Archive for October, 2005
Last winter I went to a liberal church in Cambridge to hear Chris Hedges deliver a pre-publication version of his May 2005 Harpers article Soldiers of Christ II: Feeling the hate with the National Religious Broadcasters. He spoke about the dangers posed by the Christian Right. He argued that the Christian Right was not a religious movement, but an authoritarian political movement. He detailed the drive of this movement to take over the country, using any means necessary. He made it clear that they were not interested in dialog with those they disagreed with, using as evidence, a rift between the National Religious Broadcasters association and the National Association of Evangelicals after the latter initiated a dialog with the National Council of Churches.
Hedges concluded by citing a professor of his, Dr. James Luther Adams, who 25 years ago warned of the dangers of the “Christian Fascists.” Dr. Adams pointed out that the Christian Right’s first target might be lesbians and homosexuals, but that a later target would be us.
As I listened, chills ran down my spine. Hedges was saying the forces akin to fascists were on the march and coming our way. I wondered how the audience, largely composed of liberal churchgoers, would respond to the talk. When Hedges finished, they clapped politely. Questions were asked about this point and that. Hedges declined to give out copies of the talk because, as he said, Harpers wouldn’t pay him if it was published somewhere else first. After a few minutes, the audience started looking for the cake then being served. A few looked to see if ham remained from the pre-speech lunch. People drank their coffee and chatted amicably. That’s when I truly became afraid.
Here we had just been told that the fascists were on the march, aiming straight for us, and cake and coffee was the number one priority. Where was the response to what we had just been told? Where was the discussion of how to fight back? Would these people fight at all? If not them, who would?
What was lacking was the passion to fight, the sense that what these people did really mattered, or even any obligation to do anything to confront what, I’m sure many agreed was a serious danger. I already had been thinking about the dilemma of passion. Passion for social action is aided by strong belief and a sense of certainty that one is right. Also important is a belief that one’s opponents are more than wrong, that they are evil.
As a psychoanalyst, I realize that this is the passion of splitting and projection. In this view, the world is divided into the good and the evil, with the other, the opponent, the enemy, as an embodiment of evil and good residing in one’s self and one’s allies. This evil takes on the qualities of one’s self of which one is guilty or ashamed, the qualities one needs to disown. In other words, this view constitutes a paranoid approach to the world.
Now paranoia can be very powerful. It produces intense energy for the effort to fight evil, while emphasizing one’s goodness and one’s importance. Think here of the Bush administration with it’s division of the world into the good and the evil empire, or of the similarly inspired Blair regime in Britain. But think as well of the culture of “political correctness” that, in the name of acceptance of diversity easily condemns those who disagree with labels intended often as indicators of evil and as a rejection of any potential discussion: racist, sexist, or whatever. Also think of the various socialist sects, composed of often only a dozen or less people, who spend their lives developing programs to lead the working class to the socialist promised land and attacking other similarly-sized sects. Monty Python depicted these groups in their Life of Brian:
- “Brothers! Brothers! We should be struggling together!”
- “We are!”
- “We mustn’t fight each other! Surely we should be united against the common enemy!”
- “”The Judean People’s Front?!”
- “”No, no! The Romans!”
- “”Oh, yeah.”
So, the very belief and certainty that provide energy and motivation to remain committed to righting the world’s wrongs can also reduce one’s openness to the complexity of the world. In its extremes, it can lead one to become virtually indistinguishable from one’s opponents. We have a long history of “liberation movements” becoming as oppressive as the regimes they opposed: the Soviet Union lurching from the crushing of the Kronstadt Commune to the Gulag; Communist China with the disasters of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution only to end up with “To make money is glorious!;” and the story of liberated Zimbabwe crushing opposition and starving the populace into submission. It seems likely that the origins of this oppression was based, at least in part, in the processes leading to “liberation,” including, among other factors, the “us versus them” approach that does not encourage tolerance of differences or dissent.
Yet, an acceptance of the complexity of the world, of the difficulty of certainty, can lead in turn to an inability or unwillingness to act. In the United States and many other countries today there is a pervasive cynicism. “What’s the point? All politicians are corrupt.” Such attitudes encourage a retreat into the private world of our families, of work, of television, and of celebrity. If nothing really matters, why not follow the latest celebrity scandal or reality TV show; at least they’re interesting and provide ample material for conversation and for fantasy. Further, the basic irrelevance of what happens provides a protection. My life goes on whether Michael Jackson is guilty or innocent.
