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We are Change: Who are you? April 16, 2008

Posted by smiffy in 9/11, Irish Politics, Labour Party, Lisbon Treaty.

The Lisbon Treaty referendum campaign took a swerve into the bizarre on Monday night, with the alleged assault on Prionsias de Rossa after a debate in Liberty Hall.  While the details are still rather sketchy (and I’ve heard about it from a number of sources, including those who were present) it’s been covered in the Irish Times and on yesterday afternoon’s Liveline.  The discussion on politics.ie is as tasteful and informative as one might expect, although it is depressingly aging to hear de Rossa described as an ‘elderly gentleman’ (all the more so, given that it’s accurate). 
It seems that those responsible for the assault come from the strange ‘We Are Change Ireland‘ group, a local branch of a loose organisation based primarily in the United States but with affiliates in the UK, Canada and here.  While one shouldn’t read too much into yesterday’s incident at this stage, it may represent the first strand of a more worrying trend. 

WAC originate in the crazier extremes of the so-called 9/11 Truth movement.  Glancing at the self-produced videos on their website, they come across as a group of rather amateurish Michael Moore wannabes, the kind of people who have never met a conspiracy theory they didn’t like, or accept.  Incidentally, the ‘confrontation’ of Gerry Adams is hilarious, as is the encounter between our old comrade Nick Cohen and the We Are Change UK group.

Despite their image as a humourous misfits, it’s very hard to place them on the political spectrum.  While some of the jargon they employ about civil liberties and the militarization of the European Union might suggest a leftist bent, they also appear to have some sympathy with a certain kind of right-wing extremism exemplified in the likes of Lyndon LaRouche and, to an extent, Alex Jones.  There’s even the pseudo-religious strands (see the interview with arch-crank Michael Tsarion) which resemble the worldview outlined in online films like Zeitgeist and the pronouncements of David Icke.

Indeed, this kind of Ickean mixture of conspiracy theory politics and crazy, mystical cod philosophy does tend to leave a rather nasty taste in the mouth.  In Jon Ronson’s chapter on Icke in his great book Them: Adventures with Extremists, he recounts the debate about whether, when Icke talks about giant, blood-drinking lizards ruling the world, he actually means Jews (and the more he protests that he really means lizards, the more this is interpreted by his opponents as really meaning Jews).  Amusing as that particular anecdote is, what Ronson’s book is particularly good at is demonstrating the overlap between the outlook of conspiracy theorists and that of genuine neo-fascist organisations.

I am conscious of using the terms ‘conspiracy theory’ and ‘conspiracy theorists’  are perjoratives.  This is not to suggest, of course, that political conspiracies don’t exist and that states don’t engage in activities about which they would prefer the public remained ignorant.  However, the problem with a certain kind of individual or group – best analysed in Richard Hofstadter’s classic essay ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’, a little dated in the age of the internet but well worth reading – is that it substitutes ‘analysis’ (to be generous) for activism.  It seems to see the process of uncovering hidden motivations, alliances and activities as progressive in and of itself.  It provides no attempt to actually change anything or to improve anyone’s life (except insofar as seeing the hidden hand of the Illuminati everywhere enhances your life).  It’s a recipe for political quietism.

Perhaps it would be accurate to see WAC as anti-political, in this sense – in engaging in a simulcarum of activist politics but with no real political goals or objectives other than as a self-perpetuating mechanism for generating new and even more bizarre conspiracy tales.

This alone would make them an interesting phenomenon – a group whose political outlook is entirely generating from the internet and devoid of any substantial content – and certainly worth noting.  However, Monday’s events seem a little more sinsiter.  The tactics employed both within the meeting and afterwards would be familiar to those who have followed the development of Youth Defence (a genuinely far-right organisation) over the last 15 years.  One hopes that WAC are, and will remain, a tiny group of crackpots, rather than the tip of the iceberg of something much worse.

9/11 and after. Six years on and still taking stock… September 24, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11.

Reading Donagh recently on Dublin Opinion I couldn’t help to some degree agreeing with him as regards 9/11. He writes:

One of the reason it continues to have an impact is because of the way people like Amis fixate on it as being a sort of massive schism. I don’t want to suggest that 9/11 is without historical significance, but if ever there was an event that has been misused as a weapon of mass distortion it is this one.

Watching a remarkable and quite moving program a week or two ago on Channel 4 about the Cornish born head of Security in Merril-Lynch, Rick Rescorla [who had the basic sense to see the vulnerability of the WTC and planned for it so that most M-L employees made it out safely, although tragically not himself], it was difficult not to see how for a brief period the attacks could not be interpreted as epochal. Here were civilian airliners flown into one of the most prominent civilian buildings on the planet. The deaths of near 3000 people by that methodology in the space of a couple of hours was unprecedented in terms of pure terrorism.

Yet the physical irruption into the US that was 9/11 was thankfully relatively limited. The scale of the attack was considerable but open to disruption by counter-measures. This was a one-time tactic, not the ground work for a strategy. Civilian airliners would prove vastly more difficult to compromise after it and the scope for attacks on urban targets would become more limited. The murderous nature of the attack was something that could be combated by actually quite simple but increased security measures.

The psychological irruption into the US (and arguably the Western) psyche was, by contrast, much greater. At one fell swoop 9/11 provided the back story for an intransigent and unthinking global policy prosecuted by the US. It transformed a rather indolent and isolationist US administration (remember the US surveillance aircraft forced to land by the Chinese?) into an activist hegemon. Projects that had been left on the back burner, such as dealing with Iraq, suddenly assumed an importance out of all significance to their real or potential threat.

The nature of the discourse entered into by the US administration was one which was, over time, utterly counterproductive as regards their ultimate aims. The ‘War on Terror’ is a sound bite of such inherent self-limitation that it is difficult to believe that they thought it would be of any serious utility.

I say that because despite everything it is clear that the response immediately after 9/11 by the US was sufficient to break up or disrupt the Al Quaeda networks then extant. But the shift towards war with Iraq changed the nature of the conflict. Suddenly one “War on Terror” became subsumed in another, entirely different sort of war.

Eric Hobsbawm once noted, rather grimly, that the US could sustain many multiple attacks like 9/11. Of course no society would want to, and I wouldn’t wish it on any society either. But that ability to sustain remains a basic fact. And a crucial point is that AQ was, and one hopes, remains, in no position to mount such attacks. In fact it is hard to envisage any non-state organisation being able to do so. It took years of planning and large numbers of personnel to bring 9/11 to fruition. On the day the attacks were not entirely successful. Knowledge of what was happening was dispersed rapidly, so rapidly that it seems fairly safe to suggest that the fourth aircraft was prevented from carrying out it’s objective precisely because the passengers knew of their likely fate and worked to prevent that outcome.

But that narrative, not one of complacency – because AQ was and remains a threat – but instead one of a proportionate and clear-headed analysis of the situation was ignored. Rather as a British Labour aide considered 9/11 to be a good day to conceal bad news, so the US administration saw an opportunity to change the world ( Incidentally was there ever a more dishonest and self-serving thesis than that of Norman Podhoretz – quoted by Donagh – when he suggests that Saddam was supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. Whatever else Saddam was, and he was a despicable near-genocidal dictator, he was not entirely stupid and the idea that he would hand out WMDs like candy to groups which he could have no control over is an absolute nonsense).

And that is an even more central point. 9/11 itself, for all it’s horror – and it was an horror – was limited. It’s historic significance considerably less than was thought at the time. It was a catalyst, but not one that led to an inevitable outcome. What was historic was the course determined by the US administration. That was the hinge upon which our contemporary history would swing for better or for worse.

War with an enemy that is broadly quiescent is frustrating. AQ itself subcontracted terrorist attacks to affiliates and emulators. There have been, and no doubt will be, attacks around the globe. But to date there has had the raw visceral power of 9/11. Madrid and Bali were also terrible crimes. But they lacked – and I am conscious of the need to be sensitive here – a visuality that 9/11 had. The scale and the backdrop of the latter was greater, more immediate, more novel. I was reminded of an article in Atlantic Monthly by Richard A. Clarke (national coordinator for security and counterterrorism for Clinton and Bush) who of all people should know something about these matters, written some years ago. In it he presented an alternative history from 2005 to 2012 which saw waves of attacks by AQ that took various forms, most of them remarkably simple. The upshot was a militarized US society, civil rights leaching away, locked down by massive security at transport, communication and economic hubs slowly losing power and influence. And the worrying aspect was that it was all too feasible. Clarke, no fan of the Iraq invasion saw it as the possible catalyst for much worse events. He pointed to a basic mistake, that in the intervention in Afghanistan – one supported by the UN – there was insufficient effort made to take Osama. But to return to the visceral power of 9/11, few of the attacks he writes about retain that sort of immediacy. A horror is no less a horror because it is difficult to see, but nevertheless the form it takes does shape responses to it.

That we have had no reprise, even in limited form, suggests to me that Al-Queda was always more limited in capability than was presented after the fact. And as noted above, while it remains a threat, it has been unable to operate at the level seen as plausible by Clarke.

9/11 was gestural terrorism. There was no clearly defined objective [By the way OBL’s latest screed is quite fascinating in that regard. He presents a sort of generalised, and then sometimes overly specific, complaint against a range of issues ranging from the banal to the extraordinary]. Indeed one might argue that it was entirely counterproductive on any rational political or military standard. Had Iraq not taken place the enormous global sympathy that followed in the aftermath might have been retained. Yet even with Iraq it is hard to see global attitudes to the US – as distinct this administration – as substantially worse than prior to that event.

And simply put the world hasn’t changed much either for better or for worse. I think that one might view it as largely similar to the assassination of JFK. Something that at the time was seemingly earth shaking, but as time moved on appears less so. The system reasserted itself. History was torn from its course for a period, but the broader historical, social and political dynamics continued to shape the future as they largely would have anyway. Vietnam would most likely still have happened. Ironically some social progress might have been more difficult to implement in the area of equal rights but they would have arrived eventually.

