-32%)" ("After Falluja," April 5, 2004). In coming weeks and months, the proportion of Americans who favor immediate withdrawal of US troops is likely to become larger, as 52% of Americans are more concerned that "the U.S. will wait too long to withdraw its troops from Iraq," while only 36% say that they are more concerned that "the U.S. will leave Iraq before a stable democracy is in place" ("After Falluja"). Nevertheless, the Newsweek poll released around the same time revealed that a whopping 63% of Americans say that they would "support increasing the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, if necessary, in response to the recent attacks on coalition forces by Iraqi militants," more than twice the proportion (31%) of those who would not support it ("NEWSWEEK POLL: Sixty Percent Say Bush Administration Underestimated Terrorist Threat Prior To September 11," April 10, 2004). What are anti-occupation activists to make of seemingly contradictory US public opinions?

On one hand, we have good news: "'There's a lot of sentiment against the war,' said Eric Swank, who has been studying the peace movement as a sociologist at Morehead State University in Kentucky. . . .'[T]he protests respond more to the political climate [in the United States]. Republicans and Democrats are starting to challenge the president more,' Swank said. 'It gives clues that if you're doing activism, someone's listening to you'" (Sam Tranum, "Small Group in West Palm Answers National Call from Anti-war Groups," South Florida Sun-Sentinel April 14, 2004). Though the anti-war movement predictably lost its momentum after the invasion began, its core organizers never disappeared, and the movement has been steadily rebuilding itself, having already organized two sizable mobilizations (a protest in D.C. on October 25, 2003 and an international day of action on March 20, 2004) and planning more. Continued dissent at home, in addition to Iraqi resistance, has made it possible for pundits and politicians to challenge the president from left and right; and even though much of the mainstream pundits and politicians' challenges concern only how the invasion and occupation has been handled, rather than whether Washington should have invaded Iraq or should continue to occupy it despite Iraqis' resistance, the very fact that the president's wisdom is being questioned publicly, as Swank notes, validates concerns about the occupation and allows more Americans to speak out.

On the other hand, the high level of support for the idea of "increasing the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq" to defeat the Iraqi resistance is worrisome. The US power elite -- committed to defense of the "credibility" of US imperial might and therefore unable to countenance any possibility of appearing to retreat in defeat -- may very well market the escalation of counter-insurgency by exploiting ambivalence in the public's fear of "quagmire." Their propaganda might go like this: "Without more troops to defeat Iraqi terrorists decisively, the occupation would become a bottomless quagmire. We must strengthen our military presence in Iraq, so we can support our troops, put down the terrorists, provide security to the people of Iraq, and help them establish a stable democratic government. Only by sending more troops now can we end the occupation and bring them home soon." Given that much of the questioning of the Bush administration in the mainstream media has focused only on the hows of the occupation, rather than the whethers and whys, it won't be easy for the anti-occupation movement, itself ambivalent on the question of lack of security, to counter such propaganda sharply.

How can we effectively fight the seductive propaganda that says, "Send More Troops Now to End the Occupation Sooner"?

First of all, activists need to begin demolishing the bipartisan consensus that "we cannot fail" in Iraq. John Kerry has asserted repeatedly: "Number one, we cannot fail. I've said that many times. And if it requires more troops in order to create the stability that eliminates the chaos, that can provide the groundwork for other countries, that's what you have to do" (Meet the Press, April 18, 2004). Who are the "we" in the bipartisan assertion that "we cannot fail"? And "stability" for whom? Most activists readily recognize that Bush and Kerry's concern is to make Iraq stable for multinational investors and corporations, even at the cost of killing many unarmed Iraqi civilians along with Iraqi combatants, but do they also realize that their desire to protect "good" Iraqis from "bad" Iraqis or to prevent "internal struggles, including armed struggles and possibly civil war" in Iraq (Ted Glick, "The United Nations and Iraq," August 29, 2003) makes it difficult to build on the already widespread concern that "the U.S. will wait too long to withdraw its troops from Iraq" and may end up amplifying the idea of "keeping troops in Iraq until a stable government is established there," rather than increasing the number of Americans who favor "bringing the troops home as soon as possible"? To counter the bipartisan consensus clearly, activists will have to begin by overcoming their good intention to see to it that "good" Iraqis prevail "peacefully" and establish "democracy," preferably through "free elections" in a "safe" environment. The more conditions Americans set for withdrawal of the US troops, the longer the US troops must stay in Iraq, because it is not possible for US troops -- or any foreign troops for that matter -- to bring about them anyway (to say nothing of the fundamental contradiction of wanting to see Iraqis exercise democracy and to make sure that "good" Iraqis win -- preferably peacefully -- at the same time . . . the contradiction on which imperialism thrives).

