Monday, March 31, 2008

Tariq Ali on anti-war non-movement

50,000 Ugandans fighting in Iraq?
29.3.208 MRZine
No War: The Movement That Has Dissolved Itself
by Tariq Ali

What has happened to the movement against the war that exploded in 2003, mobilizing millions of people in the entire West, to the point that the New York Times called it "the second superpower"?

The fact is that it never was, in the true and proper sense of the word, a movement -- only a day of paroxysm, a spontaneous and desperate attempt of citizens of all political persuasions to stop the war.

It was conceived, if you will, as a preventive blow against a war that people instinctively knew was based on a heap of lies. The day when the war really began, antiwar mobilizations began to die. Citizens, demoralized by their own failure, could no longer find the strength to take to the streets in great numbers.

Nevertheless, on the fifth anniversary of this cruel and immoral occupation, data from Iraq are dramatic: more than a million civilians dead, and at least as many injured; three million refugees taking shelter in neighboring countries; total destruction of social infrastructures of the country, and its de facto Balkanization.

In the face of all that, the response of North American and European citizens is silence. Why? There is no solidarity with the Iraqis. They are Arabs, largely Muslims, and the wave of Islamophobia that has swept the West has brought with it the dehumanization of those who were murdered.

The same thing happened when eighteenth-century and nineteenth-century European colonialism conquered the Maghreb. The atrocities committed by Italians in Libya and the public hanging of the rebel leader Sheikh Mukhtar did not provoke the least emotion in Italy. It took a long time before the French protested against the Algeria war. The examples are many. The "civilizing mission fever," now as then, has demobilized the Western public opinion. Then, there is the fact that the groups resisting the occupation of Iraq tend to be religious (although the religious are not the only ones): and the movements of workers and progressives in general in Western Europe, increasingly in crisis, are indifferent to their destiny -- just as they are indifferent to the suffering of Palestinians.

All that is also a reflection of what is happening in the West itself. Although in the last several years there has been scarce any mobilization against the war to speak of, a majority of the North American and European citizens are still in favor of the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraq: however, their voices are not being heard by the political establishment. There is a growing crisis of political representation in the West. Democracy is becoming hollow. In the US electoral campaign, both the Democratic candidates publicly say they are in favor of a withdrawal from Iraq, but privately they reassure the military that they do not seriously intend to withdraw despite being forced to say so because people are discontent.

In the end, the fact that there is no draft in the US means that most Americans are not directly affected by the war. Military families opposed to the war constitute the only important pressure group. As a substitute for the draft, the US has recruited mercenaries from all over the world: there are 50,000 Ugandans, thousands of Central Americans, South Africans, and others who are paid the market price to fight in Iraq. Who cares if they die? It's a risk that they assume, in exchange for wages and US citizenship. A grim picture, which should make Westerners think.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

Wallerstein interviewed on 'European Universalism'

MRZine March 27th 2008
"European Universalism Is Used to Justify Imperialism": An Interview with Immanuel Wallerstein
by Olivier Doubre
Sociologist and historian at Yale University, Immanuel Wallerstein has described the globalization of capitalism, and today he criticizes Western "universalist" justifications of expansionism.

OD: In your book European Universalism, you revisit the 16th-century debate between Las Casas and Sepulveda on the American Indians. In what respect does this debate seem to you particularly relevant to the debate on universalism?

Immanuel Wallerstein: The intellectual justifications that Sepulveda gave, in the 16th century, to justify the conquests of the Indian lands are, almost word for word, the same ones used for colonization, and the ones that are given today for what is called intervention. Moreover, Las Casas' responses at that time seem to me much clearer than many criticisms of intervention today. Sepulveda's arguments were as follows: the others are barbarians, we must protect the innocent (whom the barbarians massacre) -- constant justification for all interventions -- and, finally, it is necessary to permit the diffusion of universalism, supposedly universal values. At that time, it concerned evangelization and the expansion of the Christendom. Today, these values are "freedom and democracy." But they are in fact the same thing.

OD: Drawing upon the work of Braudel, you have elaborated on the concept of "world-system" to describe the political and economic environment. What do you mean by this term?

