Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Rumours of Peace.

Few satirists could have conceived of such a scene. It was too perfect in its surreal edge. With Ariel Sharon lying entombed, Tony Blair took his position at the nearby podium and gave one of his usual performances. Sporting a yarmulke, most unnaturally, Tony oozed counterfeit solemnity “The same iron determination he took to the field of war he took to the chamber of diplomacy. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.”

I wander what kind of ‘iron determination’ it takes to slaughter 69 unarmed and defenceless villagers of Qibya. Sharon later claimed that his men had no idea there were still people living in the homes that they were bombarding with gunfire and grenades. It was this sort of conduct that led David Ben-Gurion to dub the young man “a pathological liar”. No doubt the twenty to fifty unarmed and defenceless refugees killed at al-Bureig were witnesses to similar displays of iron. Both took place in 1953 at the hands of Unit 101 led by the departed commander on ‘reprisal’ attacks. We’re talking retaliation for the deaths of two or three people probably. Today the Israeli military still lacks a sense of proportionality, let alone any comprehension of the immorality of revenge. It was just the beginning for young Arik. He would soon be storming across the Sinai alongside Anglo-French forces determined to snatch back the Suez Canal.

Wherever the man went there seemed to be Arabs falling to the ground dead. At the battle of Mitla 260 Egyptians were left dead. The battle became a subject of controversy (a euphemism in common usage) as some claimed Sharon deliberately engaged in unauthorised aggression. General Sharon would later return to the Sinai with Israel’s most powerful forces in 1967 at the battle of Abu-Ageila. Then in the Yom Kippur War, Sharon disobeyed the orders of his superiors and instead set out to engage the Egyptian army across the Suez Canal. In doing so the General initiated a turning point in the war and was set in time as a hero of military might from then on. The fact that the General had graduated by then to terrorizing the inhabitants of Gaza and north-eastern Sinai isn’t so heroic. It went as far as expelling 10,000 farmers, bulldozing their homes, and destroying their farmland to make way for settlement. This is how Sharon earned the title of Bulldozer.

Around this time the Bulldozer had become enamoured with an array of right-wing forces taking shape into what would become the Likud Party. Ever mercurial, Sharon jumped at the chance to advise a Labour Zionist government before attempting to stand as the Likud candidate for 1977 only to find he wasn’t the favourite. He had been refused any support by mainstream parties, so he founded a small party to win himself a seat, and managed to barter his way into Begin’s Likud government. Sharon was the Minister of Agriculture for 4 years before being promoted to Minister of Defence. That was his proper place after all. Notably, as right-wing as Menachem Begin was he did believe in the rule of law to some extent and torture almost stopped for 4 years. The hiatus came to a close when the Bulldozer became Defence Minister.

The new Defence Minister had his priorities in order. Time interviewed Sharon and he showed no time for throat-clearing and spoke bluntly “I believe that the starting point for a solution is to establish a Palestinian state in that part of Palestine that was separated from what was to become Israel in 1922 and which is now Jordan.” He had known from early on that the Palestinians had to be restricted to cantons in order for settlements to be expanded further and further. The end was an Israel with its territory stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan. But he knew he could not do this alone.

When it came to regional power Lebanon became the battleground for Israel and Syria and the various forces aligned to either side and those caught in between. The General took the side of the Maronite Christian militias and especially the Phalange Party founded by Pierre Gemayel out of admiration for Hitler. The aim of a client state in Lebanon was what spurred Sharon to action. Then came the massacre at Sabra and Shatila. It just so happened that the camp of Palestinian refugees was under Sharon’s watchful gaze when the Phalange came to flush out the “terrorists”. The Israeli troops stood by and watched for nearly 3 days as the rampage snuffed the life out of 1,700 human beings. Bold. Unorthodox. Unyielding.