How can this cynicism and its associated passivity be confronted and a passion for confronting the problems of society be sustained without resulting in the paranoid approach of good versus evil? Can those listening to Chris Hedges be inspired to oppose the looming threat of the Christian Right without resorting to the same dichotomizing of good ad evil that terrorizes us in the right and that has the potential of creating a society all too similar to that we oppose? This is the dilemma of passion. I do not have an easy answer. But I know this is a dilemma those of us working for a better society face every day. It’s a dilemma we must openly discuss and confront lest we, like so many others, become that which we oppose.
To be continued…
October 12th, 2005
A major crisis is brewing and the administration and press are largely ignoring it. Heating costs are predicted to rise 30-50% this winter over last year. For many of the poor, this will be a catastrophe, one that there are no government plans to tackle [See Does Bush even know about the impending heating crisis this winter? on AmericaBlog.]
But it’s important to remember that these increases will pose serious problems for many in the northern half of the country who are not “poor”, but don’t have extra hundreds of dollars floating around to donate to the oil and natural gas companies. Expect tempers to heat up when the temperature gets cold.
October 10th, 2005
[THE FOLLOWING IS A RESPONSE I WROTE TO A COMMENTATOR ON MY RECENT ARTICLE: The Left, the Enemy of My Enemy, and Liberation:
The Case of the Iraqi Resistance [See below, or on ZNet]. THE CORRESPONDENT HAD RAISED THE POINT THAT THERE WERE REPORTS THAT MOST RESISTANCE ATTACKS WERE AGAINST THE US, RATHER THAN IRAQI MILITARY AND CIVILIANS. ALSO RAISED WAS THE ALLEGED LIKELIHOOD THAT US/BRITISH COVERT FORCES WERE BEHIND MUCH OF THE ANTI-CIVILIAN MAYHEM ACROSS IRAQ, SIMILAR TO THE ACTIVITIES OF THE US-SUPORTED DEATH SQUADS INCENTRAL AMERICA.]
Thanks for the thoughtful note. I’m aware of the report on the number of anti-American attacks. For one thing, I haven’t seen any data on this since the spring, and many reports have suggested a considerable drop in anti-US attacks and increase in anti-Iraqi (civilian, police, and military). Further, the fact that these forces attack Americans doesn’t negate my point. Most liberal to left commentators who seem to have a sense of what’s going on – e.g, Juan Cole, Gilbert Achar, Patrick Cockburn, Pepe Excobar, Scott Ritter — see the resistance as composed of Wahhabists and Neo-Baathists in various mix, representing almost exclusively Sunni forces, and resenting the pro-government forces, not only for supporting the occupation, but also for representing Shia interests.
Early on, there were accounts of numerous small groups, moved by personal experiences, attacking Americans. Given the extent of technological innovation occurring in weaponry, this seems unlikely to be continuing on any large scale. Most commentators have described a consolidation of forces under a few organizations. But, these issues are still murky.
In any case, I see no evidence of a truly nationalist resistance putting the interests of the nation above sectarian (in the broad sense) interests. Why has the Association of Muslim Clerics only grudgingly and occasionally criticized the terror bombings of hundreds of Shia? Remember, there was widespread revulsion against the April 2004 attack on Fallujah, but little Shia protest of the November destruction of the city. People no longer saw the resistance there as representing anything but sectarian interests.
I no longer feel confident that things will improve with US withdrawal. I think the fragmentation has gone to far, especially with the likely passage on the federalist Constitution (now that Sadr has given tacit support). I still oppose the occupation, because I can’t see any path with the US remaining other than continued deterioration. Perhaps forces will compromise if the US withdraws. I think they might have a year ago. But now, the Shia want what they see as theirs, and many among the Sunni are determined to resist at all costs. Some resistance forces have tried to negotiate with the US, arguing that the neo-Baathists are the only force to resist the pro-Iranian Shia factions (SCIRI-Dawa).
I don’t believe that the bombings are covert US actions. Let me clear, this is not because I put it past the US/Britain, but, because it isn’t in their interest. One only has to look at the US polls, the pressure on Bush, and the US pressure to approve a Constitution at all costs, to realize that that stirring things up is not in the US interest at this late date. The US military is breaking apart. They want stability and an ability to withdraw a large fraction of the troops. They are even willing to accept the establishment of a pro-Iranian regime with Iranian puppets held in power by US troops. This is an Empire that is crumbling, not one setting out to stir things up. I suspect (as do a number of other commentators) that the British undercover soldiers in Basra were striving to get revenge on the Shia forces who bombed British troops, not setting off bombs to stir things up. My explanation is a much more parsimonious one than the alternative.