With 9/11 we can see, from this remove, as Clarke notes, that the single greatest shift was the Iraq War. Yet as we move towards the end game there the most likely outcome appears to be a situation where a regime of greater or lesser authoritarianism – perhaps politically not dissimilar to the authoritarianism we see in China will take power attempting to consolidate the state of Iraq as a single unitary entity. This is far from the outcome promised – it’s arguably as bad or worse, if one factors in the sectarian violence, than the Saddam regime. The waste of human life on all sides is prodigious and profligate and the awful pointlessness of the exercise is best exemplified by the latest round of ‘non-partisan’ ads spots on US television arguing that to withdraw now would make a mockery of the sacrifice of those who fell or were injured in the past four or five years. I’ve heard similar arguments from dissident Republicans as regards the Good Friday Agreement and I find them no more convincing. Whatever the individual sacrifice, and it has been considerable on the part of many, to argue more sacrifice is necessary because of past sacrifice seems to be a counsel of desperation. Unless the outcome is significantly better than the present there is little point in continuing. And after all the promises made, and broken, who would or could see the risk of progressing as worthwhile? Timothy Garton-Ash argued last week in the Guardian that to withdraw now would be folly, despite the original sin of the invasion. On the one hand I tend to agree, but then looking closely at the situation outside of a genuinely international effort I cannot see how the current players can operate in good faith, or more importantly be regarded as acting in good faith. Perhaps the situation will improve. That seems to be the thinking in Washington (while London gently steps away from the fray). Slim hopes upon which to construct a new and better world.

And it is a dispiriting example for the left, because it suggests that transformative projects are perhaps much more difficult than we like to imagine (indeed I need hardly reiterate the point about how former and current Trotskyites of various positions appear to loom large in the meta-history of the War). If the US couldn’t do it in a society crying out for stability and progress then what hope for the tiny groups that seek change in largely content societies? Realistically, for all the huffing and puffing of the past three or four years, the world has largely been a bystander, taken on journey which it has little or no control of – and the greatest irony of all is that the architects of the interventions subsequent to 9/11 despite their seeming omnipotence in the months afterwards are clearly also lack any capability to control this journey.

Robert Scheer on KCRW’s ‘Left, Right and Centre’ often uses the phrase ‘people must make their own history’. He believes that Iraqi’s should have been, and should continue to be, given the opportunity to shape their own society. When I first heard him use it it infuriated me, but as time has progressed I think I finally understand where he is coming from, and to a degree I think he is right – albeit with certain caveats. But it’s worth noting that in a fundamental way people are shaped by history. Sociopolitical dynamics feed into traditions and beliefs that direct behaviour. The inability to recognise how those dynamics would play out in Iraq is a part of the continuing tragedy of 9/11.

Quislings, Iraq, Neil Clark and Nick Cohen… and how decency isn’t the preserve of the “Decent Left”. August 17, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Iraq, The War On Terror.

Being otherwise preoccupied I missed this article by Neil Clark on the Guardian’s Comment is Free site (incidentally splinteredsunrise has a post on a similar issue and it’s well worth reading the link to Johann Hari, who while irritating provides at least some sort of analysis on the pro-war left). And in a way I’m glad I missed it first time around because I think the response to it is very revealing and demonstrates some aspects of the left that the “Decents” have tended to ignore in the past.

What does Clark suggest? Under the heading Keep these quislings out he proposes that:

A group of pro-war bloggers is playing a prominent role in a campaign to grant asylum to Iraqis who have been working as translators for the British forces in Iraq. Not all who back the campaign were in favour of the war, but some of its most strident supporters are.

It seems the Iraqis in question live in real fear of their lives in their newly “liberated” country. Surely, this can’t be right. Weren’t we told five years ago by the same pro-war bloggers that the Iraqi people were simply baying for a US/UK invasion, and that the “liberators” would be greeted with bouquets of flowers and cucumber sandwiches? Now the cakewalk brigade is telling us those who collaborate with – oops, sorry, work for – the liberators may not actually be the most popular guys and gals in town.

One has to love the ‘It seems’… and indeed the way in which the translators suddenly become meat to an argument.

Then there is the contention that:

If more Iraqis had followed the example of the interpreters and collaborated with British and American forces, it is likely that the cities of Iran and Syria would now be lying in rubble.

This, to my mind is just an inversion of the neo-con argument. Here a people is asked to assume superhuman attributes and qualities in order to fulfill a political objective. For the neo-cons that ran along the lines of ‘Iraqi’s will pay the price of invasion and occupation in order to establish democracy and forestall the spread of Islamism across the Middle East’. For Clark it runs along the lines of the Iraqi’s sacrificing themselves on the alter of the resistance in order to forestall the US from waging war across the Middle East. Both ask others to do the heavy lifting. Both ignore the human cost implicit in their viewpoint.

Still, if we want to get to the heart of the argument consider one of his parting shots:

Before you rush to condemn Iraqis who feel ill disposed towards the interpreters, ask yourself a simple question: how would you view fellow Britons who worked for the forces of a foreign occupier, if Britain were ever invaded? History tells us that down through history, Quislings have – surprise, surprise – not been well received, and the Iraqi people’s animosity towards those who collaborated with US and British forces is only to be expected.

Isn’t this the know-nothing school of political and historical analysis? The use of the word Quisling – is so specific as to render the point he makes meaningless. Is he seriously suggesting that an interpreter for the US or UK military is a Quisling, i.e. akin to a fascist who directly aided and abetted in the occupation of a democratic country by a National Socialist regime? Well actually he doesn’t exactly because he suggests that they are also “self-centred mercenaries who betrayed their fellow countrymen and women for financial gain”. Now Quislings may well have been mercenary, but the truly appalling aspect of them was that they were for the most part entirely sincere in their beliefs.

No mention of the fact that Iraq is effectively an imperialist creation in the first place, a crushing together a host of differing nationalities, at least one of which – the Kurds – has achieved something close to de facto nationhood. Are Kurds collaborators against ‘Iraq’ because they accepted US help against the Saddam regime throughout the 1990s? It’s a nonsensical proposition, particularly from a self-described ‘democratic socialist’. Then looking at the Sunni-Shia, we see how the phrase ‘Iraqi peoples’s’ loses all meaning. Iraq was a profoundly divided society, remains a profoundly divided society and in all likelihood is going to be a profoundly divided society into the foreseeable future. In that context, one of submerged civil war throughout much of it’s recent history the concepts of ‘Quisling’ and ‘collaborators’ become moot.

This is before we even examine the motivation of those who would work with the US and UK in this situation. No mention of the dictatorship prior to the invasion and how this might just conceivably colour the view of an Iraqi who sought a democratic future and mistakenly put his or her trust in the US. No mention of the host of personal, political and other reasons a person might decide to assist, perhaps even to ameliorate the Coalition presence.

It is this lack of balance, nuance or depth that makes me think that this is this simply rhetoric, some handy stick to beat Bush and Blair and beyond that is representative of a personalised conflict between Clark and pro-war bloggers. Because it is difficult not to see the hyperbole, the stretching or ignoring of fact as part of an argument which has little relation to actuality.

Which means that this is effectively a toytown political analysis, in other words an analysis produced simply to berate one’s political opponents ignoring the actuality of the impact such an analysis has. And Clark isn’t shy about the implications of his thesis:

If that means some of them may lose their lives, then the responsibility lies with those who planned and supported this wicked, deceitful and catastrophic war, and not those of us who tried all we could to stop it.

For those of us who came up through parties with even the most tenuous connection to Republicanism and Socialism the glibness with which Clark makes such pronouncements are redolent of the certainties of another era. One of the worst periods of the conflict in the North was when the list of those who were viewed as legitimate targets was extended out to encompass cleaners, sub-contractors and others. The reason was obvious. The security forces were reasonably well protected, but these ancillary groups were not, so they provided a convenient proxy. But the North wasn’t Vichy France. The IRA wasn’t the Resistance. And many of those cleaners and sub-contractors belonged to a Unionist community which had a national identification with the British Army and the British state. To attack them was to de facto attack that community. That was a tactic almost nihilistic in it’s stupidity.

What Clark proposes is no better, perhaps even worse. Iraq isn’t Vichy, those fighting the US and UK and the Iraqi government aren’t the Resistance. And that government isn’t a Vichy government either. The situation is far too complex for a simplistic template drawn from the Second World War to be applied to this. Take the Mahdi Army. By Clark’s lights they must be effectively part of the Resistance since they fought the US some years back…but wait, they have allied MPs in Parliament and they haven’t fought the US since. Doesn’t that make them collaborators as well? Or what of the Sunni parties, some of whom have links to the insurgency. Collaborators or Resistance? Both or neither?

Where does he draw the line? Where could anyone?

And what of the left, of which he is nominally a member…

What of the Trade Unions who have fought the US backed oil law? Does not their engagement make them ‘collaborators’? Some in the ‘resistance’ appear to think so to judge by the continuing attacks on them. What of the Iraqi Communist Party which suffered grievously under Saddam and has engaged with but been entirely critical of the US and UK? They too have been under assault. What of ordinary Iraqi’s who voted in flawed democratic processes. Does not their engagement mark them down for the bullet or the sword?

I mentioned that the response was very interesting. Almost overwhelmingly it was negative, and this from those, as I would expect, who were against the war in the first place. The basic retort was that these are human beings, that the US and UK, whatever Clarks protestations have a duty of care even just as employers to people who they used and this must be upheld. Nick Cohen – who sadly has been something of an inverse of Clark, has argued that the left has lost its bearings. I see no sign of that. I see a left which is confused on the issue and unsure as to the best possible way forward. One that was bitterly conflicted over the war, and rightly so. But I also see a left which is innately decent and while not prepared to support the war is prepared to support those who are victims of it from whatever quarter.

Decency, and a common humanity isn’t the preserve of the “Decents”. Far from it. In some respects it is the aversion to epochal transformative projects which symbolises a more decent approach than that pursued by the keyboard warriors. Their view of all on the anti-war left as being appeasers or cheerleaders for the most revanchist elements of Islamist thinking is simply incorrect. Those are the exceptions, not the rule.

Cohen is wrong because he wants everyone to accept that there was no principled argument against the invasion and war. Everything he writes is a justification of that position, even as the war and its aftermath are now clearly a complete disaster. And it’s not that there were no principled arguments in favour, simply that cooler heads on the anti-war side were more broadly correct in their analysis. Clark is wrong because he wants to implicitly put all to the fire whose actions might suggest that the situation is more complex than just the result of an US/UK intervention. But Clark is representative of very very few people. Far far fewer than Cohen and others on the ‘decent’ left would like to suppose and also far far fewer than Clark might like to think.

éirigí – New Dawn Fades? Or…non-Sinn Féin Republicanism boldly going where many have gone before…. January 23, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Iraq, Ireland, Marxism, Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin, Tony Blair, Ulster, Unionism.