Secondly, activists must extricate themselves from the self-inflicted constraints of the Anybody But Bush ideology. The time to begin attacking Kerry's Iraq policy is now, not after the election day. If activists let Kerry get away with saying that Washington must send more troops, if necessary, to stabilize Iraq, terrified that any disruptive opposition to Kerry now may help elect Bush, they will likely see the anti-occupation movement demobilize after the elections -- because of demoralization in the event of Bush's triumph and liberal illusion in the event of Kerry's victory, seeds of both of which are now being fertilized by the idea that everything depends on defeating Bush as a particular politician rather than the bipartisan goal of keeping and expanding the empire which Bush and Kerry espouse.

Both of the above obstacles -- many activists' desire to make Iraq safe for "good" Iraqis and their overwhelming fear of Bush's re-election -- are not easy to conquer and may continue to hobble the anti-occupation movement, making it incapable of helping nearly half of all Americans who favor immediate withdrawal find their voice and become politically active. If the obstacles are considerable, however, the movement does possess an unprecedented advantage.

What distinguishes today's movement from the movements that opposed the first Gulf War and the Vietnam War is a swift emergence and rapid growth of a well-organized group of military families against the Iraq war: Military Families Speak Out, perhaps the most crucial member of the Bring Them Home Now coalition. Frank Rich takes note of the powerful cultural impact of TV images of anxious, grieving, and sometimes even angry military families, a constituency that even the most cynical hawks find it difficult to ignore and impossible to dismiss:
Bush knows how to defend himself against journalists -- by shutting them out and demonizing them as elites out of touch with Joe Public. He tries to limit troubling pictures, by either forbidding them (soldiers' coffins) or superseding them with triumphalist tableaux of his own (that aircraft carrier). But faced with a revolt of The Families, he buckles.

The Families are Joe Public, and you can see his fear of them from the timing of the sudden prime-time news conference that materialized on April 13. For days, TV had been overrun by the families, and on April 12 the phenomenon was at full tilt. All three morning network news shows, the programs that reach a vast audience of American women of voting age, had reports on the families or interviews with them or their immediate neighbors: either the families of 9/11 victims, the families of American troops (whether those killed in Iraq or those forced to extend their stay there) or the families of Americans taken hostage in Iraq.

These families, with their tales of dead or absent fathers and children, tear up the audience, and the White House, which made the strategic error of keeping the president away from mourning families at the war's outset, is now desperate to get with the program. In his reluctant press conference, Bush didn't seem in command of much once he was forced to improvise, but he knew to hit his rehearsed talking points about the families -- a half-dozen times. "I feel incredibly grieved when I meet with family members," he said at one point, adding, "and I do quite frequently." (Message: I care -- more than my father ever seemed to.) . . .

Yet the news conference hasn't stopped the steady flow of families onto television, and Iraq mints new cast members by the day. . . .

. . . [T]he historian Niall Ferguson wrote in The New York Times that it was "chilling" to look at polls showing that the number of Americans who think the situation in Iraq was going well had fallen from 85 percent to 35 percent in only a year, with half of Americans already wanting some troop withdrawal. American approval of the Vietnam War, he noted, fell below 40 percent only in 1968, when the American body count was topping 20,000, not the 700 in Iraq to date.