This is a rather light overview of the atrocities Sharon committed. Why then would he be heralded as a ‘peacemaker’ exactly? Anyone with this record would expect to never hold such a prominent position ever again. He lost his job after much protest, but he bided his time. After the failures of the Labour governments of the 1990s and amidst the Second Intifada the old man took advantage of the rightward lurch overtaking the country. He pledged no negotiations with the Palestinians until the Intifada ended. The so-called “peace plan” that Sharon proposed, and partially initiated, amounted to relinquishing 42% of the West Bank and establishing a ‘security barrier’ (longer than the Berlin Wall) to annex around 50% of the occupied territories. To this end Sharon reinvented himself as a man of peace and transferred around 9,000 Gaza settlers to the Negev and the West Bank. It’s clear what the real prize was in his mind.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Lessons for a White Ally.

The radical American anti-racist campaigner Tim Wise has an interesting designation for what he does and what other white anti-racists do. He calls himself a 'white ally'. Wise argues not for white anti-racists to speak for people of colour, but to develop a critique of white privilege from within. The point should be to strengthen the position of racially-conscious Black Americans by providing a critique of the same white male power-structure from a white perspective. I agree with this priority: to undermine white racial consciousness in its manifestations. The other aims that we have to consider were summed up well by Theodore W Allen. As part of the conclusion to his review of David Roediger's book Wages of Whiteness (1991) the Marxist historian and economist Ted Allen listed the four basic challenges that the anti-racist has to meet:

First, to show that white supremacism is not an inherited attribute of the European-American personality. Secondly, to demonstrate that white supremacism has not served the interests of the laboring-class European-Americans. Third: to account for the prevalence of white supremacism within the ranks of laboring-class European-Americans. Fourth, by light of history, to consider ways whereby European-American laboring people may cast off the stifling incubus of 'white' identity.

This is from the starting-point that the historical relativist critique of race as a social construct does not go far enough in unsettling the roots of race as a formation of social control. Likewise, Allen rejects racism as a natural occurrence among white people towards the Other. Actually the point of his work is to provide a historical account for race in specific historical conditions: namely, slavery. As a Marxist historian Allen is concerned with the degree to which white working-class people have undermined their own interests by pursuing racial interests over class interests. The first victims of racial oppression are those immediately subject to it, the second victims are those who blindly align themselves with the oppressors. For example, trade unions in the US were incredibly weaker because they had, for a long time, a white-only membership policy. White privilege (a concept Allen coined) is not to be understood as the literal privileges of white people, but the relative advantages gained through divide and conquer.

The colonial and racial oppression of the Irish provided the impetus to presuppose a 'common interest' among English people which may circumvent the class antagonism and even render it harmonious. This is why Karl Marx was right to situate the struggle for Irish national liberation was, effectively, the struggle against the English ruling-class which could open up the space for the English working-class to shake off the chains of class oppression. Ultimately, the British ruling-class managed the crises of its colonial outpost through various methods, eventually leading to a partitioned compromise, and to this day leading to a peace process. The reunification of Ireland has been postponed and by now the thrust of British capitalism lacks the need for racial oppression in Ireland. We can say that the material circumstances have changed, but that doesn't legitimate the cause of a united Ireland as that was always a just cause. It's just no longer linked to working-class emancipation in the same way.

Friday, 10 January 2014

What does this tell us about the State?

The killing of Mark Duggan has been found legal. The anger around this case is legitimate as were the first sparks of protest and unrest in Tottenham (though what came later is another matter) in which locals mobilised around the police station. It is only middle-class white people who feel an instinctive sense of being on the side of the police. Ordinary people know what it is like to be stopped and searched by the police, especially if they're black or if they fit the profile of a 'terrorist'. It's not a testament to the character of individual officers - who may be awful or munificent - it's about the structural role of the police as a repressive institution with a dismal collective unconscious.

