Friday, March 31, 2006

Socialist Worker (US) March 31st 2006

The ISO's Socialist Worker has much on the anti-immigration law march in Los Angeles. Check out 'A new movement for immigrant rights takes to the streets: “We want to be equal"' and 'Why you should oppose McCain-Kennedy' , a reply to Paul Krugman in 'WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? The bogus hysteria about immigrant workers ' by Sharon Smith, some background theory by Paul D'Amato in 'Who benefits from immigration bans?' and the editorial, "Grassroots initiatives against HR 4437 get a mass response: Dawn of a new movement "
"Potentially, the movement can break the logjam of U.S. politics, in which the Republicans launch attack after attack with little or no response from the Democrats. The mass protests in LA, Chicago and other cities show the possibility of fighting back--with a mobilization of working people to defend their rights."
Whether this is just routine new beginning optimism, or really is the start of somethig new we will watch with interest.

There's a lengthy piece by Antony Arnove about his new book putting for the case for withdrawal from Iraq: Why the U.S. has to get out of Iraq now.

And finally, these Leninists like V for Vendetta, ignoring the anarchist drift of its politics, even - as J.Hoberman pointed out in Village Voice - a certain alignment with the ideas of Negri and the multitude.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Zizek on Danish cartoons

A late discovery of a Zizek piece on the cartoons crisis, read in various aspectsas aparadoxical version of his Freudian broken kettles trope: brilliant.

Tariq Ali Interview in International Viewpoint

IV Online magazine : IV376 - March 2006

Interview: Tariq Ali 'The Anti-Imperialist Left Confronted with Islam'

The following interview with Tariq Ali was conducted by Alex De Jong and Paul Mepschen of the SAP (Dutch section of the Fourth International) at the Ernest Mandel symposium held in Brussels in November 2005. It was published in the March-April 2006 issue of the SAP’s journal, Grenzeloos.

Grenzeloos: It is of course the assassination of the film-maker Theo van Gogh and the threats made against the liberal member of parliament Ayaan Hirsi Ali which have particularly drawn attention to Islam in the Netherlands. Like her, you are an unbeliever who comes from the Muslim world. Have you already felt threatened?

Tariq Ali: No, never. I travel a lot both in the Muslim world and in the rest of the world, but I have never yet felt threatened. Why is that? It is no doubt because people who don’t agree with me about religion know that I am an enemy of imperialism. I unceasingly criticize imperialism and all its works, more than the believers do. Whereas Hirsi Ali and people like her in the United States and in Europe make a profession out of attacking Islam. There are other important questions in the world.

Why do these people concentrate endlessly on Islam? In the way that they attack Islam, they go along with existing prejudices. And for that they are hated. There is no excuse or justification for acts of violence against these people. It is necessary to discuss with them. But these acts are a sign of despair: people are so much at the end of their tether that they have recourse to violence.

Don’t you think that the violence and threats against these people also represent a threat to all those of Muslim origin who do not correspond to the norm? To the unbelievers, the feminists, the homosexuals?

Certainly. But you have to understand that the Muslim community is very diversified. People are very uninformed about the Muslim world. The image that they have of it comes to a large extent through the immigrant communities in Europe, who are, besides, very different from each other. Life in the Muslim world is not monolithic: there are believers, unbelievers, atheists.
Whether the unbelievers can freely express themselves is obviously another question. Often they can’t, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. As is the case here, religion is not the central element in the life of Muslims. People work, eat, make love, build families. Some go to the mosque, others don’t. Exactly like in other parts of the world. The difference lies only in the fact that in some countries it is forbidden to criticize Islam. But that is not the case for example in Turkey. In other countries where it was also possible it has become more difficult today.
Religion is taking on much more importance. For young Muslims in the West, Islam is to a large extent a question of identity.

I think so too.It is a product of different factors, but above all of the vacuum of present day capitalism. There is no real alternative. Many people feel this and turn towards religion, not only Muslims. For the last 20 or 30 years, people who wouldn’t have considered themselves to be particularly religious have been turning towards Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. Why? Because capitalism flattens everything like a steamroller and human beings want to find a refuge for themselves. Because many of them no longer see any socio-economic alternative, they go back to religion. That is why in the immigrant communities there are people who consider their identity from a purely religious point of view, and I don’t expect anything good to come from that. But I also think that all that will change with the coming generation. Today people are not all religious with the same degree of intensity, we can see different variations. I don’t think that the return to religion is universal.

One aspect of the orientalist representation of Muslims that is dominant today is that they are portrayed as people who can only behave in an uncritical and dogmatic way in relation to the Koran, whereas other believers, above all Christians, are reputed to be capable of producing a modern interpretation of their holy book.

This is in fact a mistaken representation, although it is very widespread. That is why I insist on the diversity of the Muslim world. In Poland the Church played at one time a significant role in the struggle against the Stalinist regime. In the West its role was greeted with enthusiasm. Why do we have this double standard?

Many people in the Muslim world consider an attack against Islam as unacceptable. Many of them, without being at all religious - I know some of them - say: “Yes I am a Muslim”. That is a result of the fact that the US has made it from a certain point of view unacceptable to be a Muslim. You are living in a country (the Netherlands) in which religion occupied a dominant position in an extreme way.

Protestant fundamentalism is one of the worst forms of fundamentalism. Protestant fundamentalism, of English or Dutch origin, was responsible for a genocide in North America; it wiped out the indigenous population in the name of progress - something that Muslims have not yet done.

Wherever we see this religious revival of which you speak - among Muslims in the West, among Christians in the United States... - we can see that conservative representations of sexuality play a big role.

That has always been the case. I don’t think capitalism absolutely wants human beings to have conservative representations of sexuality, but capitalism does want them to be brought up in nuclear families, isolated from each other.

When religion occupies a central place in a person’s identity, then that person seeks to distinguish him or herself from those around them; he or she defends morality and takes a position against homosexuality, at the same time affirming that women have an inferior value.
In the formation of the identity of each person, the question of sexuality plays a big role. Human beings are constantly looking for differences and they find them most easily in religion.

Is there a future for the feminist movement in the Muslim world and in the Muslim societies here in the west?

Of course. There was for example a very effective movement in Pakistan against the Islamic legislation that was introduced during the dictatorship, in 1977. All over the country women organized, demonstrated, and criticized the sharia. Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria and Tunisia have seen feminist movements.

The state authorities reacted to this challenge either by themselves creating fundamentalist movements, as in Pakistan, or by collaborating with them, as in Egypt. In exchange for a policy that was conservative and hostile to women on the part of the authorities, the fundamentalists undertook to no longer attack the state.

In the West, in the future, feminist movements will have to develop which are at the same time explicitly anti-imperialist. Then it would be possible to win young Muslim women to feminism. Unfortunately in the West feminism has little existence as a political current.