I don’t doubt that the US is supporting death squads [See Stphen Shalom's Phoenix Rising in Iraq?], but these are attacking Sunnis, not setting off bombs in Shia areas.
The one thing I wish in retrospect I had made clearer in the original article was that I am firmly opposed to the occupation. I see no good coming from it. I just feel the Left factions that advocate support for the resistance are morally impoverished and are leading the Left down a path it has gone down before. We have already had Marx’s tragedy in the Stalinist years. We don’t need a new anti-imperialist farce now.
October 8th, 2005
Factions on the Left have called for “Support for the Iraqi Resistance” and criticized those who don’t endorse the call. For example, at this year’s Left Forum, Anthony Arnove and Tariq Ali debated Stephen Shalom and Joanne Landy on this issue, with the first two arguing for supporting the resistance. Some commentators even refer to this resistance as “freedom fighters in Iraq.” My sympathies are with the other side. While one might argue for some abstract “right to resist occupation”, what is going on in Iraq now hardly fits under this category. Those referred to as the resistance can in no way be referred to as “freedom fighters.” To claim otherwise is to distort the term “freedom” beyond any recognition.
At a minimum, those who argue for supporting “the resistance” are under obligation to tell us which resistance they have in mind. Do they support the Wahhabi extremists, who, whether or not under the label of Zarqawi, have launched a war against the Shia involving numerous mass bombings of civilians with no involvement in occupation? Do they mean the ex- and current Baathists who strive to revive the Saddam Hussein regime, albeit with new leaders? Is it those among the Sunni groups who are fighting both to not lose the Sunni’s traditional dominant roles in Iraq and to resist efforts to consolidate power and resources (i.e., oil) in Shia and Kurd hands? Or perhaps they mean the al-Sadr forces who criticize the occupation, while striving to establish an Iranian-style Islamic state in which, as happened in Basra, university students are brutally attacked for having a picnic with members of the opposite gender? Or, rather, is it some mythical resistance created out of half-remembered scenes from the Battle of Algiers?
Despite the romance that the pro-resistance leftists imagine occurring in Iraq, we have there a complex power struggle between factions defined by religious sect, tribal allegiances, and party membership. While the claims of foreign involvement are exaggerated by the Americans, several of the surrounding countries – Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey at least – no doubt have their favorites and their enemies to be countered. None of the major factions vying for power have a universalist view aimed at the greater good of all Iraqis. To support the resistance is to take sides with one or another of these contending factions.
My belief is that the “Left” should stand for a few basic principles: freedom, real grassroots democracy, equality (esp. economic), and the pursuit of truth. We of the Left should be interested in those who appear to be furthering these principles. [I never know exactly what it means to "support" some group.] Correspondingly, those who fundamentally do not embody these principles should not be part of our Left. Of course, there can be major differences on strategy, tactics, even the exact form of what societies would be examples of them.
Saddam Hussein was not for any of these principles and is in no way an ally of the Left. Those Iraqis the Left should be interested in were opposed to Saddam, while now being opposed to the occupation. George Galloway, as was pointed out by Greg Palast, appears to have been a chum of Saddam’s. That means he’s no comrade of mine and he shouldn’t be of any Left concerned about improving life for people. I thoroughly enjoyed his demolishing of the Senators, as entertainment. I suspect I’d feel the same with his debate with Hitchens, if I ever get around to watching it. But, the fact that he utters some things with which I agree doesn’t make him a comrade. He appears to be clever at papering over his checkered history. For example, when before the Senate, he referred to a history of anti-Saddam statements. But these were apparently made prior to 1990, when Saddam was a US ally. I haven’t seen any such statements since 1991. This is disingenuous.
Same goes with Castro and Cuba. Castro is a dictator, a fairly brutal one. His government has definitely done some good things. Can’t we keep both these facts in mind? How does it help the world to have radicals spouting pro-Cuba nonsense, ignoring the sorry state of democracy there? Of course, noticing the stench that accompanies dictatorship doesn’t mean we have to close our eyes to anything good that happens there.
During the Cold War, there were socialist groups who refused to side with either the capitalist West or the Stalinist countries, with slogans like: “Neither East nor West, but (Revolutionary) Democratic Socialism.” My sympathies were definitely with them: I was fervently against the Vietnam war. (I have a permanent knee injury from an antiwar demonstration in 1970.) But I was also strongly against the North Vietnamese regime, which was far from democratic and brutally suppressed internal dissent.