Perhaps I’m one of the few on the island to feel this way, but I was as cheered to see the release of an éirigí policy document on Imperialism as I would welcome the release of new Cadogan Group documents. Both organisations are, I think, manifestations of the solutions to the shared problems we face. éirigí, for those interested in such things, is a split from Sinn Féin, ostensibly a leftward Democratic Socialist campaigning organisation, that as of yet does not appear to be a nascent political party (although it’s interesting that membership is restricted to those not members of other parties).

So I downloaded “Imperialism – Ireland and Britain” and at my leisure had a good read.

Still, have to say, I’m a bit worried about their future political direction. Why so you ask?

Well, let’s take the document which I won’t quote at in full (if only to bounce up the traffic stats to their site) piece by piece.

It’s introduced as…

one of a number [of papers] being produced by éirígí throughout 2007. Each will focus on a topic of significant importance to modern Ireland and its place in the broader world. These papers are the result of internal discussions and reflect the collective views of the membership of éirígí.

This paper is focused on the issue of imperialism, both historic and contemporary, and the profoundly negative effect that imperialism, as a policy, has had on the development of humanity across the globe in general and in Ireland in particular. We in éirígí reject the notion that imperialist policies and strategies are of a bygone era and instead assert that these policies are as real today as at any point in history.

Okay, so the paper identifies aspects of imperialism such as the policy of one country extending control over another, and further characteristics as being:

All imperialism is underpinned by a philosophy that deems the colonised in some way inferior to the coloniser. Racism, discrimination and exploitation are intrinsically linked to a policy which justifies the right of one people to dominate and exploit another. In rejecting imperialism, we in éirígí are also rejecting philosophies that place one human being as superior to another. We hold that all human beings are born equal and entitled to a set of basic human rights which allow them to fulfil their own potential.

Certain imperialisms, such as that of Rome, tended towards the wholesale assimilation of local elites into their civilisation precisely in order to ensure stability of control. Whether internal exploitation through slavery introduces a different dynamic is questionable. In more recent examples of imperialisms it is true that racism, discrimination and exploitation have been features of their processes. But on the other hand since éirigí considers that…well we’ll come to that thought in a moment.

This thesis is extended so that it acquires a modish leftist twist:

Imperialism is not just responsible for the creation of artificial borders and territories. It also creates, and relies upon, an entirely unequal and unjust distribution of the world’s wealth and wealth-generating resources. Our world is regularly divided into those countries which are deemed ‘developed’ and those that are deemed to be ‘developing’. It is both more accurate and more honest to divide the world into those countries whose peoples are materially rich and those whose peoples are materially poor. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of those countries which form the poor world are those same countries which endured, and are enduring, the imperialist policies adopted by many of those same countries which now form the rich world. Indeed it is the systematic robbery of the hugely valuable natural and human resources of the poor world that has made the rich world rich.

While in no sense dismissing the idea, very clear as it is, that colonial interventions did indeed hobble and restrict development outside Europe it’s not entirely clear that contemporary relationships between states can be so easily characterised as imperial in the sense used here. Moreover there are contrary trends with NGOs and elements of the UN working towards good governance, the rule of law and so on which undercuts local elites (acting at their own behest or that of foreign interests be they economic or political) in order to provide a stable political environment within which corruption is diminished and indigenous wealth can be retained or expanded. So we’re not talking about monolithic and seamless interfaces between states. That’s not either to deny that there exists an imbalance in power relationships between different states with the balance loaded towards advanced capitalist states. But I guess for me so many issues are raised that they beg too many questions as regards the definition of imperialism, the analysis that underpins their selection of the term and it’s applicability, and perhaps also in the disarming, but worrying, simplicity of the final statement in the final sentence. And returning to their earlier contention about “Racism, discrimination and exploitation” being inherent to imperialism, does that mean that our political systems, seeing as we’re part of the imperialistic process, is inherently racist, discriminatory and exploitation, or what exactly are the limits of imperialism? If the argument runs that the Condoleeza Rices of the world are merely window dressing that seems to me, boring old Marxist or post-Marxist that I am, to be disingenuous. Could it be that underneath this we’re really talking about class and elites rather than race? And it seems that in fairness, éirigí is talking about class, or as it put’s it “the business classes”. But the piece above reads as, perhaps, naive or perhaps simply calculating.

Under the section 21st Imperalism: New Form – Old Result we are told that:

éirígí recognises that imperialism in its twenty-first century form rarely necessitates the physical occupation of a given territory, although this option is always retained. Modern imperialist policies tend to be more subtle than previous forms although the end result is the same: the rich world harvests the wealth of the poor world. In the age of modern communications and a globalised economy it is often more profitable to exploit a country through political, cultural and economic means rather than military.

Where such allies cannot be found other means are deployed. One has to look no further than organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to see how effectively countries can be coerced into adopting economic and social polices that serve the interests of the rich world far more than the interests of their own people. éirígí stands in opposition to imperialism in all its forms.

Which also begs a number of questions. In a society like ours, and most advanced capitalist societies clearly we are all, or almost all, implicated which it notes in the following:

Our country has for eight centuries been the subject of British aggression and interference. Much of our history has been marked by oppression, famine, poverty and forced emigration. In this we have a shared history with the bulk of the world’s countries. However unlike the vast majority of these countries we are part of the European continent and as such now find ourselves to be part of the rich world.

Therefore we are simultaneously the victim of imperialism, through the British occupation, and the direct beneficiaries of imperialism, by our location within the rich world.

I’d strongly query that we are, as some would see it the ‘first colony’ – if such an honour or dishonour exists surely it belongs to Wales or Scotland, or perhaps the North of England. Nor is it clear that a simple equation of the Irish experience as a direct geographical neighbour of Britain or (let’s be more explicit) England renders us as a ‘victim’ of imperialism in the sense for example that parts of Africa or Asia were victims of British Imperialism. An alternative reading would see two islands where centralising power developed faster in England, but which was, perhaps due to the lack of centralised power in Ireland saw Britain unable for centuries to exercise full control. Or, as Stephen Howe has noted in Ireland and Empire the distinction between state-building and imperialism is more distinct in the Irish case. The incorporation of local elites, as occurred in Scotland, parts of England and Wales was perhaps something of a failure in Ireland. But not entirely so, and that such efforts were made somewhat undercuts ideas that this was simply a case of ‘racial superiority’. I don’t particularly want to get into other debates about the nature of nationhood and whether Ireland can be seen as a single political or cultural entity throughout the period (a highly arguable contention), whether the nature of the social structures on both islands was such that nationality was a much more amorphous concept in the past (as it appears to have been during the high point of the monarchies where for example England had territorial possessions on continental Europe) or indeed the impact of successive waves of peoples to these shores of which the Plantations can be seen as merely (!) one of the more pointed episodes. Our tragedy in that respect has arguably been our island nature, but then, compare and contrast our history with that of much of continental Europe and one wonders if that too was of a certain benefit to us, in that we were less likely to entertain aristocratic rule and that we were able to divest ourselves of our aristocracy with greater ease than elsewhere simply because they were not wholly ‘Irish’, although of course some were. But if we are a victim today of such imperialism, and one presumes in this context we’re talking about the North, then this is a Manichean proscription from éirigí and one which seems to ignore just how complex the outworkings of history can be. Indeed, reflect upon the idea that had a certain currency in the 19th century that Dublin was the Second city of the Empire. This was a Dublin where Catholic Emancipation had spurred on a developing mercantalist middle class.

From here it is but a short step to:

The joint system of twenty-first century imperialism and capitalism relies upon a passive acceptance of a racially-based exploitation. Much of the material wealth that the people of Ireland enjoy comes at a cost of human suffering that we would be unwilling to pay if the victims were Irish, or indeed white. Hard-fought for rights that we in Ireland take for granted are unknown to billions of our fellow human beings.

This is of course true. But overstated. Other analyses above and beyond the prism of ‘imperialism’ such as those proffered by the Greens seem to me to be more acute and economically better thought out with regard to development and the appalling imbalances between different parts of the globe.

We in Ireland have a humanitarian duty to reject the capitalist/imperialist system and the exploitative philosophy underpinning it. Furthermore, we must endeavour to pursue a form of governance and international relations based upon justice and co-operation, and use our position within Europe to encourage others to do likewise.

Here one has to stop. Are capitalism and imperialism truly synonymous as the anonymous author suggests? Isn’t it more feasible to argue that the nature of societies, states and economic power has altered quite radically across the 20th century. The rise of MNCs and TNCs is in itself a major change, but as importantly, I’d consider is a difference within advanced capitalist societies which does not consider exploitative philosophies to be acceptable in the main. Again, that’s not to disagree that such philosophies exist and are put into practice, but there are now pressures on corporations and governments that persist in maintaining them from their domestic or formerly domestic populations. Indeed in today’s Guardian George Monbiot argues that corporations are becoming conscious of their responsibilities to a degree unthinkable five years ago. Add to this Bush being lobbied by major corporations to act on climate change and again, the monolithic idea of corporate power is as poor old Nick Cohen (who gets a bad rap around here, I know) argued, back in the days when he woz really really good, a bit of an overstatement in a world where international organisations such as the EU and the UN and even states still have remarkable autonomy and authority when working in concert.

In any case there are counter arguments made about the efficacy of capitalism as a means of expediting development. Personally I’m rather dubious about such arguments, since it seems to me that capitalism works best within advanced states, particularly those with strong social democratic structures, but I’m open to such arguments.

And so to Ireland.

The most recent of such treaties, namely the Belfast and St Andrews Agreements, of 1998 and 2006 respectively, contain many of the features that have defined British treaties in Ireland for centuries. Three such features stand out most clearly.

* Firstly, central to both of these agreements is an absolute acceptance of the legitimacy of British rule in Ireland. The constitutional status of Britain’s occupation will not change until a majority of those within the occupied six counties so decide– in effect one sixth of the Irish people will hold a veto over the other five-sixths.

* Secondly Britain’s long history of nurturing false divisions in Ireland continues with power being allocated on the basis of a crude sectarian head-count designed to deepen and prolong false divisions along religious lines.

* Finally, as with all British treaties, there is the apparent potential for those who support Irish freedom to achieve a long-term victory if they are willing to support the status quo in the short-term. In this the British government is at its most devious. Britain has conceded enough to convince some who oppose British rule in Ireland that these latest treaties are substantially different to all previous treaties and therefore worthy of support. In this the British draw upon their not insubstantial experience in negotiations and hope to neutralise the demand for British withdrawal and Irish Freedom. Failing this the British hope to lay the seeds of division among those who would nominally desire Irish freedom but disagree upon how it may be achieved.