In the framework of your insistence on the differences, you speak in the “Clash of Fundamentalisms” of an official multiculturalism.

Yes, there lies the cause of the search for differences. When you look at Britain, you can see that religion has been supported there - by the government and above all by Blair. Even after September 11, the foundation of religious institutions, for example religious schools, was encouraged. Within official multiculturalism the differences between people are seen as a good thing.

In part that is really the case - people are different. But as a socialist I also know how difficult it is to forge unity. I think that among young people there are more points of convergence than there are differences. I am an optimist: the importance of religious dividing lines will not last long in Europe, perhaps 30 or 40 years.

To put it cynically: because capitalism is blind as far as sex, skin colour or religion are concerned. Insofar as it expands and extends it sets aside all the particularities of human beings. That is what has always happened.

Is the Left capable of showing that there is an alternative?

A: The Left is at present very weak. As far as the radical Left is concerned I am not optimistic. In Britain I am not a member of Respect. I disagree with them on some points. The way things are happening in Respect is pure opportunism. Obviously I am in favour of working with Muslim groups, but socialists the goal must be to win followers of religion to our own point of view, not to leave them in their entrenched positions.

So we should work together in a less uncritical way?

Of course. The way Respect is doing it won’t lead to anything. We have to find a neutral terrain which can offer a space for discussion. We must not conceal our own point of view by hiding it under the table. Many of the (Muslim) groups with which Respect has developed collaboration have very conservative and reactionary roots. In the countries from which they come, like for example Egypt or Indonesia, they have always been the enemies of the Left.

This is one of the problems that anti-racists and socialists come up against. On the one hand we want to develop solidarity with minorities who suffer discrimination, while on the other hand we have to maintain a critical position in relation to the conservative ways of thinking that are partly dominant among these minorities.

For socialists the task is clear: the Muslim communities must be defended against being made scapegoats, against repression, against the very widespread representation that terrorism is proper to Islam. All that must be energetically fought. But at the same time we must not close our eyes to the social conservatism which reigns in these communities, nor hide it. We have to try to win this people to our own ideas. I would like to give an example: the last chapter of my book is an open letter to a young Muslim. After having written this letter, nearly a year later, I received a reply from some young Muslims. They thought that my letter was talking about them because they found in it remarks that they had made themselves. They were surprised to be taken so seriously and they had also discussed a lot among themselves. The result was that two of them joined the Scottish Socialist Party.

Our aim must be to reinforce the position of the youngest ones, who are turning in the direction of a progressive and secular perspective. That is very important. There are a lot of progressive people who can be found in the Muslim communities, but because of the atmosphere that reigns there, they can obviously not assert themselves openly. It is these people who can build secular forces and it is them that we must support. And it is above all among the young women that we will find such resources.

We can win over many of them if we don’t ignore them, which the far Left in France tends to do. The French far Left is the mirror image of British opportunism. It has practically no contact with the Muslim community and doesn’t consider that as a priority. Both attitudes are mistaken - we have to find a middle way.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Martin Jacques on imperial overstretch

Martin Jacques Comment
Imperial overreach is accelerating the global decline of America The disastrous foreign policies of the US have left it more isolated than ever, and China is standing by to take over
Tuesday March 28, 2006 The Guardian

'Our power, then, has the grave liability of rendering our theories about the world immune from failure. But by becoming deaf to easily discerned warning signs, we may ignore long-term costs that result from our actions and dismiss reverses that should lead to a re-examination of our goals and means."

These are the words of Henry Hyde, chairman of the House international relations committee and a Republican congressman, in a recent speech. Hyde argues that such is the overweening power of the US that it may not hear or recognise the signals when its policy goes badly wrong, a thinly veiled reference to Iraq. He then takes issue with the idea that the US can export democracy around the world as deeply misguided and potentially dangerous. He argues: "A broad and energetic promotion of democracy in other countries that will not enjoy our long-term and guiding presence may equate not to peace and stability but to revolution ... There is no evidence that we or anyone can guide from afar revolutions we have set in motion. We can more easily destabilise friends and others and give life to chaos and to avowed enemies than ensure outcomes in service of our interests and security."

It is clear that the US occupation of Iraq has been a disaster from almost every angle one can think of, most of all for the Iraqi people, not least for American foreign policy. The unpicking of the imperial logic that led to it has already commenced: Hyde's speech is an example, and so is Francis Fukuyama's new book After the Neocons, a merciless critique of Bush's foreign policy and the school of thought that lay behind it. The war was a delayed product of the end of the cold war and the triumphalist mentality that imbued the neocons and eventually seduced the US. But triumphalism is a dangerous brew, more suited to intoxication than hard-headed analysis. And so it has proved. The US still has to reap the whirlwind for its stunning feat of imperial overreach.

In becoming so catastrophically engaged in the Middle East, making the region its overwhelming global priority, it downgraded the importance of everywhere else, taking its eye off the ball in a crucial region such as east Asia, which in the long run will be far more important to the US's strategic interests than the Middle East. As such, the Iraqi adventure represented a major misreading of global trends and how they are likely to impact on the US. Hyde is clearly thinking in these terms: "We are well advanced into an unformed era in which new and unfamiliar enemies are gathering forces, where a phalanx of aspiring competitors must inevitably constrain and focus options. In a world where the ratios of strength narrow, the consequences of miscalculation will become progressively more debilitating. The costs of golden theories [by which he means the worldwide promotion of democracy] will be paid for in the base coin of our interests."

The promotion of the idea of the war against terror as the central priority of US policy had little to do with the actual threat posed by al-Qaida, which was always hugely exaggerated by the Bush administration, as events over the last four and a half years have shown. Al-Qaida never posed a threat to the US except in terms of the odd terrorist outrage. Making it the central thrust of US foreign policy, in other words, had nothing to do with the al-Qaida threat and everything to do with the Bush administration seeking to mobilise US public opinion behind a neoconservative foreign policy. There followed the tenuous - in reality nonexistent - link with Saddam, which provided in large measure the justification for the invasion of Iraq, an act which now threatens to unravel the bizarre adventurism, personified by Donald Rumsfeld, which has been the hallmark of Bush foreign policy since 9/11. The latter has come unstuck in the killing fields of Iraq in the most profound way imaginable.

Hyde alludes to a new "unformed" world and "a phalanx of aspiring competitors". On this he is absolutely right. The world is in the midst of a monumental process of change that, within the next 10 years or so, could leave the US as only the second largest economy in the world after China and commanding, with the rise of China and India, a steadily contracting share of global output. It will no longer be able to boss the world around in the fashion of the neoconservative dream: its power to do so will be constrained by the power of others, notably China, while it will also find it increasingly difficult to fund the military and diplomatic costs of being the world's sole superpower. If the US is already under financial pressure from its twin deficits and the ballooning costs of Iraq, then imagine the difficulties it will find itself in within two decades in a very different kind of world.

