Middle East impasse
WITH the bombs and missiles falling on Afghanistan in the high altitude US destruction of “Operation Enduring Freedom”, the Palestine question may seem tangential to the altogether more urgent events in Central Asia. But it would be a mistake to think so, and not just because Osama bin Laden and his followers (no one knows how many there are in theory or in practice) have tried to capture Palestine as a rhetorical part of their unconscionable campaign of terror.
But so too has Israel, for its own purposes. With the killing of cabinet minister Rahavam Ze’evi on October 17 as retaliation by the Popular Front for the assassination of its leader by Israel last August, General Sharon’s sustained campaign against the Palestine Authority as Israel’s bin Laden has risen to a new, semi-hysterical pitch. Israel has been assassinating Palestinian leaders and militants (over 60 of them to date) for the past several months, and couldn’t have been surprised that its illegal methods would sooner or later prompt Palestinian retaliation in kind.
But why one set of killings should be acceptable and others not is a question Israel and its supporters are unable to answer. And so the violence goes on, with Israel’s occupation the more deadly, and the vastly more destructive, causing huge civilian suffering: in the period between October 18-21, six Palestinian towns re-occupied by Israeli forces; five more Palestinian activists assassinated plus 21 civilians killed and 160 injured; curfews imposed everywhere, and all this Israel has the gall to compare with the US war against Afghanistan and terrorism.
Thus, the frustration and subsequent impasse in pressing the claims of a people dispossessed for fifty-three years and militarily occupied for thirty-four years have definitively gone beyond the main arena of struggle and are willy-nilly tied in all sorts of ways to the global war against terrorism. Israel and its supporters worry that the US will sell them out, all the while protesting contradictorily that Israel isn’t the issue in the new war. Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims generally have either felt uneasiness or a creeping guilt by association that attaches to them in the public realm, despite efforts by political leaders to keep dissociating bin Laden from Islam and the Arabs: but they, too, keep referring to Palestine as the great symbolic nexus of their disaffection.
In official Washington, however, George Bush and Colin Powell have more than once revealed unambiguously that Palestinian self-determination is an important, perhaps even a central issue.
The turbulence of war and its unknown dimensions and complications (its consequences in places like Saudi Arabia and Egypt are likely to be dramatic, if as yet unknown) have stirred up the whole Middle East in striking ways, so that the need for some genuinely positive change in the status of the seven million stateless Palestinians is sure to grow in importance, even though a number of quite dispiriting things about its present impasse are evident enough now. The main problem is whether or not the US and the parties are going to resort only to the stop-gap measures that brought us the disastrous Oslo agreement.
I know it is often argued that suicide bombings are either the result of frustration and desperation, or that they emerge from the criminal pathology of deranged religious fanatics. But these are inadequate explanations. The New York and Washington suicide terrorists were middle class, far from illiterate men, perfectly capable of modern planning, audacious as well as terrifyingly deliberate destruction. The young men sent out by Hamas and Islamic jihad do what they are told with a conviction that suggests clarity of purpose, if not of much else.
The real culprit is a system of primary education that is woefully piecemeal, cobbled together from out of the Koran, rote exercises based on outdated 50-year old textbooks, hopelessly large classes, woefully ill-equipped teachers, and a nearly total inability to think critically.
Along with the oversized Arab armies — all of them burdened with unusable military hardware and no record of any positive achievement — this antiquated educational apparatus has produced the bizarre failures in logic, in moral reasoning, and in an insufficient appreciation of human life that leads either to leaps of religious enthusiasm of the worst kind or to a servile worship of power.
Similar failures in vision and logic operate on the Israeli side. How it has come to seem morally possible, and even justifiable, for Israel to maintain and defend its thirty-four-year old occupation fairly boggles the mind, but even Israeli “peace” intellectuals remain fixated on the supposed absence of a Palestinian peace camp, forgetting that a people under occupation doesn’t have the same luxury as the occupier to decide whether or not an interlocutor exists.