We in éirígí are convinced that these two most recent treaties are considerably more likely to solidify British rule in Ireland than they are to end it.

This is interesting. They choose to address the Good Friday Agreement (interestingly using the name adopted by Unionism for that Agreement) head on. However, in points 1 through 3 they ignore a key aspect of the GFA, that of the establishment of the Assembly which has executive authority to generate cross-border (or all-island) bodies with the Republic of Ireland. Since the Assembly and Dáil Éireann are exclusively Irish political entities it seems churlish not to recognise that fact. Moreover to concentrate on the ‘legitimacy of British rule’ is to ignore the actual withdrawal of considerable elements of that ‘rule’ and devolution of British Ministerial powers to the Executive of the Assembly – including most notably in our current context that of policing. Now, I’m not arguing that this devolution is ideal. But to then argue as in 2 and 3 that this in fact is really a ‘deepening and prolonging’ of ‘false divisions’, or that this is ‘devious’ is to reify British agency to a ludicrous degree. It’s also to deny any autonomous agency to perhaps the most important actors in this dynamic, Unionists. And again, who benefits. This very day the Irish government has announced it’s goals through the NDP, a broad programme of initiatives on an all-island basis. Arguably at least a de facto extension of sovereignty. Don’t just read the Executive Summary, the full text is eye-opening.

Meanwhile the British government is making ostentatious noises about it’s inability to pay for the North. Now perhaps this is simply more ‘deviousness’ on their part. And perhaps in a brilliant trick redolent of Keyser Soze they’ve managed to convince us that they don’t exist and this is yet another manifestation of their imperial guile by persuading the Irish government to foot the bill for the ‘occupation’. But perhaps not.

Others have argued that Britain no longer has ambitions of empire and is in fact preparing to withdraw from Ireland, using the establishment of the Stormont assembly and increased levels of cross-border co-operation to support this hypothesis.

We in éirígí reject this analysis. We believe that the evidence indicates the opposite to be true. Britain is simply re-shaping and modernising the occupation and in doing so is attempting to portray her role in Ireland as neutral while simultaneously co-opting an ever larger section of the population into supporting the occupation. The current British government have over the last number of years implemented a policy of regionalised parliaments and assemblies with the objective of securing the long-term integrity of the so called “United Kingdom”. The British establishment has moved to neutralise the demands for complete independence for Scotland, Wales and Ireland by conceding limited powers to locally elected representatives. This tactic, and variations of it, has been successfully used on many occasions throughout history. This is the context within which the Stormont Assembly was established.

I don’t wish to be harsh, but surely this is utterly contradictory stuff, contradicted indeed by events. The establishment of devolved representative institutions by definition decreases central authority (and arguably, in the case of the GFA where authority is exercised across a range of areas by the institutions on the island, sovereignty itself). The Scottish Parliament has limited tax raising powers and economic powers. Their very existence raises issues of localisation, accountability and such like. Tom Nairn, in his seminal “The Breakup of Britain” argued that devolution would only be a step along the way to independence. Indeed, an interesting article in Prospect Magazine from December 2006 by Scottish Conservative Michael Fry actually argues that devolution has impelled him towards support for Independence for Scotland. Where he goes, no doubt others will follow (interestingly he also argues that ‘more recently Labour has seen no desire to hang on to Northern ireland and would probably view the exit of the six counties from the Union with the same feelings of relief as Lloyd George saw the 26 counties go’). More to the point, it’s important to note the SNP is trying to entice the Liberal Democrats into coalition in the next Scottish Parliament if they win enough seats, the sticking point is whether there should be a referendum on independence (although it’s also worth noting this may not be within the gift of the Parliament). So éirigí, to my mind willfully, ignore the dynamic that devolved institutions generate. They also ignore their/our own history. Note the way that Stormont accrued powers as time went on from it’s foundation. That’s the way such things work, particularly when jurisdictions are spread across islands. And for other examples of same note the gradual but inexorable dissolution of Serbia.

Increased co-operation between the Dublin and London governments and increased co-operation between the business classes on both sides of the border is in reality simply part of a broader pattern of globalisation and European Union-wide integration and not evidence of a gradual British withdrawal.

Well, no. And even on it’s own terms it’s not really logical. European integration also involves a sharing and pooling of sovereignty. Something their erstwhile colleagues in SF found particularly objectionable in previous years.

If further evidence of Britain’s contemporary imperial ambitions is required one need only look to Britain’s role in the invasion and occupation of both Afghanistan and Iraq. For those who have claimed that Britain is now a force for good in both an Irish and a global context, the lie has been well and truly exposed.

We’ve seen at best, and defined by the actions of one T. Blair a willingness to play Greece to Bush’s Rome. And those actions, whatever else they are are not empire. More over it ignores the amazing complexity of relationships between Britain and it’s former colonies. Take, for example the recent exchanges between India and the UK over Big Brother. Laughable one might say, risible even. But of key importance to Gordon Brown on his visit there to make sure that trade links to the UK from India (consider the relationship too between large scale Indian industrial enterprise and the British Labour Party, remember what I was saying about class being the key determinant, although my fear has shifted to one focussed on the plutocracy of which George Bush is a rather excellent example) remained strong and stable. Who is the dominant partner in that relationship? And here it’s necessary to shift the terrain of this debate slightly, because éirigí appear to forget that imperialism is but one stage of capitalism, and capitalism is the base. Capitalism, being infinitely adaptable is liable to appear in the strangest places and the strangest forms, one thinks of the Peoples Republic of China.

As for being a force for good? Britain is a large and relatively powerful state with some ability to project itself internationally. It acts, as do all states at all times including our own, in it’s own self-interest mediated by other factors. I don’t see it as uniquely good or uniquely evil. Some actions have been good, other clearly not. But to point to Iraq, which is a clear aberration in terms of British conduct on the international stage since the mid 1980s, is to underestimate or ignore the nature of the issue of Iraq itself, the international dynamic that emerged post September 11 and the personality and charisma of Tony Blair (anyone seriously think Brown would have been able to carry Parliament in 2002/2003?). If anything we’ve seen a disengagement from foreign adventures – as evidenced by the conduct of Britain and other European nations during the Yugoslav Seccessionist wars of the 1990s.

Then there is the slightly disturbing note in the paragraph:

Irish freedom will only be achieved when the demand for British withdrawal is once again placed centre stage of the Irish, British and International arenas and when the cost to Britain of holding Ireland outweighs the benefits of withdrawal. We believe the time is approaching when that demand will once again be loudly voiced.

What exactly does that mean beyond rhetoric? Is éirigí going to be the vehicle for placing withdrawal at the centre stage? Hardly, to judge from their current activities and outlook.

In the building of such a movement inspiration can be sought, and lessons learned, from our own history. In the period prior to the 1916 Rising Ireland witnessed a cultural revival encompassing the Irish language, music and sports. The same period saw the growth of both a separatist movement advocating Irish freedom and a revolutionary form of socialism and trade unionism. It was by drawing support from all three of these trends that that the most successful Irish Rebellion to date, and the following five year revolutionary period, occurred.

That’s fine, but it ignores so many aspects of that period that it makes comparisons with the present completely inappropriate. Firstly in the 1900s there was a defined ‘other’, the British presence on an all-island level, which provided something to strive against. That has gone from 26 counties and even in the six counties the nature of society has altered to the extent that confrontation with the ‘other’ is muted. Secondly this was a period when the state was almost unbelievably laissez-faire, but extravagantly brutal in it’s treatment of dissent, where democratic structures were relatively weak and limited. We live in a broad if shallow social-democratic state in the RoI (and let’s be honest within the six counties as well) so the strong class and revolutionary activism of the 1900s on can hardly be replicated. Those who advocate same are largely as relevant as performance artists (and to some degree there is a similar ‘gestural’ aspect to this sort of political activity). Thirdly the diffusion of media, the ‘service’ state and the delivery of a plurality of viewpoints has, counterintuitively given new life to cultural elements (such as the Irish language – already dealt with here in an earlier post) but also to some extent ‘flattened’ them into just another part of the cultural mix. The idea that a cultural revival could link with revolutionary socialism and territorial Republicanism is a chimera. It’s simply not going to happen and wishing it were so isn’t going to make it so. But worse is the use of the phrase ‘most successful’ and ‘five year revolutionary’ period. Any reading of the period will demonstrate that firstly it failed if the object was the establishment of a 32 county Republic – so ‘most successful’ is hardly relevant – as well say ‘least unsuccessful’, they dismiss the 26 county RoI as a colonial or submissive and conservative entity in any case so the result was hardly beneficial by their own lights, and realistically there was little serious revolutionary activity in the sense I presume they mean of leftist revolution. A small scattering of leftists does not a socialist revolution make, and the very fact we know the names of them is indicative of their relative marginalisation within the national struggle. Nor was any revolution betrayed in so far as an overwhelmingly conservative society remained overwhelmingly conservative after Independence (and for more on this I can only recommend The Irish Counter Revolution 1921-1936 by John Regan which demonstrates that socialism had very little sway on either side during the Civil War and that projection about that is simply projection). But worst of all, they ignore the fact that the revolution failed in the North because of inherent differences in that part of the island to the rest of island. The reasons for those differences may have been wrong, the product of a British proto-imperialism. But they remain extant. And if a risen people in 1916 to 1921 couldn’t change the equation what are the chances of a vastly more supine people doing better in 2007 to 2016?

We in éirígí also wish to see an end to the false divisions that Britain has so carefully fostered in Ireland and believe that a new political and social movement may offer a mechanism to do just that. We challenge those who may historically have believed that their interests were best served by supporting the British presence in Ireland to re-examine their position in the context of the twenty-first century. We appeal to members of this community to join us in a political movement for the creation of a new all-Ireland Republic where all the people of Ireland will be entitled to an equal share of the nation’s wealth and equal access to power regardless of class, religion, gender, ethnicity, or other false division.