Hyde concludes by warning against the delusions of triumphalism and cautioning that the future should not be seen as an extension of the present: "A few brief years ago, history was proclaimed to be at an end, our victory engraved in unyielding stone, our pre-eminence garlanded with permanence. But we must remember that Britain's majestic rule vanished in a few short years, undermined by unforeseen catastrophic events and by new threats that eventually overwhelmed the palisades of the past. The life of pre-eminence, as with all life on this planet, has a mortal end. To allow our enormous power to delude us into seeing the world as a passive thing waiting for us to recreate it in an image of our choosing will hasten the day when we have little freedom to choose anything at all."

That the world will be very different within the next two decades, if not rather sooner, is clear; yet there is scant recognition of this fact and what it might mean - not least in our own increasingly provincial country. The overwhelming preoccupation of the Bush administration (and Blair for that matter) with Iraq, the Middle East and Islam, speaks of a failure to understand the deeper forces that are reshaping the world and an overriding obsession with realising and exploiting the US's temporary status as the sole global superpower. Such a myopic view can only hasten the decline of the US as a global power, a process that has already started.

The Bush administration stands guilty of an extraordinary act of imperial overreach which has left the US more internationally isolated than ever before, seriously stretched financially, and guilty of neglect in east Asia and elsewhere. Iraq was supposed to signal the US's new global might: in fact, it may well prove to be a harbinger of its decline. And that decline could be far more precipitous than anyone has previously reckoned. Once the bubble of US power has been pricked, in a global context already tilting in other directions, it could deflate rather more quickly than has been imagined. Hyde's warnings should be taken seriously.

International Rooksbyism has some interesting commentary on this piece, comparing it unfavourably to the approach of Arrighi, but worrying that Jacques is actually aligning himself to the politics of containing China that Hyde seems to want. At least he doesn't start by denouncing Jacques as the evil progenitor of Blairism as one-time editor of Marxism Today. Must be a generational shift.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

An Interview with Gilbert Achcar
State of Nature
"The victory of Hamas in Palestine is also a major victory for Iran, for Syria, for all the adversaries of the United States."

Gilbert Achcar teaches political science at the University of Paris-VIII and is a fellow researcher at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin. He is a frequent contributor to various publications, including Le Monde Diplomatique, Monthly Review and ZNet. His most recent books are Eastern Cauldron (2004), The Israeli Dilemma (2006) and The Clash of Barbarisms (2nd expanded ed., 2006, London: Saqi Books and Boulder (CO): Paradigm Publishers).

The following interview was conducted with SoN editor, Cihan Aksan, via telephone in March 2006.
State of Nature: With the recent rise in sectarian violence in Iraq, the suspicion that the U.S. is fostering civil strife in order to delay the withdrawal of its troops has gained strength. What is your response to this?

Gilbert Achcar: In a sense, this has been the case from the very beginning of the occupation. The United States chose what it thought would be a comfortable position, that of an arbiter between various contending factions and components of the Iraqi population. And this choice translated into the way they formed the institutions, very much based on a distribution of power and seats between the three major components of the population: the Kurds, the Arab Shia and the Arab Sunni.

The situation in the country has actually worsened very much since last year, when the United States started losing its grip on the local institutions as a result of the January election. The elected assembly was no longer under full U.S. control and since then we have seen increasingly frenzied attempts by the occupier at using whatever differences and divisions there are among Iraqis. This is the very old imperial recipe of 'divide and rule'.

SoN: What do you think this will lead to? Are we talking of the division of the country between the three groups? Or do you think the U.S. is not ready for that alternative at the moment?
GA: That would certainly not be a first option, and I even doubt that it would really be a second best option for the United States, if only for the simple reason that it would lead to some kind of Shia state controlling the bulk of Iraq's oil. Such a state could only be a close ally of Iran and would unleash a dangerous dynamic for the whole area, including the Saudi Kingdom where the main oil producing area is inhabited by a Shia majority. This is definitely not a scenario that suits Washington's interests. Moreover, it would destabilise the whole area and have very dangerous consequences for the global economy, as it would of course immediately affect the price of oil which has already started skyrocketing in the last couple of years. So I don't believe that the partition scenario - although it has been formulated or favoured by some people, especially in some neo-con circles, as a Plan B for Iraq - is something that Washington could seriously consider as representing a favourable outcome for U.S. interests.

SoN: How will Hamas be transformed by its electoral victory?

GA: It's quite hard to say because it depends on many factors, including the official reaction of the U.S. and Europe. For the time being they are testing or still pondering the different positions they could take. It also depends on how Israel will behave. But what I would say is that in light of what Hamas is, the way it has built its own victory, the kind of programme it embodies, I can hardly see as likely the rosy scenario that some people, out of wishful thinking, believe to be possible - that Hamas will just adapt to what they deem to be the 'reality' and join the so-called 'peace process' in some way. I don't think that it will be the case, because I don't think that Hamas would be willing to just abandon its political identity with such speed and for nothing real in exchange. And I don't think that the rosy scenario is possible, mainly because there is presently in Israel a very stubborn, very right-wing kind of majority and government and, in reality, Sharon and his followers in power are people who are, at the bottom of it, quite happy with this situation. It provides them with a pretext to go forward with their unilateral moves, shaping the 'final settlement' that suits them.

SoN: The U.S., EU and Israeli response to the Hamas victory has been to threaten diplomatic isolation and the cessation of funds for the Palestinian Authority. Iran has reacted by pledging its own financial assistance and calling for other Muslim nations to follow suit. Recent reports in the Arab Press, although denied by Hamas, claim that Iran will give as much as $250 million to the Hamas-led government. What is the significance of all this?

GA: Well, it just shows that the attempt at isolating Hamas, which actually means not isolating Hamas as such, but the elected government of the Palestinian people, will just backfire. It is obvious that the victory of Hamas in Palestine is also a major victory for Iran, for Syria, for all the adversaries of the United States in that part of the world. They are quite happy with this victory, and Iran has thus been provided with another political card in the area and is already using it. Iran was actually supporting Hamas long before the last election and Hamas reciprocated by coming out in solidarity with Iran after the recent provocative statements of the Iranian President. A few weeks before the election, Hamas proclaimed its support to the Iranian President and Khaled Meshaal, the Hamas leader who lives in exile in Damascus, went to Tehran to confirm this support. The Iranian government is saying that it is going to supply Hamas with what the Palestinian people need in terms of financial backing, and that's why even the Arab clients of the United States find themselves put in a corner and compelled to enter into this outbidding with Tehran - because they are very much afraid that Tehran might appear as the only supporter of Hamas. They feel that they must support Hamas, because they know that the Arab public opinion in this kind of confrontation between Hamas on the one hand and Israel and Europe on the other will, of course, stand fully on the side of Hamas.

SoN: The Lebanese organisation Hezbollah is credited with expelling Israel from Lebanon. To what extent can we say that their victory inspired support for Hamas in Palestine?