In the process, military occupation is taken as an acceptable given and is scarcely mentioned; Palestinian terrorism becomes the cause, not the effect, of violence, even though one side possesses a modern military arsenal (unconditionally supplied by the US), the other is stateless, virtually defenceless, savagely persecuted at will, herded inside 160 little cantons, schools closed, life made impossible. Worst of all, the daily killing and wounding of Palestinians is accompanied by the growth of Israeli settlements and the 400,000 settlers who dot the Palestinian landscape without respite.
A recent report issued by Peace Now in Israel states the following:
* At the end of June 2001 there were 6,593 housing units in different stages of active construction in settlements.
* During the Barak administration 6,045 housing units were begun in settlements. In fact, settlement building in the year 2000 reached the highest since 1992, with 4,499 starts.
* When the Oslo agreements were signed there were 32,750 housing units in the settlements. Since the signing of the Oslo agreements 20,371 housing units have been constructed, representing an increase of 62 per cent in settlements units.
The essence of the Israeli position is its total irreconcilability with what the Jewish state wants — peace and security, even though everything it does assures neither one nor the other.
The US has underwritten Israel’s intransigence and brutality: there are no two ways about it — 92 billion dollars and unending political support, all for the world to see. Ironically, this was far truer during, rather than either before or after, the Oslo process. The plain truth of the matter is that anti-Americanism in the Arab and Muslim world is tied directly to the US’s behaviour, lecturing the world on democracy and justice while openly supporting their exact opposites. There also is an undoubted ignorance about the United States in the Arab and Islamic worlds, and there has been far too great a tendency to use rhetorical tirades and sweeping general condemnation instead of rational analysis and critical understanding of America. The same is true of Arab attitudes to Israel.
Our defence against unjust policies is a moral one, and we must first occupy the moral high ground and then promote understanding of that position in Israel and the US, something we have never done. We have refused interaction and debate, disparagingly calling them only normalization and collaboration. Refusing to compromise in putting forth our just position (which is what I am calling for) cannot possibly be construed as a concession, especially when it is made directly and forcefully to the occupier or the author of unjust policies of occupation and reprisal.
Why do we fear confronting our oppressors directly, humanely, persuasively, and why do we keep believing in precisely the vague ideological promises of redemptive violence that are little different from the poison spewed by bin Laden and the Islamists? The answer to our needs is in principled resistance, well-organized civil disobedience against military occupation and illegal settlement, and an educational programme that promotes coexistence, citizenship and the worth of human life.
But we are now in an intolerable impasse, requiring more than ever a genuine return to the all but abandoned bases of peace that were proclaimed at Madrid in 1991, UN Resolutions 242 and 332, land for peace. There can be no peace without pressure on Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories, including Jerusalem, and — as the Mitchell report affirmed — to dismantle its settlements. This can obviously be done in a phased way, with some sort of immediate emergency protection for undefended Palestinians, but the great failing of Oslo must be remedied now at the start: a clearly articulated end to occupation, the establishment of a viable, genuinely independent Palestinian state, and the creation of peace through mutual recognition.
These goals have to be stated as the objective of negotiations, a beacon shining at the end of the tunnel. Palestinian negotiators have to be firm about this, and not use the re-opening of talks — if any should now begin, in this atmosphere of harsh Israeli war on the Palestinian people — as an excuse simply to return to Oslo. In the end though only the US can restore negotiations, with European, Islamic, Arab, and African support, but it must be done through the United Nations, which must be the essential sponsor of the effort.
And since the Palestinian-Israeli struggle has been so humanly impoverishing I would suggest that important symbolic gestures of recognition and responsibility, undertaken perhaps under the auspices of a Mandela or a panel of impeccably credentialled peace makers, should try to establish justice and compassion as crucial elements in the proceedings. Unfortunately, it is perhaps true that neither Arafat nor Sharon is suited to so high an enterprise. The Palestinian political scene must absolutely be overhauled to represent seamlessly what every Palestinian longs for — peace with dignity and justice and, most important, decent, equal coexistence with Israeli Jews.