By discarding the GFA éirigí explicitly discard the one mechanism by which it is plausible that those who ‘historically’ believe their interests are best served by supporting the British position are likely to work together with Republicans and see that their identity is not threatened by increasing and deepening cooperation on the island. But here they fall into the trap of simply considering Unionism (interestingly they never once in the document refer to Unionism by name – a telling omission) simply a ‘false consciousness’. If there’s one message I want to use this blog to hammer home it’s that Unionism isn’t going to go away, that Unionists aren’t going to relinquish their Unionism although they may well adapt and modify it to different political circumstance as many Republicans have, and that Republicans must come to terms with this and learn to engage with them on a new set of terms. But conceptually I have to say that I find the very idea that the divisions raised above are ‘false’ is depressing. Because the problem is they’re not. They remain potent fault lines that run through all human societies to a greater or lesser extent and if the analysis is that they are somehow imposed or the result of external pressures then éirigí have more work to do on dealing with them (and by way of example let me point to the noxious racism that has entered the Irish political debate. Who are those who are rightly most strongly in favour of immigration, why it’s those political polar opposites Sinn Féin and the… Progressive Democrats. And who are those using seemingly leftwing arguments of ‘solidarity’ and such like to argue against immigration? If this doesn’t demonstrate that pieties about imperialism and the British have no traction in these debates I’m not sure what does).

In fact perhaps the crucial flaw in the document is the shift away from pragmatism on almost every level towards a sort of starry eyed idealism and ideology. Problem with Unionism? Why just invite Unionists to be Republicans. Problem with Partition? Dismiss the GFA and return to the tired old saws of ‘British occupation’, which – while correct in one respect – elide the complexities of the situation. What independence exists is in éirigí’s eyes insufficient because it doesn’t measure up to a platonic absolute of an ill-defined ‘Democratic Socialism’. Isn’t this, in most respects the tired old mantra’s that we’ve heard from RSF, 32CSM and to a lesser extent the IRSP (lesser if only because their Marxism is a little better defined)?

I genuinely don’t want this to be regarded as an attack on éirigí, but more an appeal for greater clarity in thinking. If we’re going to have clarity on these issues, and we certainly need it, I’d ask for greater analysis and at least some effort to avoid presenting beliefs as self-evident truth. I applaud them for their energy and commitment. It’s genuine and it’s sincere. They’re thinking about these issues and their dedication can’t be faulted. But rather like a point I made previously about the Cadogan Group and it’s thinking arriving at the same old same old destination of traditional Unionism here we have non-Sinn Féin Republicans generating a left Republican variant of the Socialist Workers’ Party. And truly this island doesn’t need that.

A part of me wonders also just when is a non-SF Left Republican group going to start from scratch with an honest, as distinct from rhetorical, analysis of the situation, one that acknowledges that at best perhaps 20% of the Irish people are self-described Republicans. That they are largely subsumed within a somewhat larger but still small left wing. That SF, for now, has the franchise on Republicanism in the North and the South. That the idea that 1916 is going to return, or that the energy harnessed during the 1916-1921 period is still untapped, is delusional. That Unionism can’t just be wished away and a return to armed struggle is both wrong in tactical, strategic and ethical terms. That the problems that face Republicanism are huge and that realistically it will only gain any measure of power by serious engagement with others. That’s the start, barely the bare bones, of a genuine programme for a post-SF future on the left…

And that’s why in it’s most basic outlook this document, welcome – despite the criticisms above – that it is as evidence that at least they’re beginning to think through the situation, but lacking such an analysis is a very conservative document indeed.

The link between UFOs and 9/11: Conspiracy Theories, pseudo-science and the need to believe. January 20, 2007

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Culture, Pseudo-Science, Television Shows, Terrorism, United States, US Media, US Politics.

Following recent threads on Politics.ie it’s struck me that in a way the conspiracy theory has managed to slide effortlessly into the spot held by UFO’s throughout the 1990s. Actually it goes a bit deeper than that. The two are so closely entwined that while not entirely the same they remain very very similar indeed.Now, first off I have to declare yet again my love of and absolute lack of belief in all things pseudoscientific. I’ve already referenced some of the more interesting pseudoscientific beliefs but they’re dying in the face of different belief systems.

I spent the 1990s hugely entertained by the X-Files (although most of the monster and horror episodes were fairly silly), Dark Skies (a lost classic – sort of) and various other cheap knock offs. The idea that there was a global conspiracy to suppress information about contact with aliens is on the one hand extremely intriguing. On the other. let’s be honest here, it’s a pile of rubbish. Those sort of secrets simply couldn’t be kept across decades let alone over half a century.

But the concept of the government as this arbiter between the uncanny and the mundane, that in some ways it was corrupted has of course fueled probably hundreds of thousands of earnest student theses since the time of Watergate (leaving out the uncanny bit needless to say). And what could be more corrupted than human alien hybrid experimentation? Overseen by the government. A government that would stop at nothing to implement it’s own New World Order. That for the selfish motivation of it’s members (politicians and civil servants) would seek to create deals with forces that sought to carry out unspeakable acts upon the human race.

Actually, back in the day, and initially, the X-Files really annoyed me. No, it wasn’t the Canadian locations pretending to be the US (series 2 onwards if I recall correctly), or the pathos of the Sully Mulder on-off relationship (even the names sound dated at this remove). But instead it was the conspiracies themselves. In a way I thought at the time, and even argued with people about it, that it fed into an anti-statist, militia type mentality. I think the truth is that it reflected that mentality rather than engendering it. On the other hand it also placed the mythos of the Greys front and centre in our culture.

These days I’m somewhat more relaxed about such things. And indeed it’s telling that the more recent incarnations of X-Files wannabe’s, such as the truly execrable Threshold, have portrayed a remarkably different relationship between the US government and those organisations attempting to combat alien incursions (indeed there’s an argument that TV such as 24 – and probably West Wing – has in some respects rehabilitated the idea of US President as noble character, consider the life of David Palmer or Jed Bartlett).

But the idea took root, or extended, a sort of rightist alienation from the state in the early 1990s merging with leftist disaffection from the military industrial complex towards the latter part of that decade and broadening again under Bush in a perfect storm of disbelief at everything we’re told. Trust no one. Fight the future. What’s not to like?

And it’s remarkably telling that sighting of UFOs have declined precipitously since the 1990s. An interesting article in the Guardian from 2005 talks of a massive drop in sightings and the closure of UFO related magazines and groups . Why wouldn’t they? The reality of an Al-Queda willing to bomb randomly and with no regard for civilian casualties is at least as chilling as the idea that the Greys are going to alight on your roof and using their advanced technological prowess (otherwise known as magic) somehow dope you and carry you bodily through walls and ceilings to their spaceship where they will bypass all electronic and non-invasive medical examination methods in favour of curiously shaped probes.

But as one belief system crashes another rises from it’s ashes phoenix-like to reclaim that particular territory of the human psyche.

And what have we got instead? A broad confluence of beliefs that centre on the idea that 9/11 was in some sense a great lie, a sort of souped up border incident for the early 21st century where either the US military industrial complex, or the neo-cons, or the Zionist lobby, or whoever – delete as applicable – decided that a surprise attack on the US would be the perfect cover or excuse to sell more arms, invade Iraq, support Israel or whatever.

Of course logically one could ask as per any of those end goals, surely lesser means would have resulted in similar ends? But, hold on, it’s not so simple. It’s not that the planes were necessarily not hijacked, according to the disbelievers, although they think they probably weren’t. It’s that charges were placed in the WTC in order to collapse it (Incidentally, I once worked in a sneakers store in the basement shopping plaza under the WTC, way back when in 1989. The idea that charges could be placed in the towers themselves, knowing the security that was in place at that time – even prior to the early 1990s bombing – is simply laughable. The idea that it could have been done unnoticed utterly so).

Call me small minded and unimaginative. But for my money the images of the aircraft hitting the towers were quite sufficient. I didn’t think at that point in time that they’d fall, but then I didn’t think much of anything at all on September 11. If they hadn’t fallen, if the flames had simply consumed the floors above the impact sites I think that alone would have been a remarkable and chilling image. Perhaps more so, with the smouldering wreckage still barely standing, than the great physical and conceptual abyss that was Ground Zero.

And here’s the thing. In a way the suspension of critical faculties involved in 9/11 conspiracy theories is even greater than that with UFOs. After all, it’s one thing to say “I saw a shining light above Old Man Potters Barn”, but it’s a completely different class of self-delusion to say “I, and thousands of others on the spot, saw two aircraft impact the Twin Towers in rapid succession but I don’t believe that’s what brought the buildings down, actually it was shaped charges placed throughout the two buildings by the US military industrial complex/the neo-cons/the Zionist lobby”.

The beauty of this is that the arguments can rage beyond the purview of anything so dull as expert opinion. The logical thought that if the collapse of the Twin Towers is so damn odd why aren’t engineers across the world up in arms about it is met by the proposition that only some are in on the truth, or the cover-up is global (and for those who are really interested in such things the debates about whether the towers fell at freefall or not is a good place to start – I commend you to the ever excellent James Randi’s site).

But let’s not get too exercised about this (although somehow there is something a lot more distasteful about the sort of almost prurient self-regard of those who propound these ‘theories’ as against those who were proponents of UFOlogy, at least to my mind). Some people want to believe that? Let them. It’s the times we live in. In some ways, bizarrely, perhaps for some people it’s more comforting to think that the US would do this than networks of Islamists. Perhaps it’s always more comforting to engage in a sort of mental displacement activity where one continually slides away from engagement with the grim reality behind an event in favour of a more esoteric explanation.

Lights in the skies? UFO’s rather than airliners. Missing time? Greys about their unfathomable business rather than tiredness or boredom. WTC collapses? A malign US government that most of the time at least does what one expects rather than a tiny tiny group of individuals willing to wreak mass destruction for politico-religious ends which most of us have little understanding of or interest in.

Now, tell me again which of these is really scary.

Ken Adelman and Channel 4 News… or the sounds of the doors swinging shut in the Corridors of Power November 9, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Iraq, Middle East, Neo-conservatives, US Politics.

A highly entertaining segment on Channel 4 News this evening where Jon Snow interviewed consummate Washington insider and neo-conservative Ken Adelman about the Iraq war situation and the departure of Donald Rumsfeld.

Adelman, who served as US Ambassador to the UN and was an assistant to Donald Rumsfeld while the latter was Secretary of Defense made a number of intriguing points. These were that he admitted the war had gone badly, that Rumsfeld should have prosecuted it differently and that it now required stability before democracy. Good stuff, but something of a change since the heady days of 2003 when he was wheeled on to support the war. The very war which he now claimed had been very poorly managed “from the top” if I recall correctly, and which he argued that the removal of Baath party members from leadership positions, the looting and such like were indications of such bad management.

Actually he’s been recanting publicly already this month. In a Vanity Fair article he stated that he overestimated the Bush team and “I just presumed that what I considered to be the most competent national security team since Truman was indeed going to be competent.” He also says that given the chance to do it again he would say that “The policy can be absolutely right, and noble, beneficial, but if you can’t execute it, it’s useless, just useless. I guess that’s what I would have said: that Bush’s arguments are absolutely right, but you know what, you just have to put them in the drawer marked can’t do. And that’s very different from let’s go.”