It seems very hard for people to maintain complex realities, that neither side in a conflict may be desirable or furthering human freedom. But that’s the only option that holds a potential for creating a better future. After 40 years of “national liberation” struggles creating new dictatorships, some of which are even worse than the previous regimes, the poverty of “the enemy of my enemy is a friend” should be apparent to all.
Another reason an enemy of the Empire may not be our friend is that many of these Empire enemies are likely to kill us if given the chance, e.g., if they assume power. Supporting such a “friend” is a sure-fire way to turn Left politics into a suicide pact. The Iraqi resistance is overwhelmingly against any Left or progressive forces and has attacked them ruthlessly, which is why virtually all Iraqi unionists and women’s organizations oppose this resistance as either neo-Baathist or Islamic fascist. To support this resistance is to accept the death of many of these progressive forces bravely fighting against all odds for a better Iraq.
As to Iraq now, there are no good alternatives. Our natural allies are trade unionists, women’s’ rights groups, etc. They are fighting a valiant fight, but appear to be losing. I expect many will be in exile soon, as this may be their only alternative to likely death. But these are the folks we should support and aid. Not the so called “resistance”, which, increasingly, is a fight of a minority both against occupation and against losing their privileges, and whose victory would be a disaster for most Iraqis. Most unionists call for an end to the occupation, but also oppose the insurgency. These are our friends.
If the Left stands for anything, it should be a truly different and better world. We know where the alternatives lead. And radicals must speak the truth, no matter who it offends. Who else will?
October 7th, 2005
On September 29, the Holyoke (MA) Community College administration gave a gift to the antiwar movement. On that day, students protesting National Guard recruitment were attacked by campus police egged on by the Campus Republicans. The students posed an extreme threat by offering flowers to the recruiters. The police could not tolerate such rebellious behavior and attacked the demonstrators, including macing one of the students.
As reported on the Campus Antiwar Network web site:
Both of the students who were battered by campus police are upstanding members of the HCC community. One is a tutor in the CAPS Center. The other received the David James Taylor Excellence in Philosophy Award, is Vice President for Academic Affairs on the Student Senate, is a member of the College’s Learning Communities Committee, and is a frequent contributor to the student newspaper. Several of the activists involved observed that the student who was maced had consistently played a moderating role in the protest.
As the assault was taking place, approximately a dozen College Republicans were moving forward, pumping their fists in the air, shouting and encouraging the Officers on. Throughout the morning, the campus police force ignored the activities of the College Republicans and were only deployed against the protesters.
One of the protesting students was then banned from campus.
Those of us old enough to remember the 1960′s movements remember well that the greatest boosts for the movement often came from the overreaction of campus police and university administrations. Nothing radicalizes and mobilizes students like seeing their peers manhandled and abused by arrogant authorities. Likely, this is what’s happening here. The UMass-Amherst Anti-War coalition has called a protest this Thursday (October 6). Thanks to the geniuses in the Holyoke Community College administration, antiwar students around the Northeast will now have a mobilizing focus. See the letters of support they have already received from around the world, including from Cindy Sheehan.
With the Iraq war reaching new levels of unpopularity, perhaps this will be the beginning of a new student movement against the war. And the lack of such a mass movement on campuses has been a serious impediment to the development of mass resistance to the war. After all, students, when motivated and mobilized, have an intensity and focus that many of us older folks have long ago lost. Stay tuned.
October 4th, 2005
The Shia-dominated government has just, 12 days before the election, changed the rules for the election so as to make it impossible for Sunnis to vote the Constitution down! They are demanding that 2/3 of registered voters in three provinces reject it, where the clear intent of the clause, inserted to protect the Kurds, was that 2/3 of actual voters reject it.
However, only 50% of actual voters have to vote to pass it! The current interpretation encourages the government and allied forces to attack Sunni areas, so as to discourage voting, if not to provoke a boycott. This decision is a clear statement that the Shia forces in the government have no interest in compromise. See: Sunnis see Shi’ite manipulation ahead of Iraq vote. See also: Sunni anger at Iraq vote change. For the Sunnis, fighting will now seem like the only option.
October 3rd, 2005
October 2nd, 2005
This little piece from AFP has rather odd figures:
Lieutenant-Colonel Guy Rudisill, spokesman for prison operations in
Iraq, said about 42,000 Iraqis had been detained by the US military since the March 2003 invasion, of whom about 11,240 had since been released.
This would imply that the US is still holding over 30,000, far higher than the 17,000 figure usually cited in the US press. The only alternative that would make these numbers consistent is if thousands had died in US custody, which seems unlikely. Has anyone seen these figures elsewhere?
October 2nd, 2005