Friday, February 24, 2006

Sami Ramidami 'Exit without a strategy'

Exit without a strategy
The popular response to Iraq's latest atrocities has been to blame the occupation, not rival sects
Sami Ramadani
Friday February 24, 2006
The Guardian

The shattered golden dome of Samarra is yet another milestone in George Bush's "long war" - in which a civil war in Iraq shows every sign of being a devastating feature. But what sort of civil war? I am convinced it is not the type of war that politicians in Washington and London, and much of the western media, have been anticipating.

The past few days' events have strengthened this conviction. It has not been Sunni religious symbols that hundreds of thousands of angry marchers protesting at the bombing of the shrine have targeted, but US flags. The slogan that united them on Wednesday was: "Kalla, kalla Amrica, kalla kalla lill-irhab" - no to America, no to terrorism. The Shia clerics most listened to by young militants swiftly blamed the occupation for the bombing. They included Moqtada al-Sadr; Nasrallah, leader of Hizbullah in Lebanon; Ayatollah Khalisi, leader of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress; and Grand Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader. Along with Grand Ayatollah Sistani, they also declared it a grave "sin" to attack Sunnis - as did all the Sunni clerics about attacks on Shias. Sadr was reported by the BBC as calling for revenge on Sunnis - in fact, he said "no Sunni would do this" and called for revenge on the occupation.

None of the mostly spontaneous protest marches were directed at Sunni mosques. Near the bombed shrine itself, local Sunnis joined the city's minority Shias to denounce the occupation and accuse it of sharing responsibility for the outrage. In Kut, a march led by Sadr's Mahdi army burned US and Israeli flags. In Baghdad's Sadr City, the anti-occupation march was massive.
There was a string of armed attacks on Sunni mosques in the wake of the bombing but none of them was carried out by the protesters. Reports suggest that they were the work of masked gunmen. Since then there has been an escalation of well-organised murders, some sectarian, some targeting mixed groups, such as yesterday's killing of 47 workers near Baquba.

But as live coverage of Wednesday's demonstrations on Iraqi and Arab satellite TV stations clearly showed, the popular mood has been anti-occupation rather than sectarian. Iraq is awash with rumours about the collusion of the occupation forces and their Iraqi clients with sectarian attacks and death squads: the US is widely seen as fostering sectarian division to prevent the emergence of a united national resistance. Evidence of their involvement in Wednesday's anti-Sunni reprisals was picked up in the Times, which reported that after an armed attack on the al-Quds Sunni mosque in Baghdad the gunmen climbed back into six cars and were ushered from the scene by cheering soldiers of the US-controlled Iraqi National Guard.

Two years ago I argued in these pages that the US aim of installing a client pro-US regime in Baghdad risked plunging the country into civil war - but not a war of Arabs against Kurds or Sunnis against Shias, rather a war between a US-backed minority (of all sects and nationalities) against the majority of the Iraqi people. That is where Iraq is heading.

Crucial political turning points are going unnoticed, though not by the US ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who organised the pro-US opposition before the invasion and devised the sectarian formulas put into practice thereafter.

In the run-up to the December elections, Sadr's forces won decisive battles in Baghdad and the south against Sciri, the Shia faction more inclined to work with the US. The defeat of the Sciri forces gave Sadr's Mahdi army a powerful voice in the coalition that won the election, and helped nominate Ibrahim Jaafari as prime minister against the US-backed Sciri man, Adil Abdulmahdi. Khalilzad is adamant that Sadr's supporters should not be able to exercise such influence. This is the cause of the political crisis engulfing the Green Zone regime.

For nearly two years, we have been inundated with US and British "exit strategies". So, why do you need a strategy to pack up, end the occupation and let the Iraqi people decide their own future? The "threat of civil war" of course. But that is to ignore the war unfolding in Iraq thanks to the continued occupation.

None of these exit strategies will work for the simple reason that they are based on an unrealisable ambition: to have the Iraqi cake and eat it. All the Bush and Blair strategies are based on maintaining a pro-US regime in Baghdad. Freed from this hated occupation, proud and independent Iraqis will never elect a collection of US- and British-backed proteges.

· Sami Ramadani was a political exile from Saddam's regime and is a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Martin Jacques on cartoons

Europe's contempt for other cultures can't be sustained A continent that inflicted colonial brutality all over the globe for 200 years has little claim to the superiority of its values
Martin Jacques (Friday February 17, 2006, The Guardian)

Is the argument over the Danish cartoons really reducible to a matter of free speech? Even if we believe that free speech is a fundamental value, that does not give us carte blanche to say what we like in any context, regardless of consequence or effect. Respect for others, especially in an increasingly interdependent world, is a value of at least equal importance.

Europe has never had to worry too much about context or effect because for around 200 years it dominated and colonised most of the world. Such was Europe's omnipotence that it never needed to take into account the sensibilities, beliefs and attitudes of those that it colonised, however sacred and sensitive they might have been. On the contrary, European countries imposed their rulers, religion, beliefs, language, racial hierarchy and customs on those to whom they were entirely alien. There is a profound hypocrisy - and deep historical ignorance - when Europeans complain about the problems posed by the ethnic and religious minorities in their midst, for that is exactly what European colonial rule meant for peoples around the world. With one crucial difference, of course: the white minorities ruled the roost, whereas Europe's new ethnic minorities are marginalised, excluded and castigated, as recent events have shown.