But facing reality is a heady process which Adelman is clearly still reeling from, as evidenced by the way in which he dragged Tony Blair into the debate opining on Channel 4 that he (Blair) should have complained about all this to Rumsfeld and to Bush in order to force a change in policy. Perhaps so. The charitable analysis of Blair is one that sees him as attempting to act as a check on the more dismal plans of the neo-conservatives and/or Bush. Yet, for Adelman to launch this particular line of attack is bizarre.

Who was Rumsfeld’s boss again? Oh, yeah, that Bush guy, what’s that job he has? That’s right, President of the US. So Adelman is seriously suggesting that Blair should have tried to influence a man who famously stated that the US could go it alone just prior to the invasion, a man who Bush saw as both a friend and mentor.

Yeah, that’s going to work…

In a way it’s a pity, as Adelman notes that, “the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world” A pity because there are ways of using foreign policy generally short of but sometimes inclusive of military power that can have beneficial effects. For an interesting demonstration on the positive elements of a more nuanced ‘soft power’ backed up by military strength the expansion of the Chinese sphere of influence in Asia has been instructive.
Anyhow, is this it? Is this where the neo-conservative project runs into the sand, stalled by infighting, complaint and a fatal lack of support from the centres of real power? And is this Adelman being mischievous or more realistically is this the sound of the doors being slammed shut on the neo-conservatives in the aftermath of the new Democratic majority? Well if it is that sound, they seem to be trying to give the door a good kick on the way out. They’re certainly not going quietly as the Guardian notes.

But they’re going nonetheless…

United 93: Just a thought about the US Military and 9/11 October 31, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11.

Caught United 93 the other evening. Part of a double bill that included the Metallica movie Some Kind of Monster (perhaps the most entertaining documentary I’ve ever seen – and largely for all the wrong reasons – the great big empty feeling I had after seeing them in the Point back in 1999 was replicated in full, still at least I didn’t have to pay this time). Anyway, this mixture of pathos and bathos respectively made for a predictably uneven evening’s viewing.

However, I don’t want to review either movie other than to say that Greengrass managed to pull off the remarkable trick of leaving the viewer transfixed by the unfolding brutality and tragedy of United 93 and hoping against all knowledge that it might go another way in the end.

On the other hand one of the closing captions gave pause for thought. According to it the US Air Force was issued with instructions from President Bush at 10.18 am on September 11, shortly before the North Tower fell, that they were permitted to shoot down civilian airliners if they thought they constituted a threat. The caption stated that this instruction was never passed on to the pilots for fear of making a mistake and downing a passenger jet that had no connection to the events.

Whatever about the debacle of Iraq, and the responsibility must lie squarely with the civilian government particularly for the unbelievable ineptitude of the planning and implementation of it and it’s immediate aftermath, the US is well served by a military that adopts that stance.

Okay, so just how bad is the War on Terror going to get… and in the meantime what is the purpose of the new MI5 Headquarters in Northern Ireland? October 23, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Northern Ireland, Terrorism, The War On Terror.
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Most people are aware that MI5, or the Security Service, have a new headquarters in Palace Barracks in Holywood, Northern Ireland.

The Phoenix [sub req’d] has an unusual piece about this headquarters, unusual because rather than a knocking piece on British involvement in the North it lists the various theories as to why MI5 would increase their presence in Northern Ireland at this point in time and come up with some worrying conclusions.

Apparently up to 400 employees of MI5 have moved from Thames House in London to Holywood. The Phoenix notes that the simple theory for their presence is that they will have some sort of oversight or controlling brief during the ‘transition’ to an agreed political structure in the Six Counties. And this is worrying, if only because one wonders what sort of oversight they will be under. Apparently, and again according to the Phoenix, it was agreed at the St. Andrews talks that the PSNI would have overall control under MI5 supervision of surveillance, agent handling and other operations. This seems unlikely if only because Sinn Féin are on target for a date with destiny and ultimate shared control through the Stormont Executive of policing. Difficult to see MI5 entirely sanguine about Sinn Féin ministers gaining access to intelligence garnered by their good selves. And yet, on the other hand, anyone who saw the body language between the main protagonists at the talks, and in particular the British and Sinn Féin, might be forgiven thinking that the conflict wasn’t a decade or more behind us, but long in the dim and distant past.

In any case the Phoenix posits an even more interesting theory that the real reason for such an impressive expansion of MI5’s presence in Ulster is due to rather more pertinent and local concerns on the part of London regarding the ‘War on Terror’. The Phoenix points to the easy links between London and Holywood, the developed security infrastructure and the simple truth that in the event of a serious nuclear, biological or even conventional attack on London, MI5 would be able to continue their operations from the relative tranquillity of the North. The Phoenix claims that some 20% of the budget for the Security Service is tied up in the move to Holywood. That’s interesting.

I don’t know though, it seems fanciful. Why not go for Scotland or Wales which would both be closer?

And yet, I don’t buy into the paranoid theorising of dissident Republicans who seem to think that the Holywood base is just the continuation of the ‘war’ by other means. The threat from dissident Republicanism isn’t of such scale as to justify such a presence, nor is the situation in the North so dismal, even should Plan B be necessary, that one can envisage the necessity for x number of MI5 personnel or indeed see how they could assist matters to any great degree.

So one is left with a puzzle. The Phoenix notes that one possible answer to that puzzle is that operations against jihadists South of the Border may well be one of the concerns of MI5, and it proposes that any agreements at St. Andrews regarding the relationship between MI5 and the PSNI wouldn’t operate as regards the territory of the Republic. Seeing as our own Taoiseach was present at the talks one hopes that any such activities (and although this may raise howls of disagreement, there are strong arguments that such activities could well be necessary) would be subject to agreement between our two sovereign nations.

But overall it leaves the disturbing impression that those who should have some idea about such things consider that London remains a target for much worse events than have been seen up to now. Now perhaps that’s stating the obvious, but it seems to point to there having been no progress in dealing with such terrorism over the past four or five years. Or worse again that the situation has become dramatically more serious.

Martin and the Monsters: Amis on Islamism September 13, 2006

Posted by smiffy in 9/11, Books, Iraq, Islam, Israeli - Lebanon Conflict, Middle East, Palestine, Terrorism.
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‘He who fights monsters should look into it that he does not become a monster. When you gaze long into the Abyss, the Abyss also gazes into you’. – Friedrich Nietzsche

It suppose it was inevitable that, sooner or later, Martin Amis would address the subject of militant Islam and the ‘war on terror’, as he did with the essay ‘The Age of Horrorism‘ in last Sunday’s Observer, and the previous week’s short story about Mohammed Atta. It’s precisely the kind of subject which delights literary intellectuals with pretensions towards political engagement – sweeping, epic themes about culture, belief and civilization, a chance to take a moral stand against a clear evil and defend a set of values with the feeling that you’re contributing to something that touches on the lives of everyone on the planet.

It’s a shame, then, that Amis’ piece contains virtually everything that’s bad, even dangerous, about much of the current debate. It’s less an insightful or original contribution than a hodge-podge of overused and misleading factoids that you’ll find on hundreds of different websites. The only real difference (apart from the length) between Amis’ essay and those is that Islamwatch or Jihadwatch or whichever David Horowitz off-shoot you’re popping on to doesn’t tend to include the stunning self-indulgence found in the former. Just as Koba the Dread was less about Stalinism than about Martin Amis thinking about Stalinism, this is not so much about Islamism than about the clash between Islamism and the Amis ego (no prizes for guessing which of these titans comes out on top!).

Amis’ basic thesis, from what I can tell, is that Islamism/jihadism/militant Islam (call it what you will) represents a growing a powerful threat to the values of ‘the West’. It’s, to be crude, a BAD THING and it’s imperative that we wake up to the threat and start fighting back (how we’re supposed to do this, he’s a little sketchy about, but I imagine producing long think-pieces for Sunday papers is probably quite high on the list).

While he goes into quite some detail on how the issue is tossed around in his own head (large chunks are taken up with a summary of a short story he tried to write about an Islamist terrorist loosely based around Sayeed Quutb, but later abandoned, not to mention the now obligatory stuff about his own family) he gives little in the way of fact or evidence which might support the assertions he makes or which he’s cribbed together from some other, very obvious, sources. The result is something begging more questions than it answers (and not in a good way).

Take, for example, what’s clearly intended to be one of the most provocative passages in the piece, which sets out the Amis stall quite unambiguously.

Until recently it was being said that what we are confronted with, here, is a ‘civil war’ within Islam. That’s what all his was supposed to be: not a clash of civilizations or anything like that, but a civil war within Islam. Well, the civil war appears to be over. And Islamism won it. The loser, moderate Islam, is always deceptively well-represented on the level of the op-ed page and the public debate; elsewhere, it is supine and inaudible. We are not hearing from moderate Islam. Whereas Islamism, as a mover and shaper of world events, is pretty well all there is.

In what sense, exactly, has Islamism ‘won it’? What is he basing this on? What criteria is he even using? Perhaps he means that Muslims across the globe are flocking to the most militant Islamic sects in their droves, all card-carrying Quutbists, armalites in one hand and copies of Milestones in the others. Some are, to be sure, but how many will it take for Islamism to have ‘won’? 10% of all Muslims? 20%? More? Indeed, the actual views of real, living Muslims are noticeable in the essay only by their absence, a failing I’ll return to later.

Even what is stated in the piece above seems confused; if ‘moderate Islam’ is well-represented in op-ed pages and public debate (even if ‘deceptively’) then how can it be that, at the same time, ‘We are not hearing from (it)’. Perhaps Amis is confusing ‘not hearing from’ with ‘not interested enough to listen to’ and ‘we’ with just ‘Amis’.

The metaphors of conflict, like the ‘civil war’ and ‘clash of civilisations’ used above occur again and again in the piece. Amis seems to take them at face value, forgetting that they’re shorthand and often not very useful in capturing the complexities of a wide-ranging issues. He then builds his argument around the metaphor, as opposed to what it’s trying to represent, leading himself into all sorts of difficulties. While an actual civil war can have a winner and a loser, the ‘civil war’ he’s referring to cannot: there can’t be a winner in a contest between beliefs in that way, until there’s no one left on the losing side. Still, why let something like that stand in the way of a catchy phrase.