There are many political reasons for this acceleration in national disenchantment in the months of postwar war, most of them visible on the ground in Iraq. But the cultural component cannot be underestimated. In our new living room war, the media battlefield has extended to the actual living rooms where The Families sit for interviews when the networks come calling. Those families may yet prove harder for the administration to pacify than the insurgents in Falluja. ("The Gunning Up of a New News Culture," April 23, 2004)
The power elite thought that an all-volunteer military would help them avoid the problem of active and passive resistance of GIs and Veterans that overwhelmed them during the Vietnam War, but what they could not foresee was that a volunteer military may come with its own demographic problems. Most importantly, "In the Army, about 25 percent of enlisted men were married in 1973. Today that figure has almost doubled" (David M. Halbfinger and Steven A. Holmes, "Military Mirrors Working-Class America," New York Times, March 30, 2003). Hence the prevalence of the tales of "dead or absent fathers" -- and mothers, too. Soon, Washington will become dependent on a not-quite-volunteer military of family men and women who only signed up to be weekend warriors, not career soldiers -- citizen soldiers whose families rarely live near bases but are scattered in communities nationwide, thus spreading the direct impacts of the war far beyond military towns: "In the first year, Guard members and reservists accounted for about 25 percent of the 135,000 troops serving in Iraq. Now heading into the next phase of the operation in Iraq, the National Guard is expected to make up closer to 40 percent of the ground forces" (Jill P. Capuzzo, "Boots on the Ground, and Anxiety at Home," New York Times April 25, 2004). Military Families Speak Out already claims "a nationwide membership of 1,500" (Andrew J. Baroch, "Military Families Group Protests Iraq War," Voice of America, April 21, 2004). The MFSO membership will probably double or triple in the near future, expanding and energizing the anti-occupation movement as well. As the movement gains more participants who have the most stakes in bringing the troops home, I hope it will be able to articulate its demand clearer than before. Otherwise, our window of opportunity to prevent escalation may be closing fast -- the Selective Service System will be ready for the first draft lottery "as early as June 15th, 2005" (Connor Freff Cochran, "The Coming Draft," AlterNet March 25, 2004).

Out Now -- Before It Is Too Late.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

March for Women's Lives!

March for Women's Lives today:
* March with United for Peace and Justice -- 10 AM, on the northwest corner of 7th Street and Pennsylvania Ave., NW;
* Join feminist activists for the Morning-After Pill Conspiracy -- 11:30 AM on the Mall, at Jefferson Dr. & 12th St. SW., near the Smithsonian Metro Stop.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

A Dead Donkey

This just in from Reuters:
Angry residents held up bloodied human remains to television cameras filming the scene, accusing U.S. helicopters of firing missiles at the market.

A dead donkey lay on the road, its guts spilled. Local residents put a sign on its back saying "This is Bush." ("At Least 13 Iraqis Killed in Baghdad Market Blasts," April 24, 2004)
Unbeknownst to Iraqis, the dead donkey acquires rich symbolic significance in the United States in the election year other than the meaning intended by them.

Friday, April 23, 2004

US Elections 2004

Of course, it is best if Ralph Nader, receiving the Green Party endorsement and getting on the ballots in all states, wins the presidential election outright, but short of such a miracle, what would be beneficial for anti-occupation and other social movements? Here's a short list:

1. No terrorist attack on the mainland USA (as American voters are prone to behaving more like Israeli than Spanish voters -- cf. Uri Avnery, "Bravo, Amigos!", March 20, 2004).

2. Resistance to the occupation widens, intensifies, and becomes politically sophisticated in Iraq and Palestine.

3. "The Coalition of the Willing" shrinks further, more nations following the examples of Spain, Honduras, and the Dominican Republic: "The coalition in Iraq is already fraying. Spain, Honduras and the Dominican Republic have announced the pullout of 1,700 soldiers beginning in the next few weeks. Norway announced Friday that it was pulling its 180 troops out after June 30. . . ("U.S. Faces Tough Choice, Rely on Iraqi Security or Send More Troops," April 23, 2004).

4. Vigorous political debate -- about the nature of the Democratic Party, ends and means of the Green Party and other third parties, roles of electoral campaigns in building movements and political parties on the left, disenfranchisement of Black, Latino, and other working-class voters through the "war on crimes," the relation between capitalism and imperialism, etc. -- among activists in particular and the public in general in the USA.

5. The Green Party endorses Nader, with Peter Camejo as vice presidential candidate, at the Green Party National Convention -- Nader joins the Green Party as a member in exchange for the party's ballot lines.