By the way I think the content of the ruling is not expressly problematic. What did we expect of the justice system? Even if the ruling had found that the killing was unlawful it would only serve to reaffirm the sovereignty of the state in its authoritative claims to legality and justice. For this reason I don't think there could by any just result as I question the authority of the state, and that is the fundamental question here. It's hypocritical to suggest that the jury finding the police killing illegal would serve anything other than reasserting the sovereignty. That may be understandable given the high emotions around the death of this man. But it is not the political issue at hand. Andrew Robinson produced an excellent couple of articles on Agamben's work on the area of exceptions in law:

“Homo” means human/man, and “sacer” has the double meaning of “sacred” and “taboo”. Homo sacer is defined as someone who can be killed, but not sacrificed. They can’t be sacrificed to the gods because they’re defined as outside the recognised terrain of valued life (there’s nothing left in them worth sacrificing; to sacrifice them would be sacrilege), but for the same reason, they can be killed with impunity.

I have deployed this concept before in the past with regard to the death of Osama bin Laden at the hands of the US army. On that occasion I was prompted to write by the incessant gurgling of Douglas Murray, who took the predictable position that it was fine for the US to violate Pakistan's sovereignty and commit an assassination. I think it can be said that Mark Duggan is a 'homo sacer' in that he is excluded from the sphere of rights and liberties (because he's a violent gangster, to quote the BBC) who can be legitimately killed by the police. Not even in controlled circumstances, not a public execution that has been legally ratified. Instead the killing is legalised by the very system which excluded Duggan in the first place. Thus, the departed was included insofar as he was excluded. It is in this process that the sovereignty claims its basic authority, the authority to make 'exceptions'.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Kennedy's words on November 22nd 1963.

I've just been flicking through Ira Stoll's book on John F Kennedy. The Stoll thesis is that the Kennedy administration was a conservative rather than a liberal government. He points to Kennedy's record in economics, as well as in foreign policy, to support his case. This seems to me to be at least healthy in terms of historical inquiry. The American empire, if it is in long-term decline, should be at the beginning of a lot of self-reflection that may not be very pleasant, but it is necessary medicine. The way in which the Vietnam war is conceptualised is key to this. The Kennedy legend is a big part of that and has to be dislodged for a proper critique of imperialism. Not that I expect that, or should expect such a thing, from an intelligent conservative columnist and analyst such as Mr Stoll. It is not to herald Kennedy as a conservative icon, but to deal with the hagiography around him.

A good chapter in Stoll's book is on the day of the assassination itself. Kennedy was set to deliver a speech prating on the fortunes of tax-cuts (for the upper-crust) and the boost to the war budget. That was the speech that the assassination prevented. Nothing a peacenik ought to scoff at. Fortunately, Kennedy did manage to speak publicly and proudly of his achievements earlier that day. It was at a breakfast at the Fort Worth Chamber of Commerce that the President stated:

We have increased the defense budget of the United States by over 20%; increased the program of acquisition for Polaris submarines from 24 to 41; increased our Minutemen missile purchase program by more than 75%; doubled the number of strategic bombers and missiles on alert; doubled the number of nuclear weapons available in the strategic alert forces; increased the tactical nuclear forces deployed in Western Europe by over 60%; added five combat ready divisions to the Army of the United States, and five tactical fighter wings to the Air Force of the United States; increased counter-insurgency forces which are engaged now in South Vietnam by 600%.

So there goes the line that the President was a dove looking to slam the breaks on the American war-machine. I've already stated my position on the various theories around the assassination, and Stoll's book interests me precisely because I don't see Kennedy as a heroic liberal figure. I think this quote supports the line that I have taken up. Specifically, that the Kennedy administration was completely wedded to the imperial project of asserting the power that the US had gained in the climax of WW2. The Vietnam war is to be considered a part of the efforts to maintain this hegemonic stance and to snuff out the currents of independence in the region. In fact, the US more or less accomplished this aim by installing dictatorships in Indonesia and the Philippines while bombing Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam into the Jurassic period. The ripples off of these events would leave millions dead in Cambodia and Indonesia (including a genocide in East Timor) on top of the bloodbath in Vietnam. It was all for stability. You can tell it went well because the East Asian economies almost fell into an abyss in the 1990s.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Best Today Programme Ever.