We need to move beyond the undignified shenanigans, the disgraceful backing and filling of a leader who hasn’t in a long time come anywhere near the sacrifices of his long-suffering people. The same is true of Israelis who are led abysmally by the likes of General Sharon. —Copyright Edward W. Said, 2001
America under siege
WHEN Bush finally signed the ridiculously named PATRIOT (“Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”) Act, 2001, he surrendered the most vital component of the “American way of life” the whole world looked up to.
It appears now that on September 11, terrorists ended up doing a lot more damage to the United States than they could have imagined in their wildest dreams. In retrospect, the tragic deaths and loss of property seem the lesser casualties of that fateful day. The real damage has been caused to the American psyche. The US president’s rhetoric calling the event an attack on the “American way of life” is coming true in a bizarre fashion. Only, the Americans have themselves set about destroying their own civil liberties, individual rights and basic freedoms they used to be proud of until now.
I remember with shock and nostalgia an event that i witnessed in the US more than twenty years ago. It was 1978 and eve of state elections in California. One important election issue was whether or not to ban smoking in public places. It had been proposed to legislate that all public places like restaurants shall be obliged to create separate corners for those who wish to smoke. The great beauty of the American democracy is the power ordinary people can wield if they simply get together. In many states, if a minimum number of voters sign up a proposal, the government is bound to present it to the electorate in the form of a bill.
More than a million voters had signed the proposal about putting restrictions on smoking in public places in California, so all the voters were to vote on the issue along with their usual vote for electing the governor. The daily debates one witnessed on the television were unforgettable. Interestingly, none of the speakers defended smoking. Every one who spoke for or against the bill actually supported the fact that restrictions be placed on smoking in public places. However, there was a subtle difference in the approach of the two sides. It was this thin line that ultimately defeated the bill.
The Californians decided that they would not make it compulsory for owners of public places to create “smoking corners” because that would mean giving an excuse to state authority to enter such a place to ensure compliance with the law. Thus, although both parties were wholeheartedly against smoking, the voters chose against a law that could, even in a small way, diminish their individual liberty or provide the state access to their property, even though it be for public use. For a person like me, largely uninitiated in the ways of democracy and unaware of the true meaning of civil liberty, this was a practical lesson that was later to haunt me at home. It did however made clear to me why the Americans are so proud of their “way of life.”
The September 11 tragedy killed a few thousand people. Profound sorrow and anger, even numbing shock, over this disaster for a limited period is understandable. But should these deaths change the lives of the millions of Americans who live on? Are millions of Americans really ready to become hostage to their security agencies for the rest of their lives?
Has the tragedy of September 11 really shocked them into a stupor from which they find it hard to emerge with their equipoise intact? Or has this one catastrophe so overwhelmed the American nation that it is now unable to protect the very values and liberties that defined their nationhood? Saner Americans are beginning to ask these questions. But the questioners are being silenced. When the host of an ABC a talk show, Bill Maher, contradicted Bush by saying that it was not the hijackers who were cowards but the Americans who are lobbing missiles from 2000 miles away, White House spokesman Ari Fliescher virtually organized a reviling campaign against him, including cancellation of ads, that Maher was forced to make a public apology.
The new laws being enacted hurriedly are draconian, even by the crude standards of some of the dictatorial regimes the Americans are fond of condemning. The erstwhile KBG, RAW and Mossad would be overjoyed to receive powers that are being bestowed upon the state machinery in US. The FBI and CIA are getting what secret agencies of the world dream. By the time anxious lawmakers are through, several agencies and state apparatus would be equipped with sinister powers whose use and abuse will distort the very way of life Americans are trying to defend.