6. Nader runs without shortchanging his potential:
Indeed, whatever his intentions, Nader implicitly gave wavering voters permission to vote for Gore in 2000 with such statements as the Democrats could take back Green votes by going back to their progressive roots, and that one positive result of his campaign would be to create a spillover vote down the ticket to help elect Democrats to Congress.

In 2000 and now again in 2004, Nader seems to be underselling his own prospects by giving the Democrats more credit and import than they deserve. Nader had far more support and sympathy than the final 3% vote on Election Day in 2000 indicated. A Zogby poll found that 18 percent of the population seriously considered voting for Nader. An analysis of the National Election Study data by Harvard political scientist Barry Burden shows that only 9% of the people who thought Nader was the best candidate actually voted for him. If people had not voted strategically for the lesser evil, Nader would have had over 30 million votes instead of 3 million and might have won the election, especially if he had been allowed in the debates. (Howie Hawkins, "There Never Were Any 'Good Old Days' In The Democratic Party," March 1, 2004)
7. Rank-and-file left-wing Democrats' stiff challenge to John Kerry (as well as other pro-occupation Democrats) on the matters of foreign policy, fiscal policy, civil liberties, the equal right to marriage, environmental protection, the "war on drugs," etc., threatening defection to Nader, dogging Kerry at each of his campaign appearances, the platform committee meetings, the Democratic Party National Convention, and all the way to the general election.

8. A high turnout, a hot contest -- anti-occupation candidates winning big, pro-occupation incumbents losing badly, in the congressional elections.

9. The lowest possible overall shares of the popular vote for the two dominant parties' pro-war and anti-working-class presidential candidates, a bigger share for Nader in 2004 than in 2000 + very close contests in all the battleground states, producing the closest electoral college election, clearly as the result of the Nader/Green campaign, shocking and awing the Democratic and Republican duopolists.

10. The "victor" emerges as a weak president, unable to claim a mandate to continue the occupation of Iraq and to exacerbate fiscal austerity -- shell-shocked by the strength of the anti-occupation voting bloc -- and immediately met by protests around the nation and the world demanding withdrawal of foreign troops from Iraq.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Stepping into Saddam Hussein's Place

Aaron Glantz reports that "[t]he U.S. military is currently holding more than 20,000 Iraqis behind bars -- most of them taken during house to house searches by the U.S. military" ("Think of Those the U.S. Has Detained," April 21, 2004). 15,000 of them are imprisoned in Baghdad's notorious Abu Grahb prison, some of them held in "3-foot by 4-foot cell[s] used to keep political prisoners during the reign of Saddam Hussein" ("Think of Those the U.S. Has Detained"). According to Brigadier General Vincent Brooks, "This prison has the capacity to hold up to 15,000 prisoners, and we [coalition special operation forces] found it empty" upon entering Baghdad ("CENTCOM Operation Iraqi Freedom Briefing," April 11, 2003). Just as Washington installed its proconsul Paul Bremer III into the marble Republican Palace that Saddam Hussein vacated, it has already filled up the dark prison that Hussein emptied.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Power of Public Memory

Tariq Ali says that many "otherwise intelligent people" in Britain and the United States are "surprised on learning that the occupation is detested" by a majority of Iraqis because they do not remember "what it is to be occupied": "the United States has never been occupied as a modern country. The last time the American mainland was hit, apart from 9/11, was in the early part of the 19th century. So they have no idea what it is to be occupied and likewise in Britain. The last time it was occupied was during the Roman Empire. So citizens in these two countries have no idea what it means to be occupied by a foreign power, whereas a large part of Europe does. And a large part of the colonial world does" (David Barsamian, "A Conversation with Tariq Ali: Cracks in the Empire,", January–February 2004). The virtual absence of public memory of being occupied by a foreign power makes it difficult for them to identify with Iraqis who resist the occupation, especially Iraqis who resist it with force. Even liberal peace activists, who condemn the occupiers' killings of Iraqi civilians and demand an end to the current US-led occupation of Iraq, often wish to believe that "good" Iraqis need "good" occupiers who protect them from "bad" Iraqis. One such liberal activist, Milan Rai, wrote that "the Iraqi people seem to want some outside military presence, for security reasons" ("Iraq Opinions," March 24, 2004), taking the results of Iraqi opinion surveys conducted by American and British firms without a grain of salt. However, it should go without saying that even the most conscientious pollsters would have been unable to accurately gauge opinions in occupied Iraq, what with ever-proliferating no-go areas on one hand and the occupiers' censorship on the other hand: "In June [2003], Bremer issued a nine-point list of 'prohibited activity' that included incitement to violence, support for the Baath Party, and publishing material that is patently false and calculated to promote opposition to the occupying authority" ("Exporting Censorship to Iraq," October 1, 2003). Not surprisingly, the aforementioned opinion surveys proved to be a poor predictor of unrest in Iraq. Journalists like Hannah Allam and Tom Lasseter who listened to whispered Iraqi rumors and gossips inspired by their public memories of anti-colonial revolts fared much better than pollsters:
Whispers of "revolution" are growing louder in Baghdad this month at teahouses, public protests and tribal meetings as Iraqis point to the past as an omen for the future.