But it is no longer possible for Europe to ignore the sensibilities of peoples with very different values, cultures and religions. First, western Europe now has sizeable minorities whose origins are very different from the host population and who are connected with their former homelands in diverse ways. If European societies want to live in some kind of domestic peace and harmony - rather than in a state of Balkanisation and repression - then they must find ways of integrating these minorities on rather more equal terms than, for the most part, they have so far achieved. That must mean, among other things, respect for their values. Second, it is patently clear that, globally speaking, Europe matters far less than it used to - and in the future will count for less and less. We must not only learn to share our homelands with people from very different roots, we must also learn to share the world with diverse peoples in a very different kind of way from what has been the European practice.

Europe has little experience of this, and what experience it has is mainly confined to less than half a century. Old attitudes of superiority and disdain - dressed up in terms of free speech, progress or whatever - are still very powerful. Nor - as many liberals like to think - are they necessarily in decline. On the contrary, racial bigotry is on the rise, even in countries that have previously been regarded as tolerant. The Danish government depends for its rule on a racist, far-right party that gained 13% of the seats in the last election. The decision of Jyllands-Posten to publish the cartoons - and papers in France, Germany, Italy and elsewhere to reprint them - lay not so much in the tradition of free speech but in European contempt for other cultures and religions: it was a deliberate, calculated insult to the beliefs of others, in this case Muslims.

This kind of mentality - combining Eurocentrism, old colonial attitudes of supremacism, racism, provincialism and sheer ignorance - will serve our continent ill in the future. Europe must learn to live in and with the world, not to dominate it, nor to assume it is superior or more virtuous. Any continent that has inflicted such brutality on the world over a period of 200 years has not too much to be proud of, and much to be modest and humble about - though this is rarely the way our history is presented in Britain, let alone elsewhere. It is worth remembering that while parts of Europe have had free speech (and democracy) for many decades, its colonies were granted neither. But when it comes to our "noble values", our colonial record is always written out of the script.

This attitude of disdain, of assumed superiority, will be increasingly difficult to sustain. We are moving into a world in which the west will no longer be able to call the tune as it once did. China and India will become major global players alongside the US, the EU and Japan. For the first time in modern history the west will no longer be overwhelmingly dominant. By the end of this century Europe is likely to pale into insignificance alongside China and India. In such a world, Europe will be forced to observe and respect the sensibilities of others.

Few in Europe understand or recognise these trends. A small example is the bitter resistance displayed on the continent to the proposed takeover of Arcelor by Mittal Steel: at root the opposition is based on thinly disguised racism. But Europe had better get used to such a phenomenon: takeovers by Indian and Chinese firms are going to become as common as American ones. A profound parochialism grips our continent. When Europe called the global tune it did not matter, because what happened in Europe translated itself into a global trend and a global power. No more: now it is simply provincialism.

When Europe dominated, there were no or few feedback loops. Or, to put it another way, there were few, if any, consequences for its behaviour towards the non-western world: relations were simply too unequal. Now - and increasingly in the future - it will be very different. And the subject of these feedback loops, or consequences, will concern not just present but also past behaviour.

For 200 years the dominant powers have also been the colonial powers: the European countries, the US and Japan. They have never been required to pay their dues for what they did to those whom they possessed and treated with contempt. Europeans have treated this chapter in their history by choosing to forget. So has Japan, except that in its case its neighbours have not only refused to forget but are also increasingly powerful. As a consequence, Japan's present and future is constantly stalked by its history. This future could also lie in wait for Europe. We might think the opium wars are "simply history"; the Chinese (rightly) do not. We might think the Bengal famine belongs in the last century, but Indians do not.

Europe is moving into a very different world. How will it react? If something like the attitude of the Danes prevails - a combination of defensiveness, fear, provincialism and arrogance - then one must fear for Europe's ability to learn to live in this new world. There is another way, but the signs are none too hopeful.

· Martin Jacques is a senior visiting research fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore [gosh, he gets qround]

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Socialist Review Feb 2006

The new-syle Socialist Review (Feb 2006) keeps continuity with the series that's been going on (with a change of name to SW Review for a while) back to 1978. But its got a new delivery mechanism - it comes free with Socialist Worker, although its available separately and on subscription. A distinct change in political feel. I think its meant to be more in tune with the political priorities of SW. No editors name is given, so I'm assuming the SW editor is in charge. All available on the internet.

The lead article: 'Opening Shots' by China Mieville (is this going to be a regular feature) is a strange and disappointing fantasy about Ariel Sharon coming back as a 'Zi-borg', accompanied by a really crap whole page illustration. Waste of space and talent. **

But then comes a really worthwhile and interesting piece with David Harvey being interviewed by Joseph Choonara. *****

That's followed by Chris Harman reporting from Caracas, a piece full of intelligent observation and conversation with activists. *****

ISO Zimbabwe (bravely resisting a crackdown) have a page on the path of the MDC.