The state will have the authority to haul up literally any individual and keep him or her locked away for seven days before even deciding what to do with him or her. Search warrants for entering virtually any house, shop, office or private place even remotely considered by some spook to be connected with terrorism anywhere in the US would be available merely for the asking. And one search warrant would be sufficient for use throughout the country. What happened to State rights? No telephone would be safe from tapping. No information given to a government office in confidence would be confidential any more as authorized agencies would now have access to it. All this might seem a little exaggerated, but the fact is that the laws being enacted in the US will end up achieving all of this and more.
For the first time in the history of the United States, the government actually issued the so-called ‘advice’ to the media. People living under dictatorial regimes are quite familiar with it. Their governments are used to issuing such ‘advice’ frequently to the press and other media, and the recipients better heed, or else. But one never thought that the US media people even knew that such an abomination existed. So, the surprising news was that all five TV networks that were “advised” by the White House not to broadcast Osama video-tapes actually decided to abide by it.
Is this really happening in the United States of America? Voice of America radio has been criticized for broadcasting an interview of Mulla Omar. some radio stations and websites have been shut down for fear of being prosecuted. And to give all this paranoia judicial legitimacy, a judge of the supreme court has publicly stated that the Americans were likely to experience more restrictions on their personal freedom than had ever been the case in their history. America is laying a siege to itself!
Although the entire nation seems to have developed an obsessive frame of mind where their security is concerned, there is still time to pause and consider what they may be doing to themselves. One may disagree with many thing Saudi but the truth is that it is probably the most secure and safe country in the world.
Ironically, even the now damned Afghanistan had achieved a zero crime rate under the Taliban and it was said by believable witnesses that a woman could walk through Kabul laden with gold at two in the night without any fear. But would one ever want to live there? Would the Americans want to live safely under the ominous shield of security they are building around themselves? I always thought that I would rather be mugged in New York than be harassed by a cop in Jeddah for not carrying my passport.
The feeling one loved most when in the United States was the absence of fear of the state. Would I now have to carry valid identification papers every time I leave my hotel? May be I will stop going to the US anyway, but where will all the Americans go once they realize what they have ended up with? For, history’s lesson is that it is easy to surrender individual liberties to the state but very difficult to regain them.
The war that the American administration has started is not likely to end soon. Terrorism will not end with the conquest of one country or the death of a few persons. If the Americans wish to feel secure from terrorism, they will have to be continuously protected by the state. And if the state has to carry out this difficult task, it will need all the powers of coercion. For, civil liberties area big hindrance when you are trying to catch ordinary-looking persons who might really be terrorists. This becomes a vicious cycle that feeds upon itself. Once they get caught in this spiral it takes centuries or revolutions to get out of its grip.
People in a large part of the world still live in virtual chains. For them, America serves as the beacon of civil liberty and individual freedom. One hopes the world is not about to lose this leading light.
No, no Naipaul: PRIVATE VIEW
AS so often, on so many occasions, about so many things, of so many people, the late Dr Eqbal Ahmed had it right one more time.
He told V.S. Naipaul after the publication of Among the Believers: “You describe Pakistan as an Islamic state under General Muhammed Zia-ul-Haq. You describe it throughout as if this government represented that country and was supported by its people. It was your responsibility to at least report, mention, that the state of affairs you are describing there was being opposed at great risk to themselves by hundreds of thousands of people, including all the known poets and writers of Pakistan, without exception.
“That our best writers of that time were in prison or in exile, our best poets were in prison or exile. Thirty thousand people had been flogged in a public square. Nearly thirty or forty thousand went into prisons and you don’t make one mention of it. You describe that regime as Islam. The least you could have done was to say that this was a contested space.”
An Indian critic, Amitava Kumar wrote after his Nobel Prize announcement: “In recent years, Naipaul has directed his fire only at Islam, and slipped into the error of celebrating Hindu revivalism. To my knowledge, he has not commented on Christian fundamentalism.” It was not long ago that Naipaul accused the Nobel committee, after it had ignored him, of “befouling literature”.