GA: The impact of the Hezbollah victory is real in the sense that the Hezbollah fight against the occupation definitely played a major role in getting Israel to evacuate southern Lebanon in the year 2000. This victory played a role at the time in enhancing the political appeal of Hamas, especially when contrasted with the dead-end reached by the Oslo process and the great disillusionment about it, as well as about the Arafat leadership that had betted on that process. The year 2000 was the year when you had the Camp David negotiations with Clinton, Barak and Arafat, the dead-end there on the condition of the final settlement, and then in September of the same year, the provocation by Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem which facilitated his own electoral victory in February 2001. All this precipitated a kind of radicalisation in the stances of both sides; the Israeli side of course and the Palestinian side with the outburst of the 'Second Intifada'. The victory of Hamas is the direct outcome of this political framework, to which of course should be added factors that have been emphasised by every observer and which are so obvious, especially the deep corruption of the Palestinian Authority in contrast to the reputation of Hamas as an organisation dedicated to social services and to serving the people.

SoN: Yes, very similar to Hezbollah in that sense.

GA: Again yes, very similar to Hezbollah. But all this does not mean, of course, that Hamas owes its victory to the Hezbollah. The Hezbollah factor played a role in enhancing the political appeal of Hamas, but even if you had no Hezbollah at all, I believe that Hamas would have won nevertheless, because of the dynamics on the Palestinian and Israeli scene.

SoN: Condoleezza Rice has requested $75 million this year to fund opposition groups in Iran. She has claimed the U.S. has a "menu of options" for dealing with Iran. What are these options? Which one will the U.S. ultimately take?

GA: My guess is that Washington itself would not be able to tell you which option they will ultimately take, because in a sense all options are quite risky and they have to consider a lot of factors: Iranian factors, Iraqi factors, regional factors beyond Iraq and Iran, and international factors. This issue is very complicated because Iran is a much harder nut to crack than Iraq was, at least with regard to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, which was by far the easiest part of the game. Overthrowing the Iranian regime is a much more difficult objective, first of all simply because Washington cannot invade Iran: this country is much bigger than Iraq and when we see the quagmire the U.S. is facing already in Iraq, we understand that it is out of the question that it invades Iran on top of it. Regime change in the Iraqi fashion is therefore practically out of the question for Iran, all the more so because the Iranian regime does indeed have a real social base. The recent elections which led to the victory of Ahmedinejad were not phoney elections, they were not fake or anything of the kind. Of course, it was a confrontation between two pillars of the same regime, and the range of political forces that were allowed to take part in the political process was strictly limited, but it was a real contest nevertheless. The outcome reflected the fact that the Iranian regime still had a real social base that could be mobilised by some dose of populism; it is still able to appeal to the nationalist sentiment of the public. The more Washington attacks the Iranian regime politically, the better it is for it in fact. This explains why Ahmedinejad, who is less crazy than what he is thought to be in the West, keeps provoking the United States and Israel. He knows exactly what he is doing, because this strengthens his hand at home and in the whole Muslim world, where statements of this kind find a wide popular approval. If Washington were to go beyond threats and strike militarily at Iran, aside from the fact that the military outcome of such strikes would not be guaranteed in any way, it could unleash a strong wave of protest and further radicalisation of the situation in the whole area, not only in Iran. It is therefore a very delicate and dangerous situation for the United States. But on the other hand, Washington believes that if Iran succeeded in getting the nuclear weapon, it would be a very dangerous development for U.S. interests in the whole area as Iran would be in possession of a much stronger deterrent, and accordingly a much enhanced ability to manoeuvre and act politically in the region. So I am sure that in Washington they are considering every kind of option, of course, but there is no option in terms of military aggression that they could try light-heartedly. For the time being, they are still trying to use this stick-and-carrot, bad cop, good cop tactic with Europe, Russia and so on in order at least to delay as long as possible whatever efforts the Iranians could be making at the nuclear level, in the hope that the situation might change again internally in Iran and that there could be a renewed rise of some anti-regime opposition in Iran. That's what Condoleezza Rice's statements were about actually: they mean that Washington is not able to change the regime from outside as it did in Iraq, so its only option is to try to change it from inside by supporting opposition forces. But the problem for them is that any opposition that is directly supported by the U.S. is discredited. Whatever changes took place in Iran before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it is a fact that since then the image of the United States has been deteriorating very rapidly in light of the quagmire in Iraq and the confrontation over the nuclear issue with Tehran.

SoN: How would you define the relationship between Iran and Russia?

GA: Iran is an important asset for the Russians: Moscow is left with a much reduced range of allies and client states and has not been paid back by the U.S. with any kind of concessions despite the very cooperative attitude that Putin showed the Bush administration, after 9/11 especially. In light of that, Russia is trying to reassert its own zone of influence and has again tightened its strategic relations with China. In Central Asia, Russia has again been involved in a direct competition with the United States, trying to contain its influence and roll it back after it entered that part of the world in the wake of 9/11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. We've seen, for example, how they recently got Uzbekistan to cancel the air base that it had leased to the United States. In that general framework Russia's relationship with Iran is very important. But on the other hand, Russia is economically very dependent on its relations with Germany, and since Germany is also very concerned about the Iranian issue and exerting pressure, Putin and the Russian government are trying to conciliate all these factors and pressures. But ultimately I think that Iran is of such a strategic importance that Russia won't break with Tehran, especially not in this situation where the wind is blowing in a direction quite contrary to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

SoN: A few weeks ago Khaled Meshaal from Hamas visited Turkey. This was followed by the Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari and in the next few days the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr will be arriving in Ankara. How do you interpret this busy traffic? What role is Turkey aiming to play in the Middle East?

GA: Well, these three visits, or in other words the Iraqi issue and the Palestinian issue, are not exactly the same. Hamas of course is trying hard to build up some diversified network of international links, which they never cared seriously about before. Since they are facing a threat of ostracism from Western countries, they are very much trying to build up relations that go beyond those governments with whom they can have 'natural' relations, i.e. governments at odds with the U.S. So the visit to Turkey is important for them since Turkey is a NATO country, an official ally of the United States, and at the same time the ruling party is Islamic. The Turkish government welcomed Hamas, I am sure, with a green light from Washington, which is mobilising its Muslim allies, the Saudis and the rest, hoping that they persuade Hamas to make the concessions that are required from it in order to enter the political process. For Iraq the issue is quite different. There is a sharpening confrontation between the Shia and the Kurds. The Kurdish alliance is the main and most reliable ally of Washington in Iraq and recently it has increasingly been confronting the Shia alliance, the majority of which is now composed of the alliance between Moqtada al-Sadr and Jaafari - as you know, Moqtada al-Sadr supported Jaafari in getting the Shia alliance's nomination for the post of prime minister. For the second time since the January 2005 election, the Kurdish alliance is trying very hard to impose the participation in the forthcoming government of Allawi, Washington's other key ally and stooge in Iraq, although he is now much weaker than last year. The Kurdish forces are trying that, both against the will of the Shia alliance and against the will of Tehran, which is very much opposed to Allawi. All these power games that are going on are linked to the Iraqi visits to Turkey. As everyone knows, Ankara is very concerned about the Kurdish alliance in Iraq: the Shia are therefore trying to get Turkey to exert pressure on the Arab Sunnis in order to disassociate them from the Kurds, because in the confrontation between the Kurds and the Shia, the Arab Sunnis are currently trying to better their own chances and to get a large piece of the cake by allying with the Kurds. This general framework also explains why the Kurdish alliance has reacted so violently to Jaafari's visit to Turkey.