Iraqis remember 1920 as one of the most glorious moments in modern history, one followed by nearly eight decades of tumult. The bloody rebellion against British rule that year is memorialized in schoolbooks, monuments and mass-produced tapestries that hang in living rooms.

Now, many say there's an uncanny similarity with today: unpopular foreign occupiers, unelected governing bodies and unhappy residents eager for self-determination. The result could be another bloody uprising.

"We are now under occupation, and the best treatment for a wound is sometimes fire," said Najah al Najafi, a Shiite cleric who joined thousands of marchers at a recent demonstration where construction workers, tribal leaders and religious scholars spoke of 1920. . . .

[Grand Ayatollah Ali al Husseini al] Sistani's representatives expect widespread civil disobedience and violence if elections are deemed impossible.

"They know what will happen if they do not listen to us," said Sabah al Khazali, a religious scholar who joined last week's demonstrations [demanding general elections]. "They know this is a warning."

The historic rebellion has broad resonance. A band of anti-American insurgents has named itself the "1920 Revolution Brigades," and Sistani himself, in a newspaper advertisement this month, asked Iraq's influential tribes to remember that year.

"We want you to be revolutionaries ... you should have a big role today, as you had in the revolution in 1920," the ad said.

Elderly tribal leaders recently discussed revolution amid plumes of incense smoke and the gurgle of tobacco-filled water pipes. Many men on the 50-member Independent Iraqi Tribes council proudly claimed ancestors who rose against the British in 1920. They likewise would join a revolt if Sistani and other clerics gave the word, they said. . . .

To many Iraqis, today's U.S. occupation reads like an old play with modern characters: America as the new Britain, grenade-lobbing insurgents as the new opposition, and Ahmad Chalabi and other former exiles on the Governing Council as the new kings.

"We've sacrificed many martyrs and we would do it again," said Sheik Khamis al Suhail, the secretary of the tribal council. "In 1920, we faced a struggle between Muslims and non-Muslims in Iraq. We are living under basically the same conditions now, and revolution is certainly possible." . . .

The al Hamdani tribe, with thousands of members across Iraq, provided key organizers of the 1920 revolt. These days, the family name is linked to the cream-filled confections sold at the popular al Hamdani pastry shops throughout Baghdad.

Yaser al Hamdani, a 28-year-old tribe member whose great-uncle fought in the revolution, said he'd give up his job in the steaming bakery for a rebellion.

"Of course I would join," Hamdani said. "There would be bloodshed along the way, but sacrifice is important for success." (Hannah Allam and Tom Lasseter, "Iraqi Whispers Mull Repeat of 1920s Revolt Over Western Occupation," January 27, 2004)
Public memories of the 1920s revolt, embodied in material culture of Iraq, must have served as fertilizers of Iraqi resistance, which, despite Sistani's failure of nerve, has by now grown into a joint Shiite-Sunni uprising.

The Burden of Empire

An empire is nothing but a burden on the working class of an imperial metropolis, who pay for it with their sweat and blood. It is working-class youths who must soldier for the empire, and it is working-class labor that creates wealth appropriated for colonial investment and war profiteering. Even setting aside the question of surplus value and considering only the problem of taxation, the economic burden is heavy:
Sitting here working on my taxes at the last minute, after having just watched President Bush’s appalling performance at his only press conference of 2004, and having just read about the plans for an all-out Marine assault on Fallujah and Najaf if truce negotiations break down, I found myself wondering how much of my taxes were going to support the Iraq atrocity.