It is also typical that he should have “consecrated” his prize to England rather than to India where his uninhibitedly Hindu roots lie which may also be at the heart of his aversion to Islam and to Muslim societies. And the Caribbean where he was born and to which his literary debt is by any measure immense, does not even merit a mention. There were no tributes flowing out from the Caribbean to him. Do the British take him as one of their own? Anyone who has lived in England for any length of time knows the answer.
Ever since the Nobel prize for literature went to Boris Pasternak, it was almost to be taken for granted that the Swedish Academy would look with disfavour on those who were either communists or sympathetic to socialist ideas. There is no reason otherwise why a poet of the stature and universal sympathies of Faiz Ahmed Faiz should not have been considered worthy of a Nobel.
It is fairly certain that had Faiz not been given and had he not accepted the Lenin Peace prize, he might have been honoured by Stockholm. Well, both Faiz and communism are gone, though unlike the latter, the former lives in people’s hearts and memory. It is quite possible that antagonistism to Islam may now become the new touchstone of acceptance for the Nobel Prize committee.
It is to be remembered that Naipaul’s popularity in the West coincides with the publication of his work deriding the Third World. As Amitav Ghosh, the Indian writer, observed recently, after the publication of An Area of Darkness - his book on India — and its tone of derision and outrage, “the richly textured islands of his early work would disappear, to be replaced by a series of largely interchangeable caricatures of societies depicted as ‘half-made’ in comparison with Europe ... Predictably, this turn in Naipaul’s work proved immensely popular in the West and he was quickly canonized for his indictment of the Third World.”
Naipaul makes no bones about his visceral dislike for Pakistan and that despite the fact that this was the country that offered him great hospitality whenever he visited. In the end, he committed the ultimate discourtesy. He decamped with our own Nadaan Nadira (Muhammad Khalid Akhtar, the Saint of Chakiwara maintains it was the other way around). Anyone who has seen movies with names like The Brides of Dracula would know that the delicate, angelic maidens whom the Prince of Vampires takes away become vampires themselves after he has sucked their blood from their conveniently long necks. That is what has happened to our Nadira. She is not the one we once knew. She has become the Bride of Dracula.
Consider her outburst after Naipaul’s Nobel was announced. The universal reaction in Muslim countries was that he had been given the prize because of the contempt and derision with which he had written about Islam and Muslim societies. In an exclusive interview from her Wiltshire county home to my old London friend Amit Roy, according to a report he later published, “Lady Naipaul rounded on critics who had accused her husband of being against Islam as a religion. Visibly upset by some of the comments made in newspapers and on television” she said she was “speaking out from the heart”. (It is nice to know Bluebeard has not divested her of that particular organ).
Quoth Lady Naipaul to scribe Roy, “We have not emerged from this nightmare. My husband’s books Among the Believers and Beyond Belief are a testimony to our suffering. They can show us a way out of this darkness but we lack the intellectual honesty to look at the mirror and accept it as an experiment gone horribly wrong. Only then can we free our people from the monster that feeds off their ignorance every day.”
She said “I am disgusted and even bewildered at the recent media hype on his stand against Islam ... I am also a Muslim woman who has written for 10 years against the oppression of her people, particularly women, by clerics and the feudals of our sporadic one-legged democracies ... I only wish to ask all my husband’s detractors of what they really know of Islam in its present form and how it is put into practice in tyrannies like Pakistan ... Have they ever visited Pakistani jails? Have they ever stood, seen and heard the shrieks of women being beaten by ‘kikkar’ rods for a confession by the police? ... As a Muslim woman and, above all, a mother, I have stood close to heresy by simply being a helpless witness of these demonic punishments.”
What Nadira says may be right except that this has nothing to do with the ugly caricatures of Islam that we come across in her husband’s books. Naipaul, I would like to remind my old friend Nadira, rationalized the demolition of the Babri Mosque because, according to him, its building by Babar was an “act of contempt” for the Hindus.
Even an author as intellectually honest and forthright as Edward Said - and he is not a Muslim - has said that Naipaul has confirmed his “deep antipathy to the religion (of Islam), its people and its ideas”. Said could not overlook the irony of Naipaul having dedicated Beyond Belief, the book that ridicules Islam and Muslims, to his “Muslim wife Nadira”. Said called Naipaul a “mental suicide” whose “obsession with Islam” had caused him to stop thinking. Which was an “intellectual tragedy of the first order”. That, I think, says it all.
As for Lady Nadira Naipaul, she should still heed the advice I gave her some years ago: take the money and return to Lahore. At least it doesn’t rain there all the time as it does in Wiltshire.
America’s hyperreal war on terrorism
THE best way to understand “America’s new war” is as a convenient legitimizing rubric to extend American economic and military power abroad, and to complete the repressive domestic agenda already set in motion during the post-cold war years in the guise of the “war on drugs.”
In both instances, corporate globalization’s increasingly intolerant attitude toward dissent of any kind is implicated. This is not so much a war against “terrorism,” but a preemptive strike against domestic and international opposition to the hegemony of transnational capital in the early years of the twenty-first century.
In this most hyperreal of wars, nothing is as it seems. The most unprecedented repression of dissent and diversity of opinion at home is and will be accompanied by hollow echoes of borrowed liberal endorsement of multiculturalism and identity politics.
In other words, the harassment of Arab-Americans, Muslim-Americans, and dissenters in general, including intellectuals, journalists, artists, and activists, will reach new levels of reach aided by intrusive surveillance and monitoring tools.
But even as this unprecedented repression goes ahead, the administration will continue to voice shopworn clichis about this war not being a war against Arabs or Muslims or dissenters, and official discourse will present what seems to be a convincing rationalization in the form of the need to unify in a moment of national crisis.
There won’t be internments like that of the Japanese-Americans, German-Americans, and Italian-Americans, during World War II.
And this won’t be flat-footed crushing of dissent, as in the Alien and Sedition Acts, the suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, the Red Scare following World War I, or the blacklisting of alleged communist sympathizers during the McCarthy era. In fact, relative to the earlier repressions, the true amount of repression will extend to the entire population and to all classes of people, but the greater the repression now the greater the evocation of supposed toleration and freedom from official quarters.
This is the postmodern form of repression, where terror-originating from the state is completely unlocalized, and it penetrates to the very core of the potential dissenter’s heart and mind, and allows no possible refuge from the panoptical sights of the police state.
About 1,000 people have been put in detention without terrorism-related charges having been filed since September 11. The use of “secret evidence” against immigrants, permitted after Clinton-era anti-terrorism legislation, will proliferate.
The First, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments are being destroyed to complete the destruction of the Bill of Rights brought about by the “war on drugs.”
In effect, the anti-terrorism legislation of 2001 is analogous to Hitler’s 1933 Enabling Act, converting the hithertofore soft American totalitarian state into a hard one, making explicit by writ of law what was already occurring in terms of supression of free speech, dissent against the corporate global order, and massive inequalities in access to power and justice.
The usurpation of the voters’ will in the 2000 election was a test-run: since this judicial coup engendered no noticeable dissent among the intelligentsia, press, and common people, the stage was set for an all-out assault on the remaining liberties of the people.
Just as the war on drugs criminalized poverty at home (two million, mostly non-violent offenders, languish in jails, and millions more face drug-related charges), the undefinable, fluid, ever-shifting war on “terrorism” will take the war on dissent to a global scale. Since Seattle 1999, the implementation of the corporate globalization agenda has become increasingly problematic. The IMF and the World Bank were facing massive protests against their scheduled September meetings in Washington, D.C. It is easy to see how an expansive definition of terrorism can be manipulated to put down all domestic dissent against globalization, so-called “free trade,” and the neoliberal consensus in general. A school child throwing a rock at a window would fall under the definition of terrorism.