SoN: Islamic fundamentalism has become the main form of anti-imperialist resistance in the Middle East. Is there any hope for a left-wing or progressive nationalist anti-imperialist revival in this region?

GA: First of all I wouldn't label Islamic fundamentalism as 'anti-imperialist'. Anti-imperialism is a label that I reserve for forces which think in such categories. But Islamic fundamentalists, if we mean by that the most fanatical brands, the likes of Bin Laden, Zarqawi and the rest, do not use such terms. They say they are fighting the Crusaders and the Jews, using that kind of vocabulary which reveals a very racist and fanatically religious conception of the world. And although they are fighting the main oppressor of the peoples in that part of the world, they are at the same time, especially with regards to their social programme and views, a very reactionary kind of current. Iraq is a good illustration of this, because there Zarqawi is not only waging a war against the occupation, which one might consider, at least objectively speaking, a legitimate war, but he is also waging a very murderous, sectarian kind of war, which by any standard is utterly and extremely reactionary. Of course, we cannot put this kind of fanatical fundamentalism in the same category as Hamas or Hezbollah or other such organisations with a real mass base. These organisations are really leading the mass struggle of their own national or religious constituencies against their major foreign oppressor, despite their reactionary social and political views that are a calamity for the true long-term interests of the masses. Of course, this is the outcome of the historical bankruptcy of the progressive forces in that part of the world, and at the same time also an outcome of the fact that Islamic fundamentalism has been used so intensively to fight all these progressive currents for many decades, chiefly by the United States itself actually. Now, how could we get a different kind of situation? Well, first of all one should stress the fact that a progressive struggle against imperialism is still possible on a world level, and Latin America provides the best proof for that. The fact that it is possible there and not in the Middle East for the time being is probably due to a large extent to the presence of a still widely popular Cuba. Because of Cuba, the whole idea of revolution and socialism has not been discredited in Latin America in the way that it has been in the rest of the Western world and the East. The fact that the image of Cuba is still overwhelmingly positive for Latin Americans helps to leave real room for a revival of left-wing forces. As for the Middle East, I am afraid that it will take a long historical period before we can get back to a situation where progressive forces will head the expression of mass resentment and discontent. This would take the historical reversal of the two processes that I have mentioned, that is, firstly, for the fundamentalist movement to get, in its turn, discredited and reach a state of blatant bankruptcy the way that progressive nationalism and left-wing forces did. For the time being though Islamic fundamentalism is still on the offensive and achieving victories. I am sure that this won't be the case forever, but it may take many years before the trend is reversed. Secondly, there is a need to build a new credibility for a left-wing alternative. I don't see any possibilities in the foreseeable future for any section of the left in that part of the world to achieve the kind of success that would accomplish that. It might be powerfully enhanced by experiences in other parts of the world, of course. Latin America is important, but it is quite far from the Middle East. I would say that developments in Europe are very important in that sense. Whatever happens on the political scene in Europe will be very important in shaping the political conditions of the future in the Middle East or the Muslim world. This means that there is a need not only to see an important advance of left-wing forces in Europe, but also of left-wing forces that behave correctly in their relation with the Muslim population of immigrant origin in Europe and fight against Islamophobia, which is developing very rapidly in Western countries. All this sets a lot of conditions and I'm afraid that, when one looks at all of that, one cannot be terribly optimistic. But I would say, using a very much used and even worn out formula, but one which remains valid, that in that part of the world, the optimism of the will can only be fostered presently by the pessimistic conviction that something worse could still happen and has to be prevented

Monday, March 20, 2006

Johann Hari: mea culpa

This is taken from Johann's web-site and there are some small differences with the print edition.

Independent March 20th 2006
After three years, after 150,000 dead, why I was wrong about Iraq
A melancholic mea culpa
A few weeks ago, a small moment – a little line of text – underlined for me how far life in Iraq has slumped. As I was reading a story, the ticker-tape on the BBC News website casually stated: ‘Car bomb in Baghdad; 50 dead.’ There were no accompanying details.

When these Iraqi suicide-massacres started to happen in Iraq, I would nervously call my friends out in Baghdad and Basra and Hilla to make sure they were okay. But I soon realised this was antagonising them, driving every bomb further into their skulls – should they store a standard text ‘No, not killed in suicide bomb today’ message and send it out three times a day? So I swallowed hard, waited, and the next day, I looked through all the newspapers for details. Nobody mentioned it. Suicide-slaughters the size of 7/7 are now so common they don’t even bleed into News in Brief.

So after three years and at least 150,000 Iraqi corpses, can those of us who supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein for the Iraqis’ sake still claim it was worth it? (I am assuming the people who bought the obviously fictitious arguments about WMD are already hanging their heads in shame).

George Packer, a recalcitrant Iraq-based journalist who tentatively supported the invasion, summarises the situation in the country today: “Most people aren’t free to speak their minds, belong to a certain group, wear what they want, or even walk down the street without risking their lives.” In many regions – including the British controlled South – power has been effectively ceded to fascist militias who “take over schools and hospitals, intimidate the staffs, assaulted unveiled women, set up kangaroo sharia courts that issue death sentences, repeatedly try to seize control of the holy shrines, run criminal gangs, firebomb liquor stores, and are often drunk themselves. Their tactics are those of fascist bullies.”

So when people ask if I think I was wrong, I think about the Iraqi friend – hiding, terrified, in his own house – who said to me this week, “Every day you delete another name from your mobile, because they’ve been killed. By the Americans or the jihadists or the militias – usually you never find out which.” I think of the people trapped in the siege of a civilian city, Fallujah, where amidst homes and schools the Americans indiscriminately used a banned chemical weapon – white phosphorous – that burns through skin and bone. (The Americans say they told civilians to leave the city, so anybody left behind was a suspected jihadi – an evacuation procedure so successful they later used it in New Orleans.). I think of the raw numbers: on the largest estimate – from the Human Rights Centre in Khadimiya – Saddam was killing 70,000 people a year. The occupation and the jihadists have topped that, and the violence is getting worse. And I think – yes, I was wrong. Terribly wrong.