A call to Bob McIntyre of Citizens for Tax Justice gave me the answer. About 25 percent of my income tax payment. Of course, that’s a rough estimate, based upon the prediction that this year’s income tax will bring in $765 billion in revenues, and that the Iraq war is costing almost $200 billion for the year.

That’s something to think about as you’re mailing your envelope to the IRS tonight. For a typical family with a taxable income of $60,000, and a typical tax bill of $8626, that works out to an Iraq War tax bill of about $2150. For a family making $100,000 in taxable income, with a typical tax bill of $18,614, that is a war tax of about $4650. Even a student making a taxable income of say $7000, and paying a tax of around $700 to Uncle Sam is paying around $175 to support the killing in Iraq. (Dave Lindorff, "$2,150 Per Family and Counting," April 16-18, 2004)
The best thing that has happened to the Japanese working class in modern history is the Japanese power elite's loss of colonies. For citizens of an imperial metropolis, there is nothing like a decisive military defeat to improve the national character and living standard dramatically: "Estimates of the Gini coefficient for prewar Japan have ranged from a high of .62 in 1923 to .49 in 1937" (Kwan S. Kim, "The Political Economy of Distributional Equity in Comparative Perspective," March 1996, p.8), i.e. indicating two to three times more inequality than in 2003 ("Human Development Indicators 2003"). The same holds true for Europeans whose power elite have lost colonies. It would be good for Americans if the US power elite gave up their empire without a fight, but empires generally do not abandon their colonies easily, even after imperialism has "ceased to bring appreciable benefits to the advanced countries (without ceasing to be ruinous for the underdeveloped)" (John Strachey, The End of Empire, qtd. in Matthew Connelly, Chapter 1 "The Failure of Progress: Algeria and the Crisis of the Colonial World," A Diplomatic Revolution: Algeria's Fight for Independence and the Origins of the Post-Cold War Era, Oxford UP, 2002, p. 31).

Monday, April 19, 2004

Muqtada Al-Sadr and the United Nations

The Mail & Guardian reports that Muqtada Al-Sadr has reversed his opposition to the UN peacekeeping force, communicating the Mahdi Army's conditions through his spokesman Qais al-Khazaali: "We favour the despatch of such a force on condition that it be made up of Muslim countries or countries which did not join the occupation of Iraq, such as Russia, France or Germany" ("Al-Sadr Conditionally Backs UN Force," April 19, 2004). Juan Cole concludes that it is not likely that "Muqtada will get his blue helmets in Najaf," given a fragile truce between the Mahdi Army and the US military, which may end in "a violent earthquake" of renewed insurgency and counter-insurgency: "Most 'Coalition partners' signed up for peacekeeping or reconstruction, not to fight against guerrillas" ("Najaf: Muqtada, Myers, and Zapatero," April 19, 2004). I agree with Cole. Then, the question becomes, why does Al-Sadr demand what he must know is impossible: a UN peacekeeping force in Iraq minus US and other militaries that have invaded and occupied it till now? Unless the young cleric is out of touch with reality, he must have issued the demand (or rather the challenge), knowing full well that it will be rejected by Washington. By distinguishing the governments that have opposed the invasion of Iraq from "the Coalition of the Willing," as well as calling on Iraqis to stop all attacks on Spanish soldiers after the announcement of Spain's speedy withdrawal ("Spanish Troops to Leave Iraq,", April 20, 2004), Al-Sadr can further isolate Washington and its remaining allies from the rest of the world; at the same time, by compelling Washington to publicly refuse an Iraqi demand for a UN peacekeeping force that pointedly excludes the current occupiers, Al-Sadr can strike a diplomatic blow against Washington's attempt to get the United Nations to approve a resolution on "peacekeeping" in Iraq on Washington's own terms. All in all, it probably is a very smart move on Al-Sadr's part.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Iraq: 1920 and 1958

Niall Ferguson, a conservative British historian, urges Americans to remember 1920:
What lessons can Americans learn from the revolt of 1920? The first is that this crisis was almost inevitable. The anti-British revolt began in May, six months after a referendum — in practice, a round of consultation with tribal leaders — on the country's future and just after the announcement that Iraq would become a League of Nations "mandate" under British trusteeship rather than continue under colonial rule. In other words, neither consultation with Iraqis nor the promise of internationalization sufficed to avert an uprising — a fact that should give pause to those, like Senator John Kerry, who push for a handover to the United Nations.