The Today programme gave the floor to PJ Harvey to edit her own show to be aired for millions of regular listeners and anyone curious enough to twiddle with the cogs of their radio to tune in. The English commentariat in his infinite capacity for noise of a pompous and uppity quality soon started grizzling at the presence of John Pilger and Julian Assange on the same programme. It was a breathe of fresh air for those of who often find the BBC to be playing its role as agenda-setter to the lower gradients of Pravda and Izvestia. Here's just a slice of the incessant grizzling from the censorious and self-righteous primates of Media Britannia:

"But just look at who Peej has gone and chosen to feature on her special edition: Julian Assange will be preachingWelsh wizard Rowan Williams will do Thought for the Day and the Australian journalist John Pilger. So, the line-up so far: the weird blond-haired rat known as Wikileaks; an abstruse, bearded lefty; and a tendentious, perma-whingeing bleeding-heart hack. And we're supposed to think, what, exactly?" 
- James Delingpole, The Daily Telegraph, January 1st 2014
"The Today programme guest edited by singer PJ Harvey featured journalist John Pilger attacking David Cameron and Barack Obama, a diatribe against the Olympics as a 'neo-liberal trojan horse' used to roll back civil liberties and Julian Assange, wanted on sex charges in Sweden, was hailed for his 'great courage'." 
- Matt Chorley and Martin Robinson, The Daily Mail, January 2nd 2014
"Pilger always thought-provoking but was he really suggesting that BBC ignore Obama's Mandela grief as he is a hypocrite? Or Sunni Shia massacres in Syria as Blair & Bush's fault? Surely, John those are what we call opinions not facts?"
- Nick Robinson, BBC political editor, via Twitter, January 2nd 2014 

The Today programme gave John Pilger a slot of little more than 7 minutes to deliver what must've been a pre-submitted, heavily assessed, and, ultimately, pre-recorded speech. Pilger is a renowned journalist and documentary filmmaker who has just presented his latest project Utopia (2013) on ITV. Yet the chattering classes of middle-class provenance behave as though he is some lone nutter on the margins of civilised debate. Of course we can't expect more of them than that. After all the BBC is the agenda-setting news power of the British soundbite system, it has to retain strict limits for the good of the Big Lie and the Big Liars. The 'unusual' episode stands out from the rest of the discussions broadcast and for good reason. Notice that the statement 'worst Today programme ever' uttered by a Labourite prat - and regurgitated from mouth-to-mouth by journalists across the land - therefore implies the rest of the Today programmes have been much better and fairer.

In letting PJ Harvey give a platform to leftists and a libertarian the BBC allowed an event to pass in order to reaffirm the rest of its coverage in its normative claims to 'impartiality' and 'objectivity'. Of course, neither is even possible - and yet both encapsulate the liberal tendencies of the media elite. It's the same as when the newspapers, and the BBC, admit a mistake in a broadcast, it is done in order to presuppose that everything else is in fine upstanding order. The fact that the BBC gave John Pilger less than 10 minutes when they regularly give Nigel Farage a platform on a full episode of Question Time should be enough to disperse such nonsense. Unfortunately not, and even Farage's own party run on the claim that the BBC is a part of an establishment to which it is a marginalised voice for the little guy. If we are not to trust the pretensions of the BBC then we are not to trust those of their immediate and most vociferous detractors.

The reactionary gutter-press can sound off about the 'left-wing bias' of the Corporation in the usual way to reinforce the strict lines already laid out. If the BBC is on the outer-reaches of leftist mania then why would you ever go any further than turning onto BBC1? That's already completely insane! This strategy boxes out alternative and independent-minded journalists who might actually dare to challenge the pretensions of the government, corporations, and, god forbid, the media itself. In its capacity as agenda-setter the BBC allows for oscillations between and around the centre-posts of left and right. The few deviations are about boosting the ratings with a spectacle and about reinstating the establishmentarian claims it is dedicated to asserting. It is an inner-realm populated by Oxbridge liberals (side-note: the term 'liberal' is not synonymous with left-wing or even progressive) who see themselves, simultaneously, as crusaders and insiders.