The lamest defence I could offer – one used by many supporters of the war as they slam into reverse gear – is that I still support the principle of invasion, it’s just the Bush administration screwed it up. But as one anti-war friend snapped at me when I mooted this argument, “Yeah, who would ever have thought that supporting George Bush in the illegal invasion of an Arab country would go wrong?”

She’s right: the truth is that there was no pure Platonic ideal of The Perfect Invasion to support, no abstract idea we lent our names to. There was only Bush, with his cluster bombs, depleted uranium, IMF-ed up economic model, bogus rationale and unmistakable stench of petrol, offering his war, his way. (Expecting Tony Blair to use his influence was, it is now clear, a delusion, as he refuses to even frontally condemn the American torture camp at Guantanomo Bay).

The evidence should have been clear to me all along: the Bush administration would produce disaster. Let’s look at the major mistakes-cum-crimes. Who would have thought they would unleash widespread torture, with over 10,000 people disappearing without trial into Iraq’s secret prisons? Anybody who followed the record of the very same people – from Rumsfeld to Negroponte – in Central America in the 1980s. Who would have thought they would use chemical weapons? Anybody who looked up Bush’s stance on chemical weapons treaties (he uses them for toilet paper) or checked Rumsfeld’s record of flogging them to tyrants.

Who would have thought they would impose shock therapy mass privatisation on the Iraqi economy, sending unemployment soaring to 60 percent – a guarantee of ethnic strife? Anybody who followed the record of the US towards Russia, Argentina, and East Asia. Who could have known that they would cancel all reconstruction funds, when electricity and water supplies are still below even Saddam’s standards? Anybody who looked at their domestic policies.

The Bush administration was primarily motivated by a desire to secure strategic access to one of the world’s major sources of oil. The 9/11 massacres by Saudi hijackers had reminded them that their favourite client-state – the one run by the torturing House of Saud – was vulnerable to an internal Islamist revolution that would snatch the oil-wells from Haliburton hands. They needed an alternative source of Middle East oil, fast. I obviously found this rationale disgusting, but I deluded myself into thinking it was possible to ride this beast to a better Iraq. Reeling from a visit to Saddam’s Iraq, I knew that Iraqis didn’t care why their dictator was deposed, they just wanted it done, now.

As I thought of the ethnically cleansed [terrorized in print edition] Marsh Arabs I had met, reduced to living in a mud hut in the desert, I thought that whatever happens, however it occurs, it will be better. In that immediate rush, I – like most Iraqis – failed to see that the Bush administration’s warped motives would lead to a warped occupation. A war for oil would mean that as Baghdad was looted, troops would be sent to guard the oil ministry, not the hospitals – a bleak harbinger of things to come.

But it is easy for me to repent at leisure. Just as the opponents of the war would never have faced Saddam’s torture chambers, I am not hiding in my home, rocking and clutching a Kalashnikov. Millions of Iraqis are, and many thousands more did not live to see even that future because of the arguments of people like me.

And so, after the melancholic mea culpas from almost everyone but Blair and Bush, what? Iyaad Allawi – the man the Americans tried to impose as Prime Minister until a massive programme of peaceful civil disobedience spearheaded by the Ayatollah Sistani made elections unavoidable – says a low-level civil war has already begun. There has been a worrying trend among some right-wing commentators to blame the Iraqis: we though you guys would be a Czechoslovakia, but if you insist on being a Yugoslavia, fine. There have even been evil whispers that Iraq “needs a Saddam” to hold it together.

But this is not a grassroots civil war a la Rwanda or the Balkans, where neighbour hacks to pieces neighbour. It is a top-down civil war, fought by a minority of militias, all of whom (apart from the jihadi-Zarquawi crowd, who are a very small minority) claim to fight in the name of keeping Iraq together. Until 2003, over 20 percent of Iraqi marriages were across the Sunni-Shia divide – is husband now going to turn on wife, and mother on son?

It is very hard to see a solution, but I believe the threads of one are visible. The polls show that most of these violent militias draw their support from the fact that they oppose the foreign troops, not from the fact that they massacre fellow-Iraqis. So the best way to drain their support – and dampen the inertia towards civil war – is to withdraw the troops now.

Iraqis can see this very clearly: a poll recently conducted by the Ministry of Defence (hardly an anti-war source) found that 80 percent of Iraqis want out “immediately” so they can deal with the remaining jihadists and anti-democratic fundamentalists themselves. (In a revealing mirror-image, a Zogby poll of US troops in Iraq found that 72 percent believe the occupation should end within the year. This will soon be a surreal war where the unwilling occupy the unwilling.)

Yes, there is a danger that withdrawal will create a power vacuum exploited by militias, but that is the reality on the ground already. It is unquestionably time to leave Iraq – but will the Bush administration surrender Iraq’s oil, after spending $200bn to grab it, just because the Iraqi people and their own troops want them to?

POSTSCRIPT: There's been a collosal response to this article and I'm still picking through the e-mails. Over fifty from Iraqis, of which some mournfully agree, although this e-mail was more typical:"Your article in the Independent today, 20/3/2006, was really disappointing to all of your admirers. You let them down. You changed your mind and switched from pro-war to join the anti-war campaigners, means that you gave in bowed to the aggressors. So instead of blaming the terrorists for this mass killing in Iraq at the hand of the terrorists, you put the blame on Bush and Blair for liberating Iraqi people from the worst dictator in history. If your new stance is right, then it was wrong to stand up against Hitler in the WW II, because that war caused humanity 55 million casualties. So it was better not oppose the Axis sates. Is that fair? Is this is the justice that we are looking for? If the tyrants were left to do as they like because of the possible revenge from their followers, then our glob will be place for the tyrants only and the whole planet population will be living like sheep. Abdulkhaliq Hussein"
The Independent - 18/04/2006

The World Socialist Web Site picks up on this some time later in 'A mea culpa on Iraq by pro-war journalist Johann Hari' by Paul Bond (22 April 2006). They welcome his change of heart, but don't think he is exonerated from his direct political responsibility for the war (come on guys, he's only a columnist) and don't think much of his general method - only attacking imperialism when it goes wrong.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Martin Jacques on Berlusconi

Martin Jacques is in Singapore now: who can keep up with him. Interesting in The Guardian article today by him warns against Berlusconi: he is the devil.