Then as now, the insurrection had religious origins and leaders, but it soon transcended the country's ancient ethnic and sectarian divisions. The first anti-British demonstrations were in the mosques of Baghdad. But the violence quickly spread to the Shiite holy city of Karbala, where British rule was denounced by Ayatollah Muhammad Taqi al-Shirazi — perhaps the historical counterpart of today's Shiite firebrand, Moktada al-Sadr. The revolt stretched as far north as the Kurdish city of Kirkuk and as far south as Samawah, where British forces were trapped (and where Japanese troops, facing a hostage crisis, were holed up last week).

Then, as now, the rebels systematically sought to disrupt the occupiers' communications — then by attacking railways and telegraph lines, today by ambushing convoys. British troops and civilians were besieged, just as hostages are being held today. Then as now, much of the violence was more symbolic than strategically significant — British bodies were mutilated, much as American bodies were at Falluja. By August of 1920 the situation was so desperate that the general in charge appealed to London not only for reinforcements but also for chemical weapons (mustard gas bombs or shells), though these turned out to be unavailable. ("The Last Iraqi Insurgency," New York Times, April 18, 2004)
Indeed, the US power elite forget the revolt of 1920 at their own peril. Ferguson, however, goes further, arguing that Americans can learn how to maintain an empire successfully from the British experience: "Putting this rebellion down will require severity. In 1920, the British eventually ended the rebellion through a combination of aerial bombardment and punitive village-burning expeditions. . . . [O]nly by quelling disorder firmly and immediately will America be able to achieve its objective of an orderly handover of sovereignty. After all, a similar handover had always been implicit in the mandate system, but only after the revolt had been crushed did the British hasten to install the Hashemite prince Faisal as king. In fact, this was imperial sleight of hand — Iraq did not become formally independent until 1932, and British troops remained there until 1955. Such an outcome is, of course, precisely what Washington should be aiming for today — American troops will have to keep order well after the nominal turnover of power, and they'll need the support of a friendly yet effective Iraqi government" ("The Last Iraqi Insurgency").

Evidently, Ferguson has forgotten the lesson of 1958.

Saturday, April 17, 2004

The Age of Terror

Looking at the US media alone, one is led to believe that Arabs and Muslims have a monopoly of terrorism. A little known documentary The Age of Terror (Dirs. Jon Blair, Dan Korn, and Polly Williams) presents a perspective on terrorism that does not fit neatly into the boundaries of acceptable discourse here -- the perspective from which American viewers, if given a chance to see the film, would have much to gain.

The Age of Terror is divided into four parts, examining acts of terror committed in the name of national liberation, social revolution, God, and the state. It is a very uneven work, and its ambition to do a broad survey of modern terrorism ends up making it incapable of probing particular social, economic, and political contexts that gave birth to different acts of terror. The perspective that it offers is a liberal one, therefore it goes without saying that it sheds no light on everyday terrors of hunger, poverty, unemployment, dangerous work, and other normal conditions of capitalism that take a far more devastating toll on the lives of the majority of human beings than terrorism examined in the film did. For the film-makers, alien to the wisdom of Walter Benjamin ("The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule"), terrorism is an exception rather than the rule.