The ‘clash of civilisations’ worldview is similarly flawed. It relies on being able to distinguish between one ‘civilisation’ from another, and understanding them as self-contained entities, almost like states at war. The truth, of course, is that the world doesn’t work like that. While it’s possible to talk about specific ideas, or even ideologies, getting bogged down in talk of ‘civilisations’ invariably oversimplifies the views of the people who actually live in them. Indeed, as Amartya Sen discussed in his remarkable Identity and Violence (an essential rebuttal of the Samuel Huntingdon view of the world) different societies have, throughout history, tended to develop as much (at least) through interaction with their neighbours and an ever-changing set of cultural influences than through adherence to any kind of core, guiding principles.

It’s unclear which specific value systems Amis sees as being in collision. Although he trots out the usual pities about Islam itself (‘the donor of countless benefits to mankind and the possessor of a thrilling history’) as opposed to Islamism, the fact that he seems to believe that the latter is the only game in town and his utter indifference to the views of non-Islamist Muslims suggest he’s essentially no different from those ideologues who see the world through the lens of Islamism vs. the West (and never the twain shall meet).

Such views are not only held by right-wing kooks and armed Mullahs living in caves near Peshawar. This Manichean view of the world is also common currency among a certain current of the left which styles itself as ‘anti-imperialist’ but aligns itself with the most reactionary elements of militant Islam, as Fred Halliday points out in his article on the subject. They, the Galloways, SWPers and protestors carrying protestors stating that ‘We are all Hezbollah’ (perhaps a good title for a post 9/11 McCarthy song), hold a worldview, it would seem, no less reductionist and simplistic as any Free Republic crackpot.

Amis’ tendency to reduce complex positions to handily straightforward propositions doesn’t confine itself to Islam: he makes equally unsustainable and unsupported assertions about ‘the West’ (undefined, of course). He argues that ‘Far from wanting or trying to exterminate it, the West had no views whatever about Islam per se before 11 September 2001’. True, as far as it goes, but not in the way Amis intends. The West had no views about Islam then, and has no views about Islam now. Or, rather, it had and has a mulitiplicity of different, contradictory views none more ‘Western’ than any other. The ‘West’ does not exist as a distinct entity (geographical, political or cultural) in the way that Amis seems to conceive of it. Even those values which often get defined as ‘Western’ have, as Sen shows, existed in every different society to a greater or lesser degree and continue to do so. Maybe Amis would like to claim ownership but the facts would suggest that some things are genuinely universal (including, it should be added, stupidity).

More perniciously, his ‘West’ also contains that most tired of straw-man opponents – ‘multicultural relativism’. In a passage where he imagine John Walker Lindh advising Bin Laden on possible Western responses to an attack he writes:

… the West is enfeebled, not just by sex and alcohol, but also by 30 years of multicultural relativism. They’ll think suicide bombing is just an exotic foible, like shame-and-honor killings or female circumcision.

Is there anything more overused, at this stage, that the tropes laid out above (if not the old ‘I Googled X and Y and got 12,000 hits, therefore …’ which Amis also uses with about as much shame as the lowest Sunday Independent hack)? Who are these multiculturalists who defend honour killings in the name of cultural diversity? I’ve never heard anyone try to justify Female Genital Mutilation on those grounds (except for Germaine Greer) but again and again this point is made. From Richard Littlejohn or Kevin Myers it might be par for the course, but from Martin Amis (author of ‘The War Against Cliché’, no less. It seems that, like Islamism, Cliché has won!) I would have hoped for something a little less lazy and predictable. Perhaps his next piece in the paper will treat us to some satirical comments about female black lesbian one-legged save-the-whale dwarfs.

Amis clearly bases much of his argument on the work of Paul Berman, among others. He even quotes chunks of Terror and Liberalism when writing about Palestine, although he chides mildly Berman for being too soft on Quutb. Unfortunately, the problems with Berman’s argument are magnified tenfold in Amis’ reproduction of them. Rather than simply trying to look at militant Islam in it sown terms, influenced by European political thinking, to be sure, but also arising from a particular set of socio-political and regional circumstances, both apparently need to ground their opposition in terms of the grand narrative of Us vs. Them (one big Them encompassing all the evil in the world).

This is something I considered the weakest part of Terror and Liberalism, Berman’s essential point being that all totalitarian ideologies are really just the same, that they’re all fundamentally irrational cults which celebrate death and are the antithesis of Enlightenment values. In this he links Nazism, Stalinism and Islamism arguing that if you scratch the surface you’ll find the underlying motivation being his vague, nihilistic death-worship (a theme also explored, to an extent, in Buruma and Margalit’s Occidentalism). As Amis puts it:

And one needs hardly labour the similarities between Islamism and the totalitarian cults of the last century. Anti-semitic, anti-liberal, anti-individualistic, anti-democratic, and, most crucially, anti-rational, they too were cults of death, death-driven and death-fuelled. The main distinction is that the paradise which the Nazis (pagan) and the Bolsheviks (atheist) sought to bring about was an earthly one, raised from the mulch of millions of corpses.

It’s a cute idea, and probably an attractive one in some obvious quarters but unfortunately it doesn’t really stand up to serious scrutiny. One could argue equally convincingly that Bolshevism was the logical continuation of the political implementation of Enlightenment values, but was simply corrupted by those unable the resist the temptation of absolute power the Revolution was able to offer. One could even suggest, as some in the Frankfurt School did, that Nazism itself was the inevitable outcome of Enlightenment rationality pursued to its limits. Neither are particularly persuasive but they’re no less plausible than the Berman/Amis thesis. One might be closer to the truth by paraphrasing Tolstoy and suggesting that while secular, liberal democracies are all alike, every repressive, nihilistic ideology is repulsive in its own way. Grasping at imagined connections between different positions and making the connection the defining feature of each serves only to blur our understanding of how they arise and, consequently, how they might best be combatted.

For someone so keen to draw link between certain political movements of the past and contemporary ‘Islamofascism’ Amis is remarkably ahistorical in other respects. On completing the essay a reader might be forgiven for thinking that terrorism begins and ends with Islamism, or that an act of terrorism carried out by one Muslim is essentially no different from any other in terms of motivation or context.

He writes about terrorism as if it’s a uniquely Islamic phenomenon, with no reference to any other groups, causes or atrocities. We Irish, more than many, should understand how blinkered such a position is. For some reason, he appears fixated with suicide terrorism, as if it’s in some way worse than others forms of terrorism, falling into a category he defines as ‘horrorism’ (isn’t most terrorism actually horrorism?).

Of course, suicide bombing of civilians is always an abomination and can never be justified. But surely the most troubling aspect of the mindset of the suicide bomber is the willingness to kill, rather than the willingness to die. Is the willingness to die for a cause really ‘astonishingly alien’ to the ‘Western mind’ as Amis seems to suggest? It certainly wouldn’t be to Irish Republicanism, which remains devoted to its martyrs, from the 1916 leaders (and previously) to the Hunger Strikes (and beyond). And even if we were to concede that there’s something especially loathsome about suicide-bombing itself, this tactic is certainly not unique to Islamism. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elaam had employed it for years and, until very recently, were the primary exponent of it on the planet. Whatever else you can claim about them, it’s hard to describe the Tamil Tigers as an Islamist sect. Unfortunately, though, like moderate Muslims or basic historical accuracy, considering their example doesn’t tie in with what Amis wants to say, and so they must be ignored.

By refusing to look at what such wider comparisons might imply for his thesis, not only are suicide bombings seen as essentially Islamist in nature, but so too are all such attacks viewed through the prism of the Us Vs. Them lens, rather than considering the specific circumstances of each. It would be nice to think that such reluctance on Amis’ part was based simply on an ignorance of the issues involved, but disturbingly Amis speaks of a deliberate refusal to even contemplate the possibility that the bombers could be motivated by anything other than the broad views Amis ascribes them.

Suicide mass-murder is astonishingly alien to us, so alien, in fact, that Western opinion has been unable to formulate a rational response to it. A rational response would be something like an unvarying factory siren of unanimous disgust. But we haven’t managed that. What we have managed, on the whole, is a murmur of dissonant evasion. (…) Contemplating intense violence you very rationally ask yourself, what are the reasons for this? And compassionately frowning newscasters are still asking that same question. It is time to move on. We are not dealing in reasons because we are not dealing in reason.

A more honest approach might have been to say ‘Islamic suicide mass-murder is astonishingly alien to us’, as that’s all he’s interested in. Non-Islamic terrorism, perhaps, is just part of the normal fabric of the Amis world. Intellectual honesty, however, is a rare commodity in this piece. At one very telling point, he writes:

And this, on 25 July, was the considered response of the Mayor of London to the events of 7 July:

‘Given that they don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only use their bodies to use as weapons. In an unfair balance, that’s what people use’.

On first glance, that seems a little over-the-top, even by Ken Livingstone’s standards. Could he really be suggesting that there could be some reasonable justification for the 7/7 bombings? Except, of course, than he didn’t actually say Amis claims he did, nor was it in response to the London attacks. What he did say on 25 July, on Sky News, was:

Given that the Palestinians don’t have jet planes, don’t have tanks, they only use their bodies to use as weapons.

which is something completely different. The replacement of ‘Palestinians’ with ‘they’ speaks volumes. ‘They’ are all the same, whether they’re in Ramallah or Grimsby. ‘They’ want to destroy us’. There’s no difference between the murderers of the 9/11 attacks or the Madrid or London bombings and a suicide bomber from Palestine or Chechnya. And because ‘they’ are all the same, there can be no rational explanation for anything any one of ‘them’ does.

Even if applied to Al Qaeda, such a thesis is misguided, but when applied to the situation in Palestine it becomes decidedly ludicrous. Amis buys the Berman line lock, stock and barrel. Palestinian terrorism clearly has nothing to do with Israeli policy in the Occupied Territories. It’s all down to irrational Islamism. This has the added bonus of placing the burden of responsibility for the conflict on the shoulders of those Palestinians who rejected the Camp David provisions, while ‘we’ don’t even have to look at the implications of those provisions for the prospective Palestinian state as to do so might be tantamount to looking for reasons where none exist, remember?

One has to feel a little sorry for Amis and the timing of the piece. If the following, including quotes from Berman, had been published two months ago, it might have been a little thought-provoking:

Once the redoubled suppression had taken hold, the human bombings decreased; and world opinion quietened down. The Palestinians were now worse off than every, their societal gains of the Nineties ‘flattened by Israeli tanks’. But the protests ‘rose and fell in tandem with the suicide bomb attacks and not in tandem with the suffering of the Palestinian people.’