Paul Le Blanc on Rosa Luxemburg

Paul Le Blanc has written a nice piece for the Monthly Review webzine: mrzine on The Challenge of Revolutionary Democracy in the Life and Thought of Rosa Luxemburg. Le Blanc argues that the only way to bring her to life is to embrace the challenge of her ideas for our own time, starting with the insistence that capitalism and democracy are incompatible, and that democracy comes through the sruggles and organization of the working-class. And as an advocate of a deep working-class democracy Luxemburg was a critic of the Bolsheviks' 'dangerously expansive justifications' for the early undemocratic emergency measures and carries the resounding words:
"Without general elections, without unrestricted freedom of press and assembly,
without a free struggle of opinion, life dies out in every public institution,
becomes a mere semblance of life, in which only the bureaucracy remains as the
active element. Public life gradually falls asleep, a few dozen party leaders of
inexhaustible energy and boundless experience direct and rule. Among them,
in reality only a dozen outstanding heads do the leading and an elite of the working
class is invited from time to time to meetings where they are to applaud the speeches
of the leaders, and to approve proposed resolutions unanimously -- at bottom, then,
a clique affair -- a dictatorship, to be sure, not the dictatorship of the proletariat,
however, but only the dictatorship of a handful of politicians. . . ." (from 'The Russian Revolution', in Rosa Luxemburg Speaks).

Good stuff.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

London Review of Books Vol 28, 5 March 9th 2006

The LRB (Vol 28, 5) contains much of interest.

Charles Glass has a review essay about Osama Bin Laden, 'Cyber-Jihad' which starts with an evocation of the fears of the McCarthyite period as a comparison in fear. Now, the US is winning the body-count, but Osama has the upper hand and will attack again. Osama's Messages to the World is clearly an important text. There are ambiguities in Osama's messages, aside from the determination to attack the US. Here's an interesting quote:
"Anti-semitism of a vicious kind infects many of the bin Laden edicts. His rhetoric harks back
to a moment in early Islamic history, when Muhammad and his followers fought non-Muslim
tribes who happened to be Christian, Jewish and polytheist. ‘These Jews are masters of usury
and leaders in treachery,’ bin Laden stated in a 53-minute audiotape broadcast on 14 February
2003. ‘They will leave you nothing, either in this world or the next.’ In the same epistle, he
brought down the Prophet Muhammad’s wrath on the Jews:
Our umma has also been promised victory over the Jews, as our Prophet told us:
‘The Day of Judgment will not come until the Muslims fight and kill the Jews.
They will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and trees will say: O Muslim,
oh servant of God, there is a Jew behind me, so come and kill him. This is except
for the boxthorn tree, which is the tree of the Jews.’
Although the passage above comes from a hadith of the Prophet that is not recognised by all
Muslims, its message is clear: defeat of the Jews is a religious priority. However, other epochs
in Muslim history, when the umma’s existence was not threatened, show that anti-semitism,
far from being essential to the Muslim message, is antithetical to it. Bin Laden, subtle in other
ways, rarely distinguishes between Zionism and Judaism, between Israeli actions against
Palestinians and the long history of Muslim-Jewish fraternisation throughout the Islamic world,
between the politics of the moment and the essential duty of Muslims to honour the previous
Peoples of the Book – Jews, Zoroastrians and Christians. Bin Laden’s anti-semitism contrasts
with the golden ages of Islam, when the Muslim world welcomed Jews fleeing Christian persecution
in Europe. The Ottoman Empire, the princely states of North Africa and Islamic Persia all made
themselves havens for Jews. In pre-British Iraq, Jews were so much a part of society’s fabric
that the banks closed, not on Friday for Muslim prayers, but on the Jewish Sabbath. Bin Laden
is introducing a new concept into Islam when he says, as he did in 1998: ‘Every Muslim, from
the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews and hates
Christians. This is a part of our belief and our religion.’ His belief perhaps, but not Islam’s. "

Finally a comparison between bin Laden and Savonarola

Eric Hobsbawm writes about a new biography of J.D.Bernal by Andrew Brown. Bernal comes across as dazzling as ever, but according to this authoritative review this volume is stronger on biography, especially the Irish background, than politics. Fred Steward in Swann & Aprahamiam's J.D.Bernal: A Life in Science and Politics (1999) gets mentioned, as does the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Bernal's relationship to state scientific policy as a Stalinist (willing to defend the 'charlatan' Lysenko).

Terry Eagleton writes about Fredric Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (Verso 2005) starts with a discussion of Benjamin and the Marxist predicament of either having or not having a 'blueprint' for the future. Eagleton finds a strand of 'negative utopianism' that Jameson apparently misses and is taken up by Russell Jacoby in Picture Imperfect. And here's what I really like: Eagleton says 'The only image of the future is the failure of the present'. Eagleton criticizes Jameson for confusing morality with moralism, but a brilliant review of a clearly brilliant book.

Tariq Ali contributes a Diary (sub required) from Libya, which includes an observation I've heard him make about hijabed women in Cairo, "it's what is worn below the neck that attracts attention." He discusses the cartoons crisis:
"It took five months of concentrated lobbying in the Muslim world by a travelling imam from
Denmark to manufacture this ‘anger’. In occupied Afghanistan about five hundred people joined
a demonstration. Were their thoughts on the cartoons or the ruin and destruction around them?
Feeling powerless, they used the cartoons as an excuse to march outside a US military base.
The marines opened fire and two young boys died."

Tariq contrasts the militancy of some to the newfound restraint of the Muslim Brotherhood, but also quotes Nasrullah the 'charismatic Hizbollah' leader saying, "if the faithful had carried out Ayatollah Khomeini’s injunction and killed the apostate Rushdie, the Danish newspaper editor would never have dared to publish these cartoons."

His take on the religious aspect is worth quoting at length:
"The religious objection to the cartoons is first that they portray the Prophet of Islam,
and second that they do so in caricature, a form of representation ‘painful’ to all believers.
There is nothing in the Quran itself that forbids portraits of the Prophet or anyone else.
There are proto-Judaic injunctions against idolatry, but these refer to the worship of statues
depicting gods and goddesses. Islamic tradition, the bulk of which was constructed after
Muhammad’s death, is contradictory on the matter. As the young religion conquered old
empires it was faced with practical problems. Whose image should replace that of the
Byzantine or Persian rulers on coins? There are early eighth-century Islamic coins with
an image of the Prophet. Even centuries later, in the post-Islamic Turkish and Persian
traditions, his image was not taboo.

"Back in London as I write this I have in front of me a striking edition of the illustrations
to the Miraj-nameh, an early medieval Islamic account of the Prophet’s ascent to heaven
from the Dome of the Rock and the punishments he observed as he passed through hell.
Some European scholars maintain that a Latin translation of this work might have given
Dante a few ideas. The stunning illustrations in this 15th-century copy were exquisitely
calligraphed by Malik Bakshi of Herat (now in Afghanistan) in the Uighur script. There are
61 illustrations in all, created with great love for the Prophet. He is depicted with Central
Asian features and seen flying to heaven on a magical steed with a woman’s head. There
are also illustrations of a meeting with Gabriel and Adam, a sighting of houris at the gates
of Paradise, and of winebibbers being punished in hell.