Nevertheless, The Age of Terror is worth a look, especially for a variety of fascinating interviews included in its first installment "In the Name of Liberation: Freedom by Any Means" (Dir. Jon Blair). It explores acts of terror committed in British Palestine, British Malaya, French Algeria, apartheid South Africa, and Northern Ireland. The Algerian case receives the most balanced treatment, as the film-makers interview former FLN (Front de Libération Nationale) commander Yacef Saadi; Zohra Drif, a former FLN guerrilla, who bombed the Milk Bar Café and now practices law in an office across the street from the Café; Jacqueline Guerroudji and Annie Steiner, French women who joined the FLN; and retired French military officers Paul Aussaresses and Pierre-Alban Thomas, responsible for torture and murder of FLN militants. In this section, terrors of insurgency and counter-insurgency are equally brought to the viewer's attention, while the futility of counter-insurgency in the face of a well-organized national movement for decolonization is subtly built into the film's argument. The sections about Palestine, Malaya, South Africa, and Northern Ireland, in contrast, are one-dimensional, perhaps due to the bias of the British film-makers; though the interviews with former African National Congress militant Robert McBride, former Irish Republican Army member Patrick Magee ("the Brighton Bomber" who tried to kill Margaret Thatcher), and Chin Peng, former secretary general of the Malayan Communist Party, are fair, British and South African counterparts of Paul Aussaresses and Pierre-Alban Thomas are nowhere to be found in the picture.

The Age of Terror has been shown at a number of film festivals and aired on Discovery Networks International in more than 150 countries as part of programming to commemorate the first anniversary of September 11th, but it was pointedly excluded from Discovery Channel's US programming for the same occasion. No wonder. Among other things, The Age of Terror points to the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel (a British administrative and military headquarters then) by the Irgun (whose leader, Menachem Begin, became Prime Minister of Israel in 1977) in Jerusalem as the beginning of modern terrorism, i.e. the use of terror as a "media event."

Israel and the United States: the Same Tragedy

Israel and the United States have much in common. In both cases, the tragedy is that the political party that is deemed more dovish -- the Labor Party in Israel, the Democratic Party in the United States -- actually has and continues to pursue the same policy as the party that is said to be more hawkish:
What on earth is the difference between Barak's vision of 2001 and Sharon's vision of 2004? While Barak is viewed as being at the "hawkish" end of the Labor Party, things don't get much better at the "doveish" end. Barak's successor as Labor leader, General Amram Mitzna was one of the architects of the so-called Geneva Initiative — a virtual peace plan signed by Israeli opposition politicians and former PA officials acting with Arafat's blessing. Attempting to sell the virtues of this initiative to a skeptical Israeli public, Mitzna wrote in Ha'aretz last October:
For the first time in history, the Palestinians explicitly and officially recognized the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people forever. They gave up the right of return to the state of Israel and a solid, stable Jewish majority was guaranteed. The Western Wall, the Jewish Quarter and David's Tower will all remain in our hands. The suffocating ring was lifted from over Jerusalem and the entire ring of settlements around it - Givat Ze'ev, old and new Givon, Ma'ale Adumim, Gush Etzion, Neve Yaacov, Pisgat Ze'ev, French Hill, Ramot, Gilo and Armon Hanatziv will be part of the expanded city, forever. None of the settlers in those areas will have to leave their homes. (16 October 2003)
Mitzna named more settlements he wants to keep than Sharon!
(Ali Abunimah, "Why All the Fuss about the Bush-Sharon Meeting?" The Electronic Intifada, 14 April 2004)

Friday, April 16, 2004

From Vietnam to Iraq

The Right protests that Iraq is no Vietnam, looking only at the numbers of troops and casualties. What the Right does not remember is that, long before casualties began to rise dramatically, Washington was already haunted by a specter of defeat in Vietnam. From 1956 through 1963, the total US casualties in Vietnam was no more than 195 ("Statistical Information about Casualties of the Vietnam Conflict"). (In comparison, the invasion and occupation of Iraq has taken 689 American lives, as of April 16, 2004.). And yet, on February 25, 1964, the specter of defeat was making itself felt in the conversation between Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara: "Then come the questions: how in the hell does McNamara think, when he's losing a war, he can pull men out of there," Johnson asked rhetorically (emphasis added, "'Fog of War' vs. 'Stop the Presses,'" January 7, 2004). It's the same dilemma that confronts Bush and Kerry today. They cannot hope to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis, just as no US president could win the hearts and minds of the Vietnamese; nevertheless, they cannot retreat -- least of all, when it looks like they are losing. Shiites and Sunnis have now joined hands in resistance to the occupation, making April the deadliest month of the Iraq war so far. The only solution that Washington can think of, fearful of losing "credibility" of imperial might, is to escalate: "We need more troops and more people who can train Iraqi troops and assist Iraqi police" (John Kerry, "A Strategy for Iraq," April 13, 2004).