Again, this generalized, state-generated fear has been accomplished without a shot being fired, without even an acknowledgment of the decimation of civil liberties that has occurred. The silence and complicity of elites is akin to what must have occurred during the Nazi consolidation of power, and during the anti-Semitic repression, when millions of right-thinking Germans simply failed to raise a finger against the enormity of injustice that was being institutionalized.
The repressive tactics endorsed by the new laws have long been sought by the state’s intelligence and security apparatus. It has been easy to sell increased wire-tapping authority as simply a way to catch up with new technology. A majority of Americans now support increased security checks on Arab-Americans, even special IDs. A national ID card, a universal tool of repression, cannot be far away. Racial profiling of Arab and Muslim Americans has been endorsed by even liberal Senators. Anti-globalization activists wonder if their shop has been closed for good.
The distinctive element of this wave of repression is that it is accompanied by soft talk. The president and his surrogates will continue to make the correct multicultural noises about acceptance of difference, even advocacy of a Palestinian state should that be necessary to buy the short-term allegiance of recalcitrant Muslim states, but the words will be as hollow as the administration’s “compassionate conservative” ideology. As more than $2 trillion was handed out to the richest Americans in a “tax cut” designed to starve the federal government of resources for public spending, the compassionate part of this policy relied on the armies of compassion to rally ordinary people to public service and on so-called faith-based initiatives to handle the welfare discards.
In this surreal war, an intended replay of the cold war with a new postmodern gloss, coalitions will be shifting for ever depending on the enemy of the moment. Iran, Russia, and China, with their own problems with internal dissenters, are momentary allies, but when the next steps are taken in this global war — say, an attack on Iraq, which the administration hawks are pushing for — the nature of the coalition will shift according to the dictates of the moment.
All through the cold war, the US supported reactionary, dictatorial regimes to fight the threat of communism. There was no principle involved except for the momentary roll-back of the immediate threat. Similarly, in this new war, the American people are being trained not to think of coalitions and alliances as permanent or rooted in anything but immediate expediencies.
Analogous to the war on drugs, which institutionalized indifference to poverty and inequality in the name of “quality of life” and a supposed ethic of responsibility, the war on terrorism is meant to neutralize any ideological alternative to the neo-liberal structure planned for the entire globe. In the decade since the end of the cold war, the US has been desperate to find an enemy worthy of stepping into the vacuum created by the Russians. But neither the new Russian state nor China, nor indeed the assorted “rogue states” or terror threats of the nineties, really filled the bill. The terrorists are all but being invited to put into motion that which will guarantee them the greatest possible attention and reward.
The question now is the extent to which transnational capital will allow the explicit repression of dissent at home, and the crushing of recalcitrant states not quite convinced of the neo-liberal consensus, to go forward. Since the end of the cold war, the strategy had been mostly soft repression, such as comes about by seductive offers of bounties upon joining the global alliance. If elites were ready to abandon commitment to equality and distributive justice, the rewards were immediate and plentiful.
Nevertheless, things were spinning out of control. A global recession was in the offing. Anti-globalization dissent was spreading like a virus.
The Senate was lost by the Republicans, and a generalized resentment was taking hold against the hegemony of transnational corporations in the most corrupt political system on earth.
But with Cheney, Powell, Rice and other holdovers from Bush I, it was surely only a matter of time before a re-enactment of past Middle East wars would take place to divert the public from the economic decline at home, and to further marginalize the voices crying out for social justice during the 2000 presidential campaign.
This president had to be instantly converted into a “statesman” with very high ratings, the rest of the corporate domestic agenda had to be completed, and a new justification was to be engineered for the burgeoning military budget (now nearly $400 billion a year).
The war on terrorism signifies not a return to multilateralism, as some have suggested, but an escalation of the unilateralist position already taken by conservatives during the first eight months of this administration. “You’re either with us or against us.” Is that multilateralism? The US is only seeking a thin cover for its avowed military and economic goals (including assertion of hegemony in the key, oil-rich Central Asian region), but it is not multilateralism by any means.