"Muhammad insisted he was only the Messenger, a human being, not a divinity, and the
main reason later Islamic tradition did not want his image shown was the fear it might be
worshipped (like that of Jesus and Mary), when that prerogative belonged to Allah alone.
But even in the absence of an image, the Prophet of Islam is worshipped as a virtual divinity,
otherwise the reaction of the ultra-orthodox to any perceived insult to him is incomprehensible. Muhammad’s son-in law, Caliph Ali, the posthumous inspirer of the Shia faction of Islam,
and his sons, Hasan and Hussein, are also represented in various religious art forms in Iran
and worshipped."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

US Socialist Worker 579 March 10th 2006

Notice of the the ISO's latest Socialist Worker (#579, March 10th) reaches me. Contents include a story about 'Protesting anti-Muslim cartoons: “Standing up against hatred” from the Universoty of California-Irvine, where right-wingers explicitly atempted to use the Danish cartoons to build an Islamophobic agenda and got a big response of resistance. There's also an article on 'Where is the antiwar movement headed? ' by Eliabeth Wrigley-Field, from the Campus Antiwar Network (and ISO) in advance of the international March 18th protests, which it seems isn't going to be marked in the US with a national demonstration, although there will be local protests. From this perspective the anti-war movement is still on the defensive and still under too much influence by the Democratic Party, in particular from 'Campus Progress', funded by the DP; while Unite for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) is organising a broad multi-issue demo on April 29th.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Weekly Worker 614 March 2nd 2006

The latest Weekly Worker (March 2nd 2006, #614) has a classic (or even pastiche) Soviet socialist realist cover for International Women's Day, with a centre-page article on its history, drawing the differences between 'communists' and Respect.

Respect gets more treatment with an article spinning out the resignation of two prospective candidates from Tower Hamlets Respect and their defection to the LibDems ('How many more careerists?'). Peter Manson's take is that the SWP orientation was to build an alliance between 'muslim activists' and 'secular socialists', but light on policies and principles and opportunist. The Muslim/Mosque 'world view' is to work with the SWP, but move on to 'greener pastures', especially it seems 'careerists'. Hmmm, I think this is too cynical about 'Muslims' and too eager too put them into one negative category. The incident sparking this split was over the allocation of seats for the council, with John Rees being nominated for the Whitechapel ward where they think they have the best chance of winning against Shamsuddin Ahmed, who seems to have a strong Bengali base in the area. Manson has an interview with Ahmed, who has turned against Galloway, Rees and the whole project; and he does come across an opportunistic egotist. The article admits this is a small split. Finally the article comments on press rumours about Galloway planning to go to Scotland, which Respect is denying. Sheridan and Galloway?

Nick Rogers looks at the SSP conference, basically warning against 'Allying with the nationalists'.

'Dave Craig' of the RDG treads familiar water in 'Britain's drystone wall', taking up David Cameron's intention to end the royal prerogative, Charles Windsor the political dissident and the outcome of the Power Commission to insist on the importance of republicanism.

Lawrence Parker looks at the SWP's reaction to the cartoons crisis and finds a Stalinist approach to 'cultural production'. Hmmm, got to agree on the SWP's orientation towards Lukacs and socialist realism, but this just doesn't deal with the political issues.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Wallerstein on storm clouds agathering

Commentary No. 180, Mar. 1, 2006
"Major Storm Clouds Gathering"
The level of agitation is rising everywhere, and the world-system has never been more anarchic than now. We may be going over the edge. The bombing of the Askari Mosque in Iraq resulted not only in an immediate and large surge in intra-group violence in Iraq, but has probably derailed the efforts of the U.S. Ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, to bring about Sunni participation in the Iraqi government. This could mean a failure to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority vote to establish the government and therefore new elections, which would be very difficult to arrange in the present climate. At the very same time, the U.S. Army has demoted the single Iraqi unit previously thought capable of military operations without U.S. support to one that still needs U.S. support. The United States is now being openly criticized - indeed attacked - by the principal Shia parties, creating for the first time a pan-Iraqi hostility to U.S. presence and objectives in Iraq. And the British in Basra are now as limited in their ability to control the situation as the Americans in Baghdad.

Everyone, everywhere is discussing the issue of the famous cartoons published by Jyllands-Posten in Denmark. Most of the discussion in the Western world has missed the point. Everyone seems to be debating the issue of freedom of the press versus responsibility of the press. That is an old debate, and frankly rather beside the main issue of the moment. The main issue is why people are so extremely agitated about this issue, not only in the Muslim world but in the Western world. This seems to be more than the usual issue of blasphemy.

It seems to be clear that the Danish publication of the cartoons, and their republication by a number of other Western journals, reflects at the very least exasperation with the Muslim populations in their midst and for many outright racist xenophobia. Fear and anger abound. And there are growing numbers of people in Denmark, but not only in Denmark, who would like somehow to rid their countries of Muslim populations, or at the very least stop the inflow.

And the violent reaction throughout the Muslim world reflects more than the mere issue of a protest against the visual portrayal of Muhammad. The cartoons are rather the excuse for the expression of a degree of anger and fear of Western intrusion into their countries that has overflowed. The attempts of Muslim governments to channel this anger, by themselves leading the attack, has backfired in that the demonstrators have now turned actively against them, as in Pakistan, where President Musharraf's erstwhile Islamist supporters are now calling for his resignation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government is being assailed in the Western world to a degree not previously known. Suddenly the prison at Guantanamo is a matter of widespread concern, and condemnation. This is coming not merely from the usual left critics of the Bush regime, but from the governments of Great Britain, France, and Germany, from the United Nations, and from human rights groups across the world. They are calling for shutting down the base immediately, and either bringing the inmates to trial or releasing them. Their language is suddenly very strong, not that the Bush regime is ready to concede the case.

The blow-up over the prospect of a Dubai firm owning some of the operations in U.S. ports is in part an internal U.S. electoral game, but in part a matter of irrational hysteria about Arabs owning anything in the United States. Security at the ports is indeed lax, but it is not the companies who own the operations but the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that ensures security, and would continue to do so, however poorly they have been doing it.

What seems the culminating blow to the Bush regime is to have the elder statesman of the U.S. conservative movement, William Buckley, write an article in conservatism's premier review, National Review, in which he says: "One can't doubt that the American objective in Iraq has failed." He calls for the "acknowledgment of defeat." If one of the leaders of the pro-war camp wants to acknowledge defeat, Bush is indeed in very great trouble. But also, it means that things are falling apart within the United States. In the words of William Butler Yeats, when "things fall apart, the centre cannot hold."

The reaction thus far of the neo-con cabal in the Bush regime, led by Vice-President Cheney, himself in increasing trouble with the U.S. public, has been to plunge ahead as if nothing had happened. They are advocating war on Iran (unlikely they will succeed even in launching it, but nonetheless). And now Cheney wants the U.S., which has accumulated enemy after enemy, to take on Putin and Russia as well. Cheney is the U.S.'s Samson, pulling down the temple. He may only succeed in stimulating a U.S. civil war.