Following the actions of the IDF in Gaza and Lebanon, though, and the mass protests that followed, this surely is a point which needs some radical rethinking.

It appears, in conclusion, that Amis has had a Yossarian moment. At some point over the last 5 years, perhaps 9/11, perhaps 7/7, perhaps in a bar with Christopher Hitchens, he’s had the sudden realization, like the hero of Heller’s novel, that ‘they are trying to kill me!’.

What this has done, it seems, has been to shut down his critical faculties. He’s no longer interested in thinking or learning, considering ambiguity or grappling with contradiction or nuance; rather, he has a ready-made framework through which he can understand the world and, by God, he’s going to cram everything in there. Like the person in the Nietzsche quote cited at the start, he’s gazed too long at Islamism and now it’s gazing back at him, tainting his view of everything else. All terrorism must be seen as connected with Islamism. The great ideological battles of the past must also be part of the current clash of civilizations. Everything becomes reduced to a black-and-white, ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world (which, of course, degrades the humanity of both camps).

Most worrying of all, actual Muslims are understood only in terms of the Islamist vs. the rest of the world mindset. If someone is neither a murderer or a ‘moderate’ contributor to an op-ed page, they simply don’t appear on the Amis horizon. For Amis, Summer 2005 contained only Shehzad Tanweer rather than both the London bomber and waspish, Muslim cross-dresser Kemal Shahin from Big Brother (now, apparently, a Buddhist, perhaps epitomizing Sen’s contention that cultural identity is determined by choice, rather than destiny).

It’s this lack of interest in the real lives and the variety of real lives of actual Muslims, the reluctance look behind the received wisdom and grand narratives of the Bermans, Lewises and Huntingtons and get his hands dirty with the mundanity of the everyday and unremarkable that defines Amis’ failure in this piece. He might have been better looking to someone like Jason Burke who, if he wants to write about the views of Muslims, takes the novel approach of actually going out and talking to some, as he does in this most recent book On the Road to Kandahar.

Burke’s piece in the same edition of the Observer as Amis’ massive tract gives a far more interesting, original and optimistic perspective the variety of opinion among Muslims worldwide, and on the real state of play in Amis’ ‘civil war’. He points, for example, to the fact that in a recent poll a majority of Egyptians answered that the country they most hated was America but that America was also the country in which they most wanted to live. Amis’ approach seems to be to focus on what the ideologue says, and ignore what the followers do. Burke shows that the latter is far more important in gaining as complete a picture of the world as possible.

Can there be any greater failure for a fiction writer than the failure of imagination Amis displays here, an unwillingness to explore perspectives other than ones own? If this piece is a critical failure (and to my mind it is) then it’s apt to so much of it is taken up with an artistic one – the abandoned story ‘The Unknown Known’. Amis tells us that he couldn’t complete it because the nihilistic blankness of Islamism leaves it unamenable to satire. I would suspect something different. My guess is that, as in the Mohammed Atta story the previous week, he was using a central character as the vehicle for an ideology he not only doesn’t understand but does not believe can ever be understood. Even if one accepts his view of Islamism itself, he still refuses to see that there is more to every individual, even a suicide bomber, than one aspect of their beliefs. The cry ‘they are all the same’ is more proper to the propagandist than the artist and in refusing to acknowledge any depth, or humanity in the characters involved, Amis is refusing to see the depth of the world around him.

Ironically, he ends the piece with the following quote from Conrad:

The world of the living contains enough marvels and mysteries as it is – marvels and mysteries acting upon our emotions and intelligence in ways so inexplicable that it would almost justify the conception of life as an enchanted state. No I am too firm in my consciousness of the marvelous to be ever fascinated by the mere supernatural, which (take it any way you like) is but a manufactured article, the fabrication of minds insensitive to the intimate delicacies of our relation to the dead and to the living, in their countless multitudes; a desecration of our tenderest memories; and outrage on our dignity.

Isn’t this, precisely, the opposite of Amis’ approach? He’s so enamoured with the theory, the theology, the Berman way of explaining everything that he can’t see the full range of ‘marvels and mysteries’ in the ‘world of the living’ everywhere else.

And like a character in a sub-standard Amis story (or a Will Self one at the very least) he becomes as intellectually impoverished and myopic as the fanatics he attests to despise.

Security, September 11th and other issues…or let me keep my illusions September 4, 2006

Posted by WorldbyStorm in 9/11, Environmentalism, September 11th, Uncategorized, United States.

Prior to September 11 the world appeared considerably more secure. Didn’t it?

Actually the more I think about it the less I agree with that proposition. Remember the missile shield? Remember the crisis in Sino-US relations? Remember the crew of a US surveillance aircraft forced to land on Chinese territory, frantically smashing up the equipment on board for fear that advanced US technology would fall into the hands of the PRC? Remember too a US economy that was moving throughout 2000 into something of a recession.

And now what do we have? A threat, a palpable threat, one which in the shape of 9/11 brought an atrocity, a shocking blow to the US and indirectly the rest of the world. But a threat that, so far, remains nebulous, considerably less potent than we imagined or were led to believe. There have clearly been attempts to emulate those attacks, perhaps most recently in the latest UK/US airplane plot. But still, these remain rather pitiful efforts. Even the very real horror of the London subway bombings and the Madrid bombings of 2004 appear to be a lesser circle of hell than the seemingly apocalyptic visions released as the World Trade Centre collapsed. It’s also worth remembering that 9/11 was the result of years of planning, straight from the depths of that Golden Age of a world ruled by the benevolent US led by Bill Clinton. A vanished time now, of course. But thought of more fondly perhaps than true remembrance would justify.

Perhaps it is because the paradigm within which these events occur is now one of low or medium level terrorism that strikes infrequently. Perhaps it’s just too complicated to successfully mount an attack on the scale of 9/11. In fact, clearly it must be since there hasn’t been a sequel to that particular atrocity. And there is a further paradigm, that of the grinding daily reality of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. These are hardly unprecedented. Afghanistan has seen conflict for most of the late 19th and early 20th century. Iraq has seen a different form of conflict, sometimes from external sources, sometimes from internal.

But there is a curious aspect to this. The significant global tensions prior to September 11 appear to have been somewhat diminished. Relations between Beijing and Washington are actually quite – well – lukewarm. A marked improvement as it happens. The missile shield has moved into the realm of myth and budget appropriations. No-one with any serious knowledge of it actually believes it’s going to work in the near future and it has all the appearance of yet another off-shoot of the military industrial complex. Those upset with the glacial pace of the US administration regarding global warming can at least note the way in which the US at state level is beginning to make agreements on emissions with the EU.

It’s almost as if the concentration on what – in real terms – remains a limited albeit real threat to the US and Europe has masked a curious convergence, even agreement on larger issues. The world isn’t at peace, far from it, but neither is it at war and there is no real sense – as far as I can judge – that the US or Russia or China are likely to have a serious falling out anytime soon. Perhaps it’s the byproduct of 2003 and the truly abysmal performance by various players at the UN and elsewhere in the run-up to the Iraq war. Perhaps after that anything is better. But I can’t help feeling that it’s more than that.

And in a way it is, because while the hegemon roams the earth it gives everyone the opportunity to blame the hegemon.

The US has become a sort of short-hand for all the ills of the world. In far too many conversations, be they about the environment, international politics, fast food, religion or whatever talk inevitably loops back to the mendacities perpetrated upon an innocent planet by the US. I don’t want to make out that this is ‘anti-Americanism’ in the sense the term is sometimes thrown about. But it is a withdrawal of sympathy, a growing indifference, or even in some cases a sort of contempt. That’s bad for us on a personal level because we have to listen to a lot of dull boilerplate conversations, but it’s bad on a broader level because when one has someone to blame often that becomes a reason for inaction. And the reality is that the US, a country I’d regard myself as a friend of (not that it’s too worried one way or another), isn’t the only actor in all this and no more than being the sole instigator of isn’t necessarily the only route out of our problems.

One feels that in the event of another or worse event than 9/11 the instinctive international sympathy that welled up in the following days will be of a lesser degree and duration.

The US administration hasn’t helped with regard to this impression. It’s counterproductive obduracy and inane contempt towards public (and state) opinion in the rest of the world has been – well to be honest bizarre (Although there is a small part of me that very slightly applauds the honesty of the approach – one that doesn’t pretend that power relationships are anything other than power relationships). Thankfully that phase appears over with a kinder gentler Bush administration MkII. The reality may be as uncompromising, but as with so much else it’s all about the optics.

The US is the pre-dominant military, economic, and in some respects cultural, force on the planet and is able to dictate to some degree the direction and pace of change. Of course the important qualification in the preceding sentence is ‘to some degree’. The US may well be pre-dominant, it may indeed be hegemonic, but it is by no means omnipotent. Far from it. In 2002 Eric Hobsbawm, the Marxist historian, wrote that ‘September 11 proved that we all live in a world with a single global hyperpower that had finally decided that, since the end of the USSR, there are no short-term limits on its strength and no limits on its willingness to use it, although the purposes of using it – except to manifest supremacy – are quite unclear’. But while the question, “just what is the hyperpower for?”, remains valid, the last five years have demonstrated the opposite regarding the limitations of power. While US strength may be effectively limitless, there are limits on both it’s willingness to use it and it’s ability to use it.

Those who had any illusion as to the efficacy of pure military power as an instrument of democratisation must now be sadly disabused of it. Or at least most should be – although the siren voices for a military adventure in Iran remain more vocal than the historical track record should permit.

And other illusions have gone too. That the Arab ‘street’ would rise up and throw off the shackles of their regimes (too difficult), that Muslim anger would spiral out of control in Europe producing carnage on a mass scale (the populations appear better integrated and vastly more sensible than the Cassandra’s give them credit). That the US was headed directly to a state of fascism (too big, too diverse, too wedded to democracy for it to be otherwise).

And where does that leave us really?

Well to my mind, for what it’s worth, I think the current period is now strikingly like the latter years of the Clinton Presidency in terms of international relations. Or, to put it another way, away from the cosmetic fluff about the War on Terror it’s shifted back to business more or less as usual, messy international agreements, the renewed primacy and yes – prestige of the UN (particularly in the aftermath of the Lebanon), the hyperpower having to work in concert with the rest of the world, pragmatism and so on.

Perhaps this too is an illusion. Perhaps the next twelve months will bring some new terror that will ratchet up fear, and the impulse to action – any action, however poorly planned or executed.

But whether illusion or not it’s a hell of a lot better than the alternative.

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