Independent Indian Marxist Achin Vanaik (frequently to be found writing for the Transnational Institute and I guess also available there) writes about India's growing engagement with the US and neo-liberalism.

Ghassan Makarem, a socialist gay activist from the Lebanon answers accusations of 'Islamofascist' homophobia, instead arguing that laws criminalising homosexuality derive from the Code Napoleon.

Best of all John Newsinger brings the three Haitian revolution novels of Madison Smartt Bell to our attention. All Souls Rising, Master of the Crossroads and The Stone the Builder Refused are all discussed in a tremendous manner and make them seem unmissable.

There's more, including reviews: Clooney's Good Night, And Good Luck, which makes the common mistake of confusing McCarthy's Senate Committee with the House Un-American Activities Committee.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Socialist Worker 1986 Feb 4th 2006

Socialist Worker (Feb 4th 2006) leads on 'Bring the Troops Home Now', in tune with the Stop the War vigils marking the death of the 100th British soldiers. Prominent quotes by Rose Gentle, George Galloway and John Rees. There's an inset by Chris Nineham(SWP Central Committee writing as National Officer Stop the War Coalition) headlined 'Chavez backs anti-war demo'. Nineham had called for a global day of protest against the occupation on March 18th at the WSF in Caracas and agreed by the activist assembly. The tone of 'aren't I (on your behalf) important' is established by his account of meeting with Hugo Chavez in an anti-war delegation. Would, say, Fidel Castro or even Che Guevara, giving back for an anti-war protest have made it onto the fron t-page of SW in a previous epoch?

There's more about the WSF from SW editor Chris Bambery in Caracas, with talk of revolution and fiesta and praise for Chavez, but a 'contradiction' in Chavez's praise for Lula and building an alliance with other Latin American countries, which Bambery thinks jarred with the mood of most participants. Bambery quotes Brice Bragato of P-Sol and someone from the MST calling for political parties. The MST guy says: "It's not enough to get on a bus and travel - you need someone to direct it and to say hen to get off", which must appeal very strongly to the SWP leadership.

Callinicos deals with the contradictions of Bush's programme of spreading democracy in the face of the electoral victory for Hamas last week, fifth in a sring of militant gains in the middle east. Callinicos points out that spreading democracy undermines US interests. Callinicos finishes with reference to Philip Bobbit (is it accurate to refer to him as a Democratic Party pundit?) saying democracy is really about rule of law, respect for private property; and Fareed Zakaria contrasting 'constitutional liberalism' to 'illiberal democracy'.

This is next to an interview with the Hamas MP for the northern Gaza Strip, Musheer al-Masri, with a good background explanation of the last few years. He traces Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) back to the Muslim Brotherhood until the intifada in 1987. Al-Masri finishesd by saying they will not abandon the struggle for their land.

After last weeks SW being a George Galloway free-zone he's back with a very positive story this week, presents him as the very active politican in the 'tribune of the people' mode and to justify his Big Brother appearance, acknowledgiung the criticism of friends, but saying it's a 'judgement call', and apologizing for not donig more to preare Respect's membership. Effective I think, but more cynically, it does much to disarm criticism of Galloway inside Respect.

There's a good centrepage article on Haiti, with lots of historical background by Andrew Taylor.

Saad N Jawad (of the Iraqi National Foundation Congress and a political scientist at the University of Baghdad) writes about 'An occupation in crisis', how the latest elections have deepened the US's problems, strengthened Iranian influence and although the resistance isn't unified and it can't (yet) drive out the US there has been a 'slight shift away from sectarianism' and a 'slow but gradual move toward a national movement'. Hmmm...

Something very surprising and interesting comes next: an extract from the preface to a new edition of Istvan Meszaros's Marx's Theory of Introduction. Such a difficult book! Meszaros does make the mistake of saying that believers in 'capitalist globalization' asuume its the solution and don't see crisis. That's just annoying. There's an introduction by Joseph Choonara, placing it first in the context of a debate with Althusser, presented as the most sophisiticated form of the distortion of Marxism that justified Stalinism, and secondly in a debate with those academics who just saw alientation as a 'prison', rather than seeing the possibility of new struggles that pose the possibility of transcending 'self-alienation' . And there's a reading list!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Cindy Sheehan: Busted at the State of the Union

Cindy Sheehan was ejected from the audience for Bush's State of the Union message and locked up, secjrity didn't like the look of her t-shirt. See her story at Counterpunch (February 1, 2006, Here's What Really Happened: Getting Busted at the State of the Union)

US Socialist Worker 574 Feb 3rd 2006

Socialist Worker 574 (Feb 3rd 2006)

The ISO have cuaght up with the figures from Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes about the total cost of the war and occupation of Iraq in their front-page story: WHAT THE U.S. IS SPENDING TO CRUSH IRAQ: $1,193,000,000,000.

Elsewhere Eric Ruder writes: THREATENED WITH WAR FOR WINNING AN ELECTION: The U.S. and Israel reacted to Hamas' landslide victory in Palestinianelections with denunciations and threats.


And Lance Selfa writes a report from the WSF in Caracas.