IW: Social science analyses during the 19th and 20th centuries rested primarily on a unit of analysis which was the state, encompassing society, particularly with the nation state. All states exist in parallel with one another and follow more or less the same structural trajectory, even if some were more advanced than others. For me, this formula rests on a quite inaccurate vision. Rather, we have lived in a "world-system" since the beginning of the époque called modernity in the 16th century when the capitalist economy was born in an embryonic form in a small part of the world, Europe. The world is thus a unit of analysis vaster than the state. The capitalist system has gradually succeeded, by its internal processes, in extending itself to the totality of the world. You can in fact see that, since the end of the 19th century, the whole world has been governed by this capitalist system, to this day. Studying this world-system, in my opinion, makes it possible to enrich the approach of social sciences, by considering states as elements constituting themselves within this system. But they are not the only elements of the system, in which races, classes, nations, households, etc. also exist. All are institutions within this capitalist world-economy. Above all, this concept allows me to show that, like any structure, it has gone through various phases: initially its emergence and establishment, then its development, finally the moment of its structural crisis, before that of its disappearance. I think that we are currently living this moment of structural crisis, and, while I won't venture to guess a precise date or time, we shall witness (perhaps twenty-five to fifty years from now) its disappearance -- or rather its replacement by another thing. One cannot say by what, for the time being, but the process is inexorably moving.

OD: How is your criticism of European universalism articulated with this concept of "world- system"?

IW: Consider this world-system -- it needs an ideology, what I call a "geoculture," allowing it to justify its structural development. This book, European Universalism, is thus an effort to describe the rhetoric used by the powerful1: European universalism is used to justify imperialism, Western expansionism. Obviously, variants exist in sophisticated arguments. The first, the most brutal (as in Iraq today), consists in saying that the others are barbarians, whom we must tame. A second variant, a little more subtle, studied by Edward Said under the name of "Orientalism," claims that the others are different beings, fixed in their differences, to whom we must bring true civilization -- an argument that one finds in Samuel Huntington in particular. Lastly, a third type of argument is that of scientific truth to which one appeals to impose the Western point of view. And, as it so happens, this alleged scientific truth is held by the most powerful countries in the world!

OD: You observe that, in the relations within this world-system, for the powerful it is always easy to give but much more difficult to receive. . .

IW: Indeed, the powerful do not accept the idea that they have something to receive from others. They rebuff others who they think don't have anything to offer them. For example, George W. Bush just visited Benin: in his mind, what can he possibly receive from Benin? Only the United States can give things to Benin. The world-system, seen from the point of view of the powerful, rests on this type of relationship among its members.

OD: During your conference at the Maison de l'Europe, on 20 February, Daniel Bensaïd declared: "Since 1991, our époque, in a way, has resembled 1830-1840, i.e. a utopian moment when the possible doesn't have a face yet. Hence, in the figure of the alterglobalization movement, the frequency of the term 'Other,' which is the unknown, the indefinite." Do you share his analysis?

IW: In my opinion, this moment did not begin in 1991 but in 1968, when one witnessed a beginning of the collapse of great truths established and accepted for a very long time. In this type of period, it is normal for people to fall into confusion, not knowing what to do. Obviously, this impotence was reinforced again after 1991, when the Soviet Union, which had till then seemed immovable, ended up breaking down. Since then, it is especially the Left that has seemed at a loss for points of reference, with a great deal of pessimism. However, I believe that today we are seeing neoliberal globalization, which has extended itself everywhere since then, starting to show its limits: with the Zapatistas, Social Forums, Seattle, Genoa, people went back to discussion, in search of new experiments, new solutions. In 2002, I wrote an article in which I said: "The United States has already lost its hegemony!" At that time, people treated me as if I were crazy, but I don't believe I was mistaken after all: we are there, the United States is well on its way to losing its hegemony! That is why I believe that Bensaïd is right to say that we are now in a "time of Utopia"; for my part, I would rather call it a search for alternatives, where one wonders "what is to be done?". . . It seems to me that the Right, too, is increasingly finding itself in doubt, also raising the question "what is to be done?". . .

1 The subtitle of the American edition is precisely "The Rhetoric of Power." L'universalisme européen. De la colonisation au droit d'ingérence, Immanuel Wallerstein, translated from English by Patrick Hutchinson, Démopolis, 142 pp., 15 euros.
The original interview in French was published in Politis on 6 March 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi.