From Jigsaw 8: Improvisation and the New American Century
Just as Operation Iraqi Freedom was starting, the NYC club Tonic was hosting a festival of Swiss improvising musicians. Four of the musicians cancelled—one because she was just scared to travel in wartime, the others to boycott the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The festival’s organizer rolled his eyes when I told him about one of the musicians canceling, and said, “You know, he’s probably sitting around in his Levis watching Amercian sitcoms, but he’s boycotting the U.S.?” A week or so later, I was reading the April issue of the WIRE and came across an article on the pianist John Tilbury, who is an improvisor and also an accomplished performer of contemporary classical music. The first few paragraphs were devoted to a distillation of a statement he made after refusing an invitation to tour the U.S. when Bush was still urging war but hadn’t quite declared it (he was supposed to play a different festival at Tonic, actually, and I later remembered the person who organized that festival had told me he’d had a long discussion with Tilbury where he attempted, unsuccessfully, to persuade him to come). I recently read Tilbury’s unedited statement online (http://incalcando.com/tilbury/). He said performing concerts for U.S. audiences would be “providing them with an alibi, a temporary escape, a haven, from the harsh realities of the consequences of the ideology in which they are subsumed.” He compared concertizing in the U.S. now to orchestras performing Beethoven for the Third Reich during WW2. Well, he supposed to come and improvise, which (theoretically) would engage an audience’s intellect, instead of lulling them into complacent reverie by playing the classics. It’s very doubtful to me that the audience at a John Tilbury concert would be anything but largely anti-imperialist/anti-war, so they’re not subsumed in the government’s ideology beyond simply taking up residence here--and to assume they would be is just as bad as thinking the Iraqis were subsumed in Saddam’s ideology. But maybe Tilbury is conscious of this and feels his liberal audience should be out protesting instead of sitting around at Tonic listening to music. He doesn’t explain it in his text and I don’t want to put words in his mouth.
If a bunch of pop stars decide they ain’t gonna play Sun City and put words to that effect in a song that gets played on every radio station in the country they’ll raise consciousness and have an economic effect (on Sun City, at least) by not performing. If John Tilbury doesn’t play Tonic, fifty people in New York City, who are most likely already politically conscious, are disappointed. Youssou N’Dour also cancelled his tour in protest of the war. He plays larger venues than Tilbury, so this is a more significant statement. But in a way he’s playing into the hands of the right wing. Keeping Americans in the dark about what the rest of the world is like makes their job easier—it makes keeping people of afraid of the outside world that much easier. By importing culture from other countries it makes it harder to consider them enemies (just think how different history might have been if we’d had Vietnamese restuarants in major cities in the 50s or if the great wave of Iranian cinema happened in the early 70s instead of the 90s). This was one of Tilbury’s other complaints—that “people in the US have been kept in abject ignorance in relation to the world at large.” But then he goes on to say that he always feels uncomfortable here and is terribly relieved to scurry back home to Blighty as soon as possible to escape “a predatory, aggressive, individualistic, dominant culture whose avowed aim is to impose itself, through threat of annihilation, on the rest of the world.” Over twenty years ago I read an interview with the Clash where they explained that their song “I’m So Bored with the USA” was about being fed up with the amount of US culture that was starting to infiltrate Europe, which is obviously even more relevant now than ever. But that disgust didn’t stop them from touring here and spreading that message. Hearing that song, and reading that interview, is probably how I became conscious of the increasing Americanization of Europe, since I’d never been to Europe at that time. The Clash were always mocked for their politics, and topicality may not always make for the best music, but this shows that music can potentially be a far better source of information than the TV news or most newspapers.
Cultural exchange is an important contribution to world peace. I can understand these musicians wanting to hurt the US economy by not coming here and changing money to US dollars and spending it—that’s a valid protest (and I know at least one NY resident who avoided spending any cash money back in March). Still, the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. immigration have been making it harder and harder for any kind of foreign artist to perform here for the very reason I discussed earlier—promoting American xenophobia. For a foreign musician to come at all makes more of a statement than not coming, and it’s an insult to people like the brilliant Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami, who was denied visa access for last year’s New York Film Festival, for those that can get through immigration to throw the opportunity away. Wonder why the U.S. did nothing while the looters destroyed priceless artifacts in Iraq’s museums? Just imagine if a traveling exhibition of ancient Iraqi art had been organized last summer, if metropolitan voters and taxpayers had access to that—I wonder if an anti Iraqi war movement would have started a lot sooner. This also parallels the Christian missionary practice of wiping out indigenous cultural heritage after converting them to the gospel (e.g. Mayan, Aztec, or Native American culture), but the U.S. just let the Iraqis destroy their own culture—just as we’re supposed to be letting them set up their own government.
In late March I went to Europe to do concerts in Bologna, Venice, Paris, and Berlin with Text of Light, a project in which Lee Ranaldo, DJ Olive, Ulrich Krieger, Tim Barnes and myself improvise as films by Stan Brakhage screen behind us. Some of us were concerned before leaving New York that we would meet hostility there as Americans, given the German & French opposition to the war. In speaking with people when we got there, it was clear that Bush was the object of scorn, not America or Americans. To be sure, Europeans have not given up on the U.S. The French are laughing at us, not hating us, for “Freedom Fries” and all that nonsense, just as they were laughing at us when we tried to impeach President Clinton for having a mistress. In Berlin there were huge, mass produced posters all over the city that read “FUCK WAR.” In Italy, banners that read “Pace” (“Peace”) hung from every window. But in America you just saw an American flag in every window or on every door. The “we’re number one” statement that makes has become an increasingly desperate but understandable one since 9/11, but I think it worked against a climate to speak out against the war in this country. Part of the psychological imperative of the Iraq war is that America still feels victimized by 9/11. Bush must hear his father’s words “I am not a wimp” ringing in his ears; a little shock and awe builds confidence, you know. It was great to get a perspective on the war from outside the US, and also to find out first hand how America and its government are perceived abroad rather than taking the media’s reportage at face value.
“I watch [Iggy Pop’s] feet, I watch his hands, I watch every spin and jump he lets fly - I feel like one of the kids in the crowd, watching the gig but I also get to play along somehow, it's wild.”
--Mike Watt on playing bass in the Stooges at the Coachella Festival, California, April 27, 2003
One of the great things about performing improvisational music concerts is that you are both an audience member and performer. As you’re playing, you’re also listening to what the people you’re playing with are doing, and reacting to it. And you’re hearing this spontaneous music for the first time, just as the audience is, not presenting pieces of music you’ve carefully prepared. There’s a lack of manipulation of the audience that goes with this—you haven’t determined a specific journey to take them on, whatever happens happens. And whatever happens you experience together, hopefully. You’re not controlling them; it’s a mutual thing.
It’s too bad after 9/11 the US government didn’t take a similar tack. Everyone was united in their shock at what happened and the uncharted territory of trying to deal with the aftermath—no one knew what would happen, but we knew we’d experience it together. And the rest of the world was aligned with us. But imagine an improv concert where suddenly the musicians decided to just play “Louie Louie” and “Johnny B. Good”—the old favorites. That’s what happened with our government. It took the tragedy as a green light to go back to Cold War tactics of keeping the populace in fear round the clock. The Cold War against Communism became the War on Terrorism. Similarly, the witch hunt hysterics of McCarthyism have been revived in the Patriot Acts 1 & 2, not to mention the Pentagon’s wish for an Big Brother-esque database which would give them access to every transaction imaginable (email, bank account, phone, you name it) and even file our walk for identification purposes—all to root out “terrorists” the same way McCarthy was rooting out “communists.” Part of the coldness of the Cold War was the idea that it can’t happen here—the threat was there, but a distance still existed. With the War on Terrorism, it’s already happened here, and it’s a moving target, so it’s a war without end. For the hawks/warmongers among our politicians, this is an ironclad state of affairs. But I think even during the Clinton administration, terrorism was looked at as the logical successor to the Cold War. The Oklahoma City bombing indicated that there was an enemy within—look at movie titles of the time like “Sleeping with the Enemy” or “The Stranger Beside Me.” Think about “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle” or “Single White Female.” Terrorism begins at home.
9/11 also proved decisive for a right wing think tank called the PNAC (Project for the New American Century, www.newamericancentury.org, also check www.pnac.org, a watchdog website). Including Bush Sr. & Jr. cabinet members like Dick Cheney and Donald “Rummy” Rumsfeld, who sat on the boards of transnational corporations while they also performed public service, Jeb Bush, and Paul Wolfowitz, the PNAC called for regime change in Iraq from the early 90s on. Never mind that US forces sat on their hands while rebellions they intended to foster against Saddam by liberating Kuwait were squashed by the Hussein regime. This was a right-wing extremist New Age philosophy which mandated that the America which came into its own as a world superpower in the 20th century must safeguard its power as an empire in the 21st. It must rule the world. Having a lock on the Middle East and specifically its oil reserves is a key to this. Iraq was the most troublesome country in this region in this respect, and was already battered by the Gulf War and subsequent U.N. sanctions—it would seem to be the logical choice as a place to start. They petitioned President Clinton for regime change in Iraq, who dismissed it as nonsense (and remember, before 9/11 Bush was too busy playing golf to worry about foreign policy). Besides, when the Cold War ended, the American people went on a vacation from fear. They were excited about the internet and a new economy—the biggest economic expansion since the early 60’s, in fact. Why bother with a war? With more money to spend, people had more room to experiment, broaden their horizons, try new things. Multiculturalism flourished then. People developed an interest in frivolous things like, well, free improvisation or free jazz. When you feel secure, when you don’t have to worry about survival, you have time to stop and smell the roses.
The Republicans didn’t like any of that. They only understand progess in terms of economic and military expansion, not in terms of cultural enrichment, social services (standardized national health care, for instance) or intellectual, emotional or moral enlightenment. Clinton wasn’t interested in conquering the world, so he was of no use to them. That’s why they tried to get him out of office every chance they could. Hillary Clinton was laughed at when she told an interviewer that the whole Whitewater/Monica Lewinsky trials were the product of a “vast right-wing conspiracy” but who’s laughing now? The election of Bush in 2000 was a bad sign. Forget about Florida, why was the election as close as it was? Bush Sr. got elected on Reagan’s coattails, and as the incumbent in a peaceful time with the economy still in full stride Gore should have done the same with Clinton. Sure, Bush was more charming than the fatally pedantic Gore but always seemed like a throwback to the Reagan/Bush era, and was a rich kid to boot, which meant that he never had the chance to develop a moral outlook—he got into everything from Yale to business to the governorship of Texas to the White House through family connections and out of military service and a few scrapes with the law through them too. In England the prince simply ascends to the throne when the parent dies. In America that’s too simple—you’re only on the throne for 8 years max. In this case, the parent wasn’t re-elected, but he staffed the Supreme Court with partisan justices to make sure his son would eventually ascend to the throne. As the war began, I saw several editorials about how Bush had “squandered” the world’s good will towards the U.S. after 9/11 by ignoring the Unand worldwide protests and invading Iraq; now the editorials say the US had “squandered” the Iraqis good will towards it after its “liberation,” by failing to set up proper security and letting lawlessness go unchecked. Who else but a spoiled brat would squander such things?
The TV show “Who Wants to Be A Millionaire” was popular around election time too. It wasn’t enough that people were in the midst of historically long economic expansion, they got greedy and wanted more. America itself was becoming spoiled, and George Bush is simply an embodiment of that. At the same time, America’s Puritanical heritage was tugging at the national psyche, laying a guilt trip on it about having too much money. Electing George Bush eased the paradox. America would safeguard the riches acquired in the 90s by electing a president who would run the country like a corporation, not a mass community. America would lose confidence in its finances by electing a president who was inarticulate, a former alcoholic, and had rarely been outside of the U.S.; in short, someone who couldn’t really be trusted to run the government or command the armed forces. If you can’t trust the leader, you can’t be confident consumer, right? So the economy suffers and goes into recession—boom, you don’t have more money than you know what to do with anymore (but the corporations still do). In 1968, Richard Nixon, a proven loser, was elected for the same reason—to end an equally long economic expansion (started in the administration of another womanizing Democrat President). There’s a Christian element here of Saturday night, Sunday morning too—at some point Americans decide it’s time to end their “big night out” of prosperity, and atone for their sins through recession. The supposed “pendulum swing” between conservative and liberal national “moods” is also patterned from this. Of course, Bush is a born again Christian, which puts him directly in touch with these national neuroses. Clinton was a practicing hedonist; Bush is a reformed alcoholic and drug user—in other words, Clinton was Saturday night, and Bush is Sunday morning. The other popular show back then was “Survivor” in which a bunch of people start on an island and then its survival of the fittest, with one person voted off the island per week until there’s only one left. People must have sensed they wanted a leader who would be the survivor. Bob Woodward has quoted George Bush telling his advisers that in the War on Terror “at some point, we may be the only ones left. That’s ok with me. We are America.” By alienating most of our allies in Europe and bullying the U.N., Bush is playing the game of Survivor to win.
Corporate culture plays an increasing role here. As noted above, Bush himself and his cabinet have many personal corporate ties. The U.N. was discarded because the Bush administration sees the world as a series of transnational corporations, not a series of nationalities. So who needs the U.N.? It’s the corporations who are running the show. America used to be called the great melting pot, now its government sees the world as a kind of corporate melting pot. Operation Iraqi Freedom wasn’t even a war, it was what’s called a “hostile takeover” in the business world, at least as far as our government is concerned. That’s why there was a shortage of foot soldiers during the war (and after)—this was supposed to be a quick, smooth transaction (air campaign as paperless office), you don’t need a bunch of underlings running around to make coffee or photocopies. Corporate culture was also having major PR worries last year with the Enron scandal. Christianity was beleagured with the priest molestation scandals. Since corporate culture and religion are Bush’s life’s blood, he recognized that they needed a diversion—another reason to start an un-losable war. When Bush talks about spreading freedom throughout the world, it smacks of both corporate globalization (as if “American Democracy” was a brand/product that he wants marketed in every country, like McDonalds) and missionary aims (the my-way-or-the-highway method by which Christianity was popularized). I don’t remember it sounding that way from the mouth of any other President. Reagan and Bush Sr. were reactionary, but they looked back nostalgically to the “family values” and jingoism of the 40s and 50s. Dubya looks way, way back to the British Empire we seceded from 225 years ago, making America the equivalent of political revolutionary leaders who promise change and end up becoming totalitarian despots. Or: U.S.A.=Animal Farm?
II “The fault lies not in our stars, but in ourselves”
“What strikes me about pop criticism of late - and this afflicts the broadsheets as well - is the tyranny of received opinion. I have yet to meet anyone, obsessive fan or otherwise, who thinks the last two Nick Cave albums come close to 1997's The Boatman's Call in terms of emotional depth and songwriting skill, but both releases were greeted with an across-the-board acclaim that bordered on instilled reverence, and an attendant lack of critical rigour…What gives here? Maybe writers are too hidebound by the notion of providing their readers with glorified consumer guides rather informed criticism.”—Sean O’Hagan, “Can’t I trust anyone these days to tell me if a record is any good?” the London Observer, March 30, 2003
Jonathan Rosenbaum launches a similar complaint against his fellow film critics in his excellent book Movie Wars: How Hollywood and the Media Conspire to Limit What Films We See (Acapella Books, 2000). He exemplifies the problems with current film criticism with the now-retired NY Times critic Janet Maslin, who wrote based on audience expectations rather than her own opinions (and references a critique by Sarah Kerr in Slate titled “Janet Maslin: Why Can’t the New York Times Movie Critic Tell Us What She Thinks”—compare with O’Hagan’s title). I remember her review of The Cable Guy, which she panned because fans of the lovable Jim Carrey would be disappointed by his memorably dark characterization in the film. Nice market research there, Janet, but was it a good movie? She’s providing a glorified consumer guide/career advice rather than informed criticism. One of the more galling aspects of the slide into war was Congress’ silence as Bush steamrolled over the U.N. and into Iraq (save for Senators Ted Kennedy and Robert Byrd--who’s also a violinist). Talk about a tyranny of received opinion! Congress abdicated its responsibilty for informed criticism of the President’s doings when it gave him a blank check to go to war after 9/11. That responsibility, in the form of legislation, is what we elect our representatives for, and they’re not doing their job. Is it because they’re afraid of looking unpatriotic? As actor Tim Robbins has noted, nobody was ever called unpatriotic for criticizing President Clinton. Congress now simply represents corporate interests that pay them a lot more than our taxes do. The Democrats have acquiesced to the Republicans’ majority rule.
With corporate influence so heavy in both the government and the media, there’s little room for dissension. The media has also increasingly served as a house organ for the Republican party line, and it’s a natural partnership. Keeping the public in fear sells newspapers and keeps more households tuned in to CNN all day long—it’s as useful to the media as it is to the government. And the coverage was appalling. All the consulting work that Hollywood did for the Pentagon after 9/11 really paid off in making the war as photogenic as possible. I kept seeing shots on CNN of GIs silhouetted against magic hour skies straight out of Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven. But wait, here comes the money shot: the shock and awe bombing campaigns were beautifully art-directed—as the bombs fell, I can’t imagine someone somewhere in the military or the government not thinking, “This is gonna look great on camera.” Likewise, the toppling of Saddam’s statue in Baghdad was a great photo op almost ruined by the single Iraqi trying to take it down by himself with a hammer. Time is money, pal! Good thing someone directed that US tank to lend a helping hand. The over-eager production assistant/soldier who draped a US flag over the statue’s head necessitated a re-take, but so be it.
Rosenbaum also notes the paradoxical lack of true national cinemas anymore (“by national cinema, I mean a cinema that expresses something of the soul of the nation that it comes from: the lifestyle, the consciousness, the attitudes”). Because films, especially Hollywood films but also arthouse fare, are now meant to be exported to every country in the world, they actually tell us less about the country they were filmed in than they used to. He gives the example of Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together, a film about Hong Kong with an English title taken from an American pop song that’s set in Buenos Aires. Interestingly, when Rosenbaum encourages increased exposure to world cinema in the U.S. he writes “I even think that the common belief that Americans are xenophobic isolationists by nature is partly the self-serving invention of Hollywood publicists armed with millions of dollars who don’t want to clutter up their precious ad campaigns with thoughts of other tastes and cultures,” which echoes what I said earlier about the government’s seeming advocacy of xenophobia. But he goes on to note that “one thing that apparently differentiates this country from all others is that art is actively hated by a good many of its citizens.” He also argues that “American film” is a brand now, not an identity, and notes various foreign directors who have moved to Hollywood (Roman Polanski, Paul Verhoeven, John Woo, and Milos Forman) and have been making international movies, not national ones, ever since. He quotes Verhoeven as an example: “I felt that initially I wouldn’t know enough about American culture to make movies that accurately reflected American society…because I would not be aware of things such as expressions and social behavior. I felt I could make science fiction movies because I wouldn’t have to worry about breaking any rules of American society. Science fiction reflects those rules but does not represent them.” The point is that when Verhoeven made genre films in his native Holland they were still imbued with national culture; when he moved to the US he opted to use genre for its own sake rather than try to learn or interpret their adapted country’s culture (unlike Forman or Polanski, but perhaps like Woo).
“I want the full hyphen: folk-rock-country-jazz-classical, so finally when you get all the hyphens in, maybe they’ll drop them all, and get down to just American music.”—Joni Mitchell
“This movement [New Age] is doing is doing precisely what Christianism once did…the early Christians blended Judaism with the Isis-Osiris mysteries of Egypt with Roman law with Greek philosophy with the pagan shamanism of Europe, and included all in disguised form within the Church.”—Michael Ventura, “Predictions: The Next 200 Years”
So there is an unlikely and unspoken kinship between post-Beatles rock singer-songwriters, the early Christians, international cinema, and transnational corporations. Musicians like the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Frank Zappa and even the Clash (um, Sandinista) created music that borrows from all kinds of genres and cultures (but at least they didn’t have to kill anybody to do it); it’s telemusik (to borrow a term from Stockhausen), a result of the global village, but in a way they inadvertently made the world safe for globalization. They’ve all recorded for major labels, and not surprisingly, you can buy their music in any chain record store. I remember reading a review of Sandinista when it came out that said the Clash seemed to be saying “to hell with our style, there’s a whole world out there”, which actually dovetails with the demise of national cinemas discussed above. They started off writing songs about London, and wound up writing about Nicaragua and rocking the Casbah. As musicians in the post-Beatles world, we are also expected to be our own corporations. Before the 60’s you had a singer, an orchestra or band to back them up, songwriters to create the music, an A & R man to choose the music for the performer, a record company artist to create the front cover etc. After the Beatles, the artist is a one-stop: expected to write, sing and perform his or her own hit material, create and maintain their own image, and in the post-MTV era, be able to look good on camera and preferably dance. Michael Jackson is the ultimate example of this, a globally televised performer since childhood, a King of Pop as much as America is an empire (in the Hollywood film Three Kings, an Iraqi interrogator asks Gulf War P.O.W. Mark Wahlberg “What is the problem with Michael Jackson?” then answers his own question: “Michael Jackson is pop king of a sick fucking country”). Jackson is a virtual U.S. portrait of Dorian Gray; as America’s corporate culture grows uglier and uglier, and extends further and further into our government, schools, sporting events, museums and entertainment industries, his face becomes more and more freakish through plastic surgery, a symbol of corporatization out of control.
Finally, Norman Mailer has observed that “because democracy is noble, it is always endangered…the natural government for most people, given the uglier depths of human nature, is fascism. Fascism is more of a natural state.” One of the most shocking things to me about the aftermath of 9/11 was the number of left-leaning people I talked to who were willing to give up all kinds of hard-won civil liberties and rights to privacy so that the government could fight terrorism (no wonder the Patriot Act is sailing through Congress unchecked). Voluntarily relinquishing our freedoms to protect our “freedom” from outside attackers (xenophobia again) who need to be converted to the ways of “freedom” is absurd. That may be why the arts and political media, and Congress, are so uncritical these days—give the people what they want. Corporate culture, the FCC lifting the last restrictions on monopolies in media and entertainment (hello, Clear Channel), the centrism of the Republican and Democratic platforms in the election of 2000, the post-9/11 non-partisanship of Congress (wasn’t the Soviet Union a one-party system too?), the go-it-alone mentality of Operation Iraqi Freedom; they’re all about having NO CHOICE, and that’s fascism. If we accept the lazy (at best) or corrupt (at worst) compliance of our representatives, whether they’re monitoring national and international affairs or the film and music worlds; if the American people are too slack, self-interested, or ignorant to complain, then we deserve what we get. Remember, it wasn’t the government or the media that had a schoolteacher fired during the war for wearing a t-shirt with a peace sign on it (as reported by Tim Robbins), it was some asinine American citizen who, whatever his position on Iraq, doesn’t even understand that the intended outcome of any war is peace. Let’s throw all these bums out of office, from the plutocratic/oligarchic Bush administration, to the sleepwalking Congress that lets them run wild, to every film critic that pats Steven Spielberg or Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein on the back, to every rock critic that can’t tell a good Nick Cave album from a bad one.
“WE CREATED IT—LET’S TAKE IT OVER!” –Patti Smith, after finishing “My Generation”, live at the Cleveland Agora, 1976—America’s Bicentennial Year.
Alan Licht is the author of An Emotional Memoir of Martha Quinn (Drag City) and that a double CD A New York Minute will be released on XI this summer.
[The following is from Steve Perry's bushwarsblog.com concerning something he posted a few days ago, and to which I linked. I think it's very pertinent as I've linked to other sites on my site -- "humor" sites -- that were criticized as being racist. My own response to Steve is below.]
I admit I had some misgivings over posting the Snoop Dogg translation of Bush's victory speech yesterday. And an old friend of mine--a person who tends to be both hypersensitive and wise in matters of crypto-racism--wrote me as follows: "This isn't such a good idea. It reeks of coon show."
I know what he means, and the question comes down to this (I think): Is it prima facie racist to employ racially tinged stereotypes to make a point?
The point I wished to make between the lines was this: Gangsta culture is gangsta culture, and if you credit the reasoning of Bush's foreign policy, you have to respect the most hardcore gangsta rappers as well--and, needless to say, vice versa. Why? Because either it's all right to value getting paid over all else--sooner rather than later, and by any means available--or else it's not. Any which way, I see the Bush administration and the most grandiose of the hiphop gangstas in the same light.
But maybe this is all just so much rationalization, irrelevant even if it's correct in its own obscure way; maybe, for practical purposes, the most salient point is that employing racial stereotypes to any end is pernicious. Myself, I think we're past that point. But I'm not entirely sure. Tell me what you think: firstname.lastname@example.org
I run the website Circulars, and reposted the Shizzolatin piece, though with some reservations:
I didn’t foreground the metaphor that you were making between gangsta culture and the Bush regime – I don’t think too many people would have gotten that, certainly not in the formulation that you made on your blog today.
(“The point I wished to make between the lines was this: Gangsta culture is gangsta culture, and if you credit the reasoning of Bush's foreign policy, you have to respect the most hardcore gangsta rappers as well--and, needless to say, vice versa. Why? Because either it's all right to value getting paid over all else--sooner rather than later, and by any means available--or else it's not. Any which way, I see the Bush administration and the most grandiose of the hiphop gangstas in the same light.”)
I put it up, though, because I see my site as a sort of clearing house for different ways of making political art, even if slightly tasteless. At times – like when I make links to the site whitehouse.org – racist stereotypes and language are involved. (Actually, it’s only that site that moves into racism – other more or less “tasteless” political art seems to have no problem stereotyping gays and women, not to mention those with mental health issues.)
Here are the two times that I linked to whitehouse.org and/or took some of their art: http://www.arras.net/circulars/archives/000583.html. (I actually agree with “Buford,” that the piece, which I hadn’t read entirely before posting, is pretty bad, though I think “he” is more full of “hatred” than I could ever be – I would never fantasize about doing harm to someone the way he does.)
Here’s the other one -- http://www.arras.net/circulars/archives/000480.html-- which seems to take shots at everybody, though the commenter didn’t obviously think so.
This is because I’m interested in the creative, non-discursive, “surprise attack” aspects of political art – excess, even if it moves beyond positive formulations of “what we should do,” since I feel pretty desperate to fill in the void of wilder forms of protest art that seem to have been more prevalent in the last century. Here is something rather extreme, again having to do mostly with celebrities: http://www.arras.net/circulars/archives/000582.html.
In addition, I write about “digital poetics” and cover topics concerning how a text can move from an ethically neutral zone to one that is ethically charged based on the work of a simple algorithm – the site pornolize.com is the example I use, but it seems the most recent crop tends to have to do with Black American English (there are tons of “Ebonics” translators out there).
I suppose, if this didn’t come from a site actually created by Snoop Dogg – I’m assuming it was, or by his company – then I wouldn’t have posted it, as there is a pretty tedious new streak of web art these days (I assume by whites) that tries to make a good point – that the internet, or at least most of the discourse around it, seems to be the domain mostly of whites and Asians – by “getting dirty,” trying to be on the good cop by pretending to be the bad cop, and doing obnoxious things like this site -- http://rent-a-negro.com/ -- whose URL speaks for itself.
I myself am Korean American (“half” Korean), and was not raised in a Korean neighborhood, so I’ve had my share of racial epithets tossed my way. I know that when I was in high school – I attended an urban high school in Jersey City rather than my mostly white high school in the suburbs – it was somewhat liberating for me and my friends there, who were mostly non-white, to play with racially-charged language – we took it over, in a sense, though not to pathological extremes – it still hurt when we heard it elsewhere.
I’ve never mentioned that I was Korean American on the site, though, as I didn’t think it mattered, in a way, and my hope was that the sensibility expressed on the site – to which there are over 15 contributors – would be general enough, beyond any need to psychoanalyze motives. But I confess that I was a bit afraid, also – would it be acceptable to people “out there” that a site that is so obviously critical of the Bush administration was created by a Korean American? I don’t want to know.
I guess I always hope that “we” can share a joke – that racist stereotypes are bad – by putting on the masks, switching identities, playing with the language, etc., but I’m not sure how that plays out in the long run, in either reaffirming what we would like to destroy, etc. I may have lost some readers by posting the links to whitehouse.org, or even your site – well, my readership has gone down anyway, since the “war” “ended” – which is unfortunate, but I’ve learned a lot by reading the comments section on my site in reaction to these pieces, even when they were flames.
There are certainly enough stereotypes about white people flying around in the political art of today, perhaps particularly Texans – is the fact that it white Americans create this art important? Are the perspectives translating well across a broad spectrum of culture?
Anyway, I have no answers to any of this. One can’t expect everyone to share one’s sense of the range of permissible forms of expression – something will always confuse or anger someone else – negativity, whether in the form of punk rock, gangsta rap, Dada, even these language algorithms, can have its liberating aspects, but to many it might just seem vicious noise.
[A second email soon after...]
One last point I wanted to make was this – that the ethnic make-up of the Bush cabinet seems to suggest that he is responding to a need for racial diversity in the government, and is in some ways “progressive.” Fine, but I think the issue is not just “diversity” but “difference” – that the various races that live in America also play by different rules when they are existing in their own neighborhoods, cultures, etc. – speak differently, also. Sometimes they don’t even hear each other, though the Bush cabinet, working in exquisite concord, apparently does.
I suppose, though I am not sure, that creating obnoxious cartoons about “difference” at least suggest the contradictions and potential conflicts in American culture that the Bush cabinet seems to want to gloss over, as they have glossed over differences with their peers around the world. I prefer this harsh highlighting of recalcitrant social detail over the evangelical “vision” that guides our foreign and domestic policy at the moment. Perhaps I am the wrong person to foreground this – I’m pretty middle class – but nonetheless it seems necessary.
Does this make sense?
While the loss of life, and potentially disastrous political ramifications,
from the current US action in Iraq are horrifying enough, the wholesale loss
of the collections of Baghdad's National Library and Archive, of the library
of Korans at the Ministry of Religious Endowment and of the cuneiform clay
tablet archive in Baghdad's National Museum (see articles below) are an
intellectual extinction at the scale of the human species that beggars the
As poets, we should resurrect the ghost of Charles Olson and unleash him on
the White House, Pentagon and CIA with a month's supply of benzedrine, Jim
Beam and cigarettes till they beg for mercy on their bloodied knees. And
then send in Ezra Pound and HD with typewriter bombs and lethal incantations
to finish them off.
Let us take some note of this major cultural catastrophe and direct hit to
poets--it's like we just lost our mother, kids. Mnemosyne, mother of the
muses. She who rocked the cradle of our civilization.
More proof that cultural and species extinction go hand in hand, in this
predatory epoch. The murderers have just blown a gap in the cultural record
to rival the great unconformities geologists and evolutionists will forever
scratch their heads over. For this we will be remembered, if there are any
heads to scratch a few hundred years from now.
In the meantime, I lay this huge crime squarely at the feet of the
destroyers-in-my-name who, in a charitable interpretation, knew not what
they wrought--- but who, in a more cynical light, knew exactly what they
were up to. Who blew open the doors to the archives while they barricaded
the Ministry of Oil.
Why waste time killing individuals? If you want to destroy a people, you
wipe out their memory, their history, their imagination. This is genocide,
ethnocide, matricide, a "crime against humanity" on a massive scale, if
those words have any meaning left to wring.
As poets we should, collectively, lodge a FORMAL PROTEST and expression of
outrage, demanding a full investigation and that Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney,
Powell, Rice, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rove and Co. be tried for their matricidal
crimes against humanity.
As poets, can we find words to answer this deep and mortal blow? What bits
of Sumerian wisdom can you offer in this dark moment, friends?
Something more, I hope, than "Ashes to ashes, and dust to dust . . . ?"
As poets, we should resurrect the ghost of Charles Olson and unleash him on
the White House, Pentagon and CIA with a month's supply of benzedrine, Jim
Beam and cigarettes till they beg for mercy on their bloodied knees. And
then send in Ezra Pound and HD with typewriter bombs and lethal incantations
to finish them off.
As poets, ultimately at fault for this destruction, as Robert Kocik has
intelligently and provocatively claimed, should we not be doing our own
Then again, as meek "postmoderns" I suppose we don't need to mourn the loss
of "origins." Should we take any consolation in Derrida's claim that poetry
is, by definition, what "survives the archive"?
SHAME ON US, Destroyers of Civilization!
Here's some of what we know:
Looters May Have Destroyed Priceless Cuneiform Archive
By Buy Gugliotta, Washington Post Staff Writer Friday, April 18, 2003; Page
Looters at Iraq's National Museum of Antiquities pillaged and, perhaps,
destroyed an archive of more than 100,000 cuneiform clay tablets -- a unique
and priceless trove of ancient Mesopotamian writings that included the
"Sippar Library," the oldest library ever found intact on its original
Experts described the archive as the world's least-studied large collection
of cuneiform -- the oldest known writing on Earth -- a record that covers
every aspect of Mesopotamian life over more than 3,000 years. The texts
resided in numbered boxes each containing as many as 400 3-inch-by-2-inch
The Sippar Library, discovered in 1986 at a well-known neo-Babylonian site
near Baghdad, was one of the archive's crown jewels. Dating from the sixth
century B.C., it comprised only about 800 tablets, but it included hymns,
prayers, lamentations, bits of epics, glossaries, astronomical and
scientific texts, missing pieces of a flood legend that closely parallels
the biblical story of Noah, and the prologue to the Code of Hammurabi, the
ancient Babylonian lawgiver.
"This is the kind of discovery that one waits 100 years to see," said Yale's
Benjamin Foster, curator of the Yale Babylonian Collection. "And now we'll
never have another chance. It's a tragedy of the first order." Foster said
only about two dozen of the Sippar Library tablets have been fully analyzed
UCLA Assyriologist Robert Englund noted that while some of the Sippar
material was similar, at least in part, to works in earlier finds, "the vast
majority of at least 100,000 texts in the archive are unique, very poorly
documented and barely studied, if at all. I'm more fearful for these
April 15, 2003
The Sacking of Baghdad: Burning the History of Iraq by ROBERT FISK
So yesterday was the burning of books. First came the looters, then the
arsonists. It was the final chapter in the sacking of Baghdad. The National
Library and Archives, a priceless treasure of Ottoman historical documents,
including the old royal archives of Iraq, were turned to ashes in 3,000
degrees of heat. Then the library of Korans at the Ministry of Religious
Endowment was set ablaze.
I saw the looters. One of them cursed me when I tried to reclaim a book of
Islamic law from a boy of no more than 10. Amid the ashes of Iraqi history,
I found a file blowing in the wind outside: pages of handwritten letters
between the court of Sharif Hussein of Mecca, who started the Arab revolt
against the Turks for Lawrence of Arabia, and the Ottoman rulers of Baghdad.
And the Americans did nothing. All over the filthy yard they blew, letters
of recommendation to the courts of Arabia, demands for ammunition for
troops, reports on the theft of camels and attacks on pilgrims, all in
delicate hand-written Arabic script. I was holding in my hands the last
Baghdad vestiges of Iraq's written history. But for Iraq, this is Year Zero;
with the destruction of the antiquities in the Museum of Archaeology on
Saturday and the burning of the National Archives and then the Koranic
library, the cultural identity of Iraq is being erased. Why? Who set these
fires? For what insane purpose is this heritage being destroyed?
When I caught sight of the Koranic library burning--flames 100 feet high
were bursting from the windows--I raced to the offices of the occupying
power, the US Marines' Civil Affairs Bureau. An officer shouted to a
colleague that "this guy says some biblical [sic] library is on fire". I
gave the map location, the precise name--in Arabic and English. I said the
smoke could be seen from three miles away and it would take only five
minutes to drive there. Half an hour later, there wasn't an American at the
scene--and the flames were shooting 200 feet into the air.
There was a time when the Arabs said that their books were written in Cairo,
printed in Beirut and read in Baghdad. Now they burn libraries in Baghdad.
In the National Archives were not just the Ottoman records of the Caliphate,
but even the dark years of the country's modern history, handwritten
accounts of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, with personal photographs and
military diaries,and microfiche copies of Arabic newspapers going back to
the early 1900s. But the older files and archives were on the upper floors
of the library where petrol must have been used to set fire so expertly to
the building. The heat was such that the marble flooring had buckled upwards
and the concrete stairs that I climbedhad been cracked.
The papers on the floor were almost too hot to touch, bore no print or
writing, and crumbled into ash the moment I picked them up. Again, standing
in this shroud of blue smoke and embers, I asked the same question: why? So,
as an all-too-painful reflection on what this means, let me quote from the
shreds of paper that I found on the road outside, blowing in the wind,
written by long-dead men who wrote to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul or to
the Court of Sharif of Mecca with expressions of loyalty and who signed
themselves "your slave". There was a request to protect a camel convoy of
tea, rice and sugar, signed by Husni Attiya al-Hijazi (recommending Abdul
Ghani-Naim and Ahmed Kindi as honest merchants), a request for perfume and
advice from Jaber al-Ayashi of the royal court of Sharif Hussein to Baghdad
to warn of robbers in the desert. "This is just to give you our advice for
which you will be highly rewarded," Ayashi says. "If you don't take our
advice, then we have warned you." A touch of Saddam there, I thought. The
date was 1912.
Some of the documents list the cost of bullets, military horses and
artillery for Ottoman armies in Baghdad and Arabia, others record the
opening of the first telephone exchange in the Hejaz--soon to be Saudi
Arabia--while one recounts, from the village of Azrak in modern-day Jordan,
the theft of clothes from a camel train by Ali bin Kassem, who attacked his
interrogators "with a knife and tried to stab them but was restrained and
later bought off". There is a 19th-century letter of recommendation for a
merchant, Yahyia Messoudi, "a man of the highest morals, of good conduct and
who works with the [Ottoman] government." This, in other words, was the
tapestry of Arab history--all that is left of it, which fell into The
Independent's hands as the mass of documents crackled in the immense heat of
King Faisal of the Hejaz, the ruler of Mecca, whose staff are the authors of
many of the letters I saved, was later deposed by the Saudis. His son Faisel
became king of Iraq--Winston Churchill gave him Baghdad after the French
threw him out of Damascus--and his brother Abdullah became the first king of
Jordan, the father of King Hussein and the grandfather of the present-day
Jordanian monarch, King Abdullah II.
For almost a thousand years, Baghdad was the cultural capital of the Arab
world, the most literate population in the Middle East. Genghis Khan's
grandson burnt the city in the 13th century and, so it was said, the Tigris
river ran black with the ink of books. Yesterday, the black ashes of
thousands of ancient documents filled the skies of Iraq.
(A sign of our blinkered times that this item should go under the heading
"argument" rather than news.)
U.S. Culture Advisers Resign Over Iraq Museum Looting Fri Apr 18, 2:24 By
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Two cultural advisers to the Bush administration have
resigned in protest over the failure of U.S. forces to prevent the wholesale
looting of priceless treasures from Baghdad's antiquities museum.
Martin Sullivan, who chaired the President's Advisory Committee on Cultural
Property for eight years, and panel member Gary Vikan said they resigned
because the U.S. military had had advance warning of the danger to Iraq's
"We certainly know the value of oil but we certainly don't know the value of
historical artifacts," Vikan, director of the Walters Art Gallery in
Baltimore, told Reuters on Thursday.
At the start of the U.S.-led campaign against Iraq, military forces quickly
secured valuable oil fields.
Baghdad's museums, galleries and libraries are empty shells, destroyed in a
wave of looting that erupted as U.S.-led forces ended Saddam Hussein's rule
last week, although antiquities experts have said they were given assurances
months ago from U.S. military planners that Iraq's historic artifacts and
sites would be protected by occupying forces.
"It didn't have to happen," Sullivan told Reuters. "In a pre-emptive war
that's the kind of thing you should have planned for." Sullivan sent his
letter of resignation earlier this week.
The Iraqi National Museum held rare artifacts documenting the development of
mankind in ancient Mesopotamia, one of the world's earliest civilizations.
Among the museum collection were more than 80,000 cuneiform tablets, some of
which had yet to be translated.
Professional art thieves may have been behind some of the looting, said
leading archeologists gathered in Paris on Thursday to seek ways to rescue
Iraq's cultural heritage.
Among the priceless treasures missing are the 5,000-year-old Vase of Uruk
and the Harp of Ur. The bronze Statue of Basitki from the Akkadian kingdom
is also gone, somehow hauled out of the museum despite its huge weight.
The White House repeated on Thursday that the looting was unfortunate but
the U.S. military had worked hard to preserve the infrastructure of Iraq.
"It is unfortunate that there was looting and damage done to the museum and
we have offered rewards, as Secretary Rumsfeld has said, for individuals who
may have taken items from the museum to bring those back," White House
spokeswoman Claire Buchan said in Crawford, Texas, where President Bush is
spending a long Easter break.
FBI Director Robert Mueller added that the bureau was sending agents to Iraq
to assist with criminal investigations and had issued Interpol alerts to all
member nations regarding the potential sale of stolen artifacts.
"We recognize the importance of these treasures to the Iraqi people and as
well to the world as a whole," Mueller said. "And we are firmly committed to
doing whatever we can in order to secure the return of these treasures to
the people of Iraq."
The president appoints the 11-member advisory committee, which works through
the State Department to advise the executive office on the 1970 UNESCO
Convention on international protection of cultural objects.
And the following came by way of George Quasha, before news of the library
burnings had even hit:
"USA Encouraged Ransacking"
This is a translation of an article from April 11 from Dagens Nyheter,
Sweden’s largest newspaper, based in Stockholm. The article was written by
Ole Rothenborg and translated by Joe Valasek. Khaled Bayomi, has taught and
researched on Middle Eastern conflicts for ten years at the University of
Lund where he is also working on his doctorate. He has given his permission
for this interview to be widely disseminated.
Khaled Bayomi looks surprised when the American officer on TV complains that
they don’t have the resources to stop the plundering in Baghdad. "I happened
to be right there just as the American troops encouraged people to begin the
Khaled Bayomi traveled from Europe to Baghdad to be a human shield and
arrived on the same day that the war began. About this he can tell many
stories but the most interesting is certainly his eyewitness account of the
wave of plundering.
"I had gone to see some friends who live near a dilapidated area just past
Haifa Avenue on the west bank of the Tigris. It was the 8th of April and the
fighting was so intense that I was unable to return to the other side of the
river. In the afternoon it became perfectly quiet and four American tanks
took places on the edge of the slum area. The soldiers shot two Sudanese
guards who stood at their posts outside a local administration building on
the other side of Haifa Avenue. Then they blasted apart the doors to the
building and from the tanks came eager calls in Arabic encouraging people to
come close to them. "
"The entire morning, everyone who had tried to cross the road had been shot.
But in the strange silence after all the shooting, people gradually became
curious. After 45 minutes, the first Baghdad citizens dared to come out.
Arab interpreters in the tanks told the people to go and take what they
wanted in the building."
"The word spread quickly and the building was ransacked. I was standing only
300 yards from there when the guards were murdered. Afterwards the tank
crushed the entrance to the Justice Department, which was in a neighboring
building, and the plundering continued there".
"I stood in a large crowd and watched this together with them. They did not
partake in the plundering but dared not to interfere. Many had tears of
shame in their eyes. The next morning the plundering spread to the Modern
Museum, which lies a quarter mile farther north. There were also two crowds
there, one that plundered and one with watched with disgust."
"Are you saying that it was US troops who initiated the plundering?’
"Absolutely. The lack of jubilant scenes meant that the American troops
needed pictures of Iraqis who in different ways demonstrated hatred for
"The people pulled down a large statue of Saddam?"
"Did they? It was an American tank that did that, right beside the hotel
where all the journalists stay. Until lunchtime on April 9, I did not see
one destroyed Saddam portrait. If people had wanted to pull down statues
they could have taken down some of the small ones without any help from
American tanks. If it had been a political upheaval, the people would have
pulled down statues first and then plundered."
"Isn’t it good that Saddam is gone?"
"He’s not gone. He has broken his army down into very small groups. That’s
why there hasn’t been a large battle. About the official state, you could
say that Saddam dissolved that already in 1992 and he’s built a parallel
tribal structure that is totally decisive in Iraq. When the US began the
war, Saddam abandoned the state completely and now depends on the tribal
structure. That was why he abandoned the large cities without a fight."
"Now the US is compelled to do everything themselves because there’s no
political body within the country which will challenge the existing
structure. The two who came in from outside the country were annihilated at
once. (The reference here is to General Nazar al-Khazraji, who returned from
Denmark and the Shiite Muslim leader, Abdul Majid al-Khoei.) They were cut
to pieces with swords and knives by a furious crowd in Najaf because they
were thought to be American puppets. According to the Danish newspaper BT,
al-Khazraji was brought from Denmark to Iraq by the CIA."
"Now we have an occupying power in place in Iraq that has not said how long
it intends to remain, has not given any plan for civilian rule and no date
for general elections. Enormous chaos is now to be expected."
Vows To Oppose Supplemental; Offers Amendment to Bring Troops Home
Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich (D-OH), who leads opposition to the war in Iraq within the House, spoke today on the House floor in opposition to the war supplemental and offer an amendment to bring the troops home.
Kucinich issued the following statement:
“I support the troops. But, this war is illegal and wrong. I do not support this mission. I will not vote to fund this Administration’s war in Iraq...
“This war is not about defending the United States from a foreign threat in Iraq. This war is not about the U.S. trying to save or liberate the Iraqi people. This is not about an Iraqi nuclear threat. Iraq did not attack the United States. The United Nations (UN) did not approve this war as being necessary to protect international security. In addition, this Administration did not provide evidence for its claims that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction (WMD) prior to military conflict. And, several key pieces of evidence have been shown to be fraudulent.
“This war is killing our troops. This war is killing innocent Iraqi civilians. This war must end now. It was unjust when it started two weeks ago, and is still unjust today. The U.S. should get out now and try to save the lives of American troops and Iraqi citizens.
“Many members of the Republican Leadership have demonstrated how to vote against war funding and support our troops. On December 13, 1995, the House, under the control of Speaker Gingrich, considered HR 2770. This bill, a “prohibition of funds for deployment of Armed Forces in Bosnia,” was introduced by Rep. Bob Dornan (R-CA). Many leading Republicans, such as Tom DeLay, Dennis Hastert, Bill Thomas, Duncan Hunter and Henry Hyde, voted to cut-off funds for the military action while troops were deployed in Bosnia. In fact, 82% of Republicans voted to cut off the funds while troops were deployed in Bosnia.
“Ending the war now and resuming weapons inspections could salvage world opinion of the United States. The greatest threat to the United States at this time is terrorism, which this war will breed.”
During debate, Kucinich offered an amendment to bring the troops home immediately. The Kucinich amendment would cut $19.3 billion from Operation Iraqi Freedom Fund. The amendment would leave $30.3 billion to fund the war to date, plus $10 billion to get the troops out of Iraq. The amendment would save taxpayers $19.4 billion or could be used for increased homeland security, education, healthcare, or veterans funds.
Kucinich will vote ‘no’ on final passage of the war supplemental.
[The following was sent to Circulars by Ammiel Alcalay.]
Below is a letter from a friend of mine, Elliott Colla, a professor of Arabic at Brown University; the letter is about the outcome of a case involving a friend of his, Gamal Eid, an Egyptian human rights lawyer who was picked up in the recent demonstrations in Cairo and tortured. While it is crucial for us to keep up the pressure on our selected and even elected officials here, the demonstrations taking place around the Arab world in the next few weeks are of enormous importance. I am working with a group of ex-pats in Cairo who can be our eyes and ears, and I also have contact with various other people in other countries, not to mention Human Rights Watch. It is very important for people there to know that we will do whatever we can to speak out about their situation, particularly when a country like Egypt, a recipient of much US aid, is in question. I will keep you posted as other cases emerge. Below is Elliott's letter:
Thank you all for faxing in letters and for asking more about Gamal Eid
-- there's no doubt that our efforts have been helpful, not only for
Gamal's case, but also for those of the others also held with him. I'm
sending along three bits of news for you.
The first is an upbeat 4-line email I got from Gamal last night (1,
below), and the second is an email from Gamal's wife, Clarisa Bencomo
(2, below), explaining the terms of Gamal's release -- which remains
temporary, until a hearing that will take place on Saturday. Clarisa's
letter explains Gamal's request that the case is far from over -- and
that the state prosecutor may press for more serious charges. A third
piece, which I've attached, is an update on the case from Amnesty
International, forwarded to me by another friend of Gamal's, Avner Gidron.
In my rush to contact friends, I did not stress enough that Gamal was
one of hundreds -- from old men and women to college students to
teenagers, from activists to middle-class passersby -- who were picked
up by the Egyptian state security police. Protests broke out in Egypt
last week following the start of the US war on Iraq, as they have in
most every capital city throughout the world. In so-called "moderate
Arab regimes" (such as Egypt and in Jordan) state repression of these
protests has been especially fierce and brutal, mainly because of the
fragility of regimes in those countries, whihc are both corrupt and
allied tacitly with the US war plan. Protesters in Cairo were attacked
with water canons and clubs by state police. Of the hundreds arrested,
about seventy (including Gamal's group) were held longer. This group
includes a number of children (being held in adult criminal prisons,
where they are often preyed upon). Detainees have complained of being
beaten with sticks, which has resulted in injured eyes, internal
injuries and broken limbs. Women detainees complained of being
threatened with rape.
These practices -- torture, housing children with adult convicts, and
rape of female detainees -- are a regular part of life in Egyptian
prisons, and well documented by groups like Amnesty International and
Human Rights Watch. In recent years, since it was mainly Islamists who
were suffering under these conditions, few in the West or in Egypt,
besides human rights activists (like Gamal), paid much attention to
their suffering. But the people protesting the war in Egypt, and the
people detained with Gamal -- professionals, workers, members of
Parliament, secularists, Islamists, nationalists, liberals,
internationalists -- represent a huge range of backgrounds and political
leanings in Egyptian society. That the state is willing to mistreat (and
torture) all sorts of people from so many different classes and
political backgrounds does not bode well for Egyptian society. It also
points to how precarious Mubarak's rule really is. Moreover, since the
Mubarak regime, ruling by martial law for decades, forbids even peaceful
demonstrations, there's good reason to fear a vicious pattern occurring
over the next months: more popular protests, which are violently
repressed, more arbitrary detentions and more instances of torture and
People unfamiliar with Egypt should bear in mind that Egypt is America's
showcase "moderate ally" in the Arab and Muslim world. Americans
knowledge of modern Egyptian politics is largely limited to Anwar Sadat,
revered in the US as the man who dared to make peace with Israel. He is
not remembered that way in Egypt, and his successor, Hosni Mubarak, has
even less popularity. In the 80s, Egypt was an important test case for
exporting American free market ideology -- privatization of industry,
making the labor force "efficient and competitive," and freeing up
restrictions on international capital under IMF management: the result
has been an economic and social disaster, as people found growth
stalled, resources controlled by foreign interests and economic safety
nets gone. In recent years, Egypt has been regularly represented in the
US press as a country that is liberalizing politically, even as the
state continued to forge elections, harass, imprison and assassinate
political opponents. For most Egyptians, this does not feel like the
kind of liberalism they dream of, and which used to exist in the
country. Finally, Egypt is also the recipient of huge amounts of US aid
(second only to Israel), most of which goes to support the bloated
Egyptian military. Egyptian officers, including State Security officers
who torture political prisoners, are routinely trained in the US. For
most Egyptians, these dots are not difficult to connect. Because of the
extent of US involvement in propping up the unpopular, corrupt and
brutal Mubarak regime, the US appears as a crucial player in these sad
These connections are important to keep in mind these days. As we oppose
the current war in Iraq, we must not forget that the US has been in the
business of regime change, regime maintenance, and regime rehabilitation
for many years in the Arab world. The example of Egypt is unique -- but
it is also not so distinct from that of other "US allies" in the region:
Jordan, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and so on. Unfortunately
for the hawks running this war, people in the region continue to
remember their history -- and continue to remember what values the US
has traditionally fostered among its allies -- which is why few, if any,
are now running out to welcome US troops as liberators.
All of this is to say, that our opposition to the policies driving this
current war is far broader than the war effort itself, simply because
this war, though radical and extreme, is not "outside" the history of US
intervention and influence in the Middle East.
Likewise, our opposition to the hawks in this country is more than a
purely negative position: it's also a positive affirmation of solidarity
with social justice and peace activists in the region itself. People
like Gamal or the thousands of others who ask that their countries
belong to their peoples, not just to ruling cliques propped by
Washington. People in the Middle East who are asking that those slogans
under which Bush launched the war -- democracy, economic prosperity, and
social justice -- be retaken by progressives and put into real practice.
If after reading all this, you would like to continue helping those
Egyptians still being held by the Mubarak regime, I have two
suggestions: the first is from the attached report from Amnesty
International, which contains practical advice for how to continue a fax
campaign about prison conditions in Egypt. It is also important to note
in our letters that US aid to Egypt is tied to Egypt's respect of human
rights treaties. Second, this point about US aid should also be made to
our own congressional representatives -- there is no good reason why the
US military should be training Egyptian state torturers and why US
taxpayers should foot the bill. Since US rule in Baghdad will be based
to some extent on previous experiences, like our alliance with the
Egyptian regime, now is a good time to speak out critically on this history.
My brother Phil has supplied me with the (correct) fax info for Egyptian
consulates, etc -- in case you want to continue on. I've pasted them
after Gamal's and Clarisa's emails. (3, below)
Thanks again to everyone who wrote on Gamal's behalf -- please feel free
to forward to anyone else who has been following Gamal's case.
In peace and solidarity,
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 15:12:26 -0800 (PST)
From: gamal eid
Subject: I'm Free Now
To: 2clary m 2ben
X-Brown-MailScanner: Found to be clean
I'm free, and i'm at home.
Thank you all.
Date: Thu, 27 Mar 2003 19:37:17 -0500
From: clarisa bencomo
To: Clarisa Bencomo
Subject: Gamal Eid update
X-Brown-MailScanner: Found to be clean
As of about midnight Cairo time, Gamal and some of the other detainees
are out of detention (I hope to have a full list tomorrow), although
this is not an official "release," but rather something akin to a
furlough based on an undertaking from the Egyptian Bar Association it
would ensure they appear before the al Azbekiya prosecution office on
Saturday morning. In Gamal's case, even if that set of charges
eventually is suspended, he still must appear before the State Security
prosecution office on Saturday to be interrogated on a separate set of
more serious charges. It isn't clear yet if he will remain out on bail
or be returned to detention after he goes to the State Security
prosecution office. He is in good spirits and was very appreciative of
all the calls and faxes people have sent on behalf of the detainees. He
asks that people continue to pressure the govenment to drop the
prosecutions, stop the tranfer of case to state security prosecution
offices, and release all the detainees.
Children's Rights Division
Human Rights Watch
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118-3299, U.S.A.
Direct line: 212 216-1232
Fax: 212 736 1300
Ambassador Nabil Fahmy
The Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt
3521 International Ct. NW
Washington DC 20008
By facsimile to (202) 244-5131, (202) 244-4319
The Egyptian Consulate General, Los Angeles
3001 Pacific Ave.
San Francisco, CA 94115
By facsimile to (415) 346-9480
The Egyptian Consulate General, New Yord
1110 Second Avenue
New York, NY 10022
By facsimile to (212) 308-7643
The Egyptian Consulate General, Chicago
500 N. Michigan Ave., Suite # 1900
Chicago, IL 60611
The Egyptian Consulate General, Houston
1990 Post Oak Blvd. Suite # 2180
Houston, TX. 77056
By facsimile to (713)961-3868
[from The Globe and Mail:]
Dear America: This is a difficult letter to write, because I'm no longer sure who you are.
Some of you may be having the same trouble. I thought I knew you: We'd become well acquainted over the past 55 years. You were the Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck comic books I read in the late 1940s. You were the radio shows -- Jack Benny, Our Miss Brooks. You were the music I sang and danced to: the Andrews Sisters, Ella Fitzgerald, the Platters, Elvis. You were a ton of fun.
You wrote some of my favourite books. You created Huckleberry Finn, and Hawkeye, and Beth and Jo in Little Women, courageous in their different ways. Later, you were my beloved Thoreau, father of environmentalism, witness to individual conscience; and Walt Whitman, singer of the great Republic; and Emily Dickinson, keeper of the private soul. You were Hammett and Chandler, heroic walkers of mean streets; even later, you were the amazing trio, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Faulkner, who traced the dark labyrinths of your hidden heart. You were Sinclair Lewis and Arthur Miller, who, with their own American idealism, went after the sham in you, because they thought you could do better.
You were Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, you were Humphrey Bogart in Key Largo, you were Lillian Gish in Night of the Hunter. You stood up for freedom, honesty and justice; you protected the innocent. I believed most of that. I think you did, too. It seemed true at the time.
You put God on the money, though, even then. You had a way of thinking that the things of Caesar were the same as the things of God: that gave you self-confidence. You have always wanted to be a city upon a hill, a light to all nations, and for a while you were. Give me your tired, your poor, you sang, and for a while you meant it.
We've always been close, you and us. History, that old entangler, has twisted us together since the early 17th century. Some of us used to be you; some of us want to be you; some of you used to be us. You are not only our neighbours: In many cases -- mine, for instance -- you are also our blood relations, our colleagues, and our personal friends. But although we've had a ringside seat, we've never understood you completely, up here north of the 49th parallel.
We're like Romanized Gauls -- look like Romans, dress like Romans, but aren't Romans -- peering over the wall at the real Romans. What are they doing? Why? What are they doing now? Why is the haruspex eyeballing the sheep's liver? Why is the soothsayer wholesaling the Bewares?
Perhaps that's been my difficulty in writing you this letter: I'm not sure I know what's really going on. Anyway, you have a huge posse of experienced entrail-sifters who do nothing but analyze your every vein and lobe. What can I tell you about yourself that you don't already know?
This might be the reason for my hesitation: embarrassment, brought on by a becoming modesty. But it is more likely to be embarrassment of another sort. When my grandmother -- from a New England background -- was confronted with an unsavoury topic, she would change the subject and gaze out the window. And that is my own inclination: Mind your own business.
But I'll take the plunge, because your business is no longer merely your business. To paraphrase Marley's Ghost, who figured it out too late, mankind is your business. And vice versa: When the Jolly Green Giant goes on the rampage, many lesser plants and animals get trampled underfoot. As for us, you're our biggest trading partner: We know perfectly well that if you go down the plug-hole, we're going with you. We have every reason to wish you well.
I won't go into the reasons why I think your recent Iraqi adventures have been -- taking the long view -- an ill-advised tactical error. By the time you read this, Baghdad may or may not look like the craters of the Moon, and many more sheep entrails will have been examined. Let's talk, then, not about what you're doing to other people, but about what you're doing to yourselves.
You're gutting the Constitution. Already your home can be entered without your knowledge or permission, you can be snatched away and incarcerated without cause, your mail can be spied on, your private records searched. Why isn't this a recipe for widespread business theft, political intimidation, and fraud? I know you've been told all this is for your own safety and protection, but think about it for a minute. Anyway, when did you get so scared? You didn't used to be easily frightened.
You're running up a record level of debt. Keep spending at this rate and pretty soon you won't be able to afford any big military adventures. Either that or you'll go the way of the USSR: lots of tanks, but no air conditioning. That will make folks very cross. They'll be even crosser when they can't take a shower because your short-sighted bulldozing of environmental protections has dirtied most of the water and dried up the rest. Then things will get hot and dirty indeed.
You're torching the American economy. How soon before the answer to that will be, not to produce anything yourselves, but to grab stuff other people produce, at gunboat-diplomacy prices? Is the world going to consist of a few megarich King Midases, with the rest being serfs, both inside and outside your country? Will the biggest business sector in the United States be the prison system? Let's hope not.
If you proceed much further down the slippery slope, people around the world will stop admiring the good things about you. They'll decide that your city upon the hill is a slum and your democracy is a sham, and therefore you have no business trying to impose your sullied vision on them. They'll think you've abandoned the rule of law. They'll think you've fouled your own nest.
The British used to have a myth about King Arthur. He wasn't dead, but sleeping in a cave, it was said; in the country's hour of greatest peril, he would return. You, too, have great spirits of the past you may call upon: men and women of courage, of conscience, of prescience. Summon them now, to stand with you, to inspire you, to defend the best in you. You need them.
Margaret Atwood studied American literature -- among other things -- at Radcliffe and Harvard in the 1960s. She is the author of 10 novels. Her 11th, Oryx and Crake, will be published in May. This essay also appears in The Nation.
I grieve for our nation, and the untold suffering that will be wrought. As history has shown, you can possess the greatest armaments in the world, but if your cause and motives are not right, only catastrophe will result.
P.O. Box 512, Columbia, MO 65205 - 573-474-4449 - Email: email@example.com
OUR COUNTRY ABOVE POLITICS
As the Bush administration moves toward certain war in the Middle East—a war which I believe nothing good will come from, a war which is unjust, unnecessary, and a war which will undoubtedly widen, perhaps even into world war, thereby placing our nation in dire peril—I have made a decision regarding my position as Boone County Republican Chairman.
Wars are easy to get into, but very difficult to get out of. They can sap the moral and spiritual fiber of a nation, squander lives and resources, deplete scarce funds, cause undue hardship on all involved, destroy families, and engender hopelessness.
I have questioned both the motives for military action at this time, and the ever-changing, illogical justifications presented to us in what has to be one of the greatest media propaganda blitzes ever force-fed a populace. Any time ground troops are deployed, serious questions must be asked and real answers demanded. The jingoistic rhetoric we are receiving does not constitute legitimate answers.
The consequences of our planned attack on Iraq (and also probably Iran, given the size of our forces and their location in proximity to Iran), should cause us all to pause. The Pentagon has announced that we will hit Baghdad with a force almost equal to the bombing of Hiroshima. Obviously many thousands of civilians will perish, with untold thousands maimed. And for what? To liberate them? To bring them freedom? Or democracy? Or is it to really secure the world’s second largest oil reserve and establish a base from which to subjugate other Middle Eastern nations? Is it also the plan for Israel to use the cover of war to forcibly relocate the Palestinian population (as has been publicly stated by some members of Israel’s current government)?
How on earth have we arrived at this crucial juncture in our country’s history? How has a war on terrorism been converted into an attack on Iraq? What threat does Iraq pose to us? We must lay the blame squarely on our congress, who according to our Constitution, only has the power to declare war. For congress to cede it’s war-making power to the executive branch is unconstitutional on the very face of it and effectively destroys our three branches of government. Circumventing our Constitution is very bad, and the undeclared wars, which have resulted in our recent history, have had disastrous results. Undeclared wars have no declared objectives, and therefore can widen at will, and our foray into the Middle East will likely set in motion a long-term wave of retaliation. Indeed, I believe that the administration would like to entice Iraq into firing the first blow so some justification could be paraded at the United Nations. If the United States government can adopt this unreal doctrine of preemptive attack on any nation, anywhere, at any time, so can other nations! This is how world wars begin. If the President goes into Iraq alone without a UN resolution, he will be in violation of the war powers given him last October by congress which was contingent on UN approval. A constitutional crisis will occur.
What we are about to do in the Middle East is abhorrent to me. It is made doubly so since this is a contrived and fraudulently justified war with hidden objectives. The coming mass slaughter of innocents, the harm our own troops are being placed in, and the potential for wars on several fronts have brought home to me the sobering realization that by remaining Boone County Republican Chairman, I would be giving tacit approval to this imminent war, and tacit approval to the belligerent and reckless language coming from the White House. The safety and integrity of our country outweighs politics.
I therefore resign as Chairman of the Boone County Republican Central Committee effective at noon, March 10, 2003. I do not wish to be Chairman when this tragedy starts. I am not resigning to placate those who have demanded same. I do not fear them in the least. I was quite willing to stand and face an ouster vote. I am resigning because I cannot support the Republican position on this war. I only sought the position of Chairman originally in the hope that I could recruit God-fearing, thinking, pro-life believers in our Constitution to stand for office.
I grieve for our nation, and the untold suffering that will be wrought. As history has shown, you can possess the greatest armaments in the world, but if your cause and motives are not right, only catastrophe will result.
Jack Walters, March 8, 2003
The most powerful state in history has proclaimed that it intends to control the world by force, the dimension in which it reigns supreme.
President Bush and his cohorts evidently believe that the means of violence in their hands are so extraordinary that they can dismiss anyone who stands in their way.
The consequences could be catastrophic in Iraq and around the world. The United States may reap a whirlwind of terrorist retaliation -- and step up the possibility of nuclear Armageddon.
Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and company are committed to an "imperial ambition," as G. John Ikenberry wrote in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs -- "a unipolar world in which the United States has no peer competitor" and in which "no state or coalition could ever challenge it as global leader, protector and enforcer."
That ambition surely includes much expanded control over Persian Gulf resources and military bases to impose a preferred form of order in the region.
Even before the administration began beating the war drums against Iraq, there were plenty of warnings that U.S. adventurism would lead to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, as well as terror, for deterrence or revenge.
Right now, Washington is teaching the world a dangerous lesson: If you want to defend yourself from us, you had better mimic North Korea and pose a credible threat. Otherwise we will demolish you.
There is good reason to believe that the war with Iraq is intended, in part, to demonstrate what lies ahead when the empire decides to strike a blow -- though "war" is hardly the proper term, given the gross mismatch of forces.
A flood of propaganda warns that if we do not stop Saddam Hussein today he will destroy us tomorrow.
Last October, when Congress granted the president the authority to go to war, it was "to defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq."
But no country in Iraq's neighborhood seems overly concerned about Saddam, much as they may hate the murderous tyrant.
Perhaps that is because the neighbors know that Iraq's people are at the edge of survival. Iraq has become one of the weakest states in the region. As a report from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences points out, Iraq's economy and military expenditures are a fraction of some of its neighbors'.
Indeed, in recent years, countries nearby have sought to reintegrate Iraq into the region, including Iran and Kuwait, both invaded by Iraq.
Saddam benefited from U.S. support through the war with Iran and beyond, up to the day of the invasion of Kuwait. Those responsible are largely back at the helm in Washington today.
President Ronald Reagan and the previous Bush administration provided aid to Saddam, along with the means to develop weapons of mass destruction, back when he was far more dangerous than he is now, and had already committed his worst crimes, like murdering thousands of Kurds with poison gas.
An end to Saddam's rule would lift a horrible burden from the people of Iraq. There is good reason to believe that he would suffer the fate of Nicolae Ceausescu and other vicious tyrants if Iraqi society were not devastated by harsh sanctions that force the population to rely on Saddam for survival while strengthening him and his clique.
Saddam remains a terrible threat to those within his reach. Today, his reach does not extend beyond his own domains, though it is likely that U.S. aggression could inspire a new generation of terrorists bent on revenge, and might induce Iraq to carry out terrorist actions suspected to be already in place.
Right now Saddam has every reason to keep under tight control any chemical and biological weapons that Iraq may have. He wouldn't provide such weapons to the Osama bin Ladens of the world, who represent a terrible threat to Saddam himself.
And administration hawks understand that, except as a last resort if attacked, Iraq is highly unlikely to use any weapons of mass destruction that it has -- and risk instant incineration.
Under attack, however, Iraqi society would collapse, including the controls over the weapons of mass destruction. These could be "privatized," as international security specialist Daniel Benjamin warns, and offered to the huge "market for unconventional weapons, where they will have no trouble finding buyers." That really is "a nightmare scenario," he says.
As for the fate of the people of Iraq in war, no one can predict with any confidence: not the CIA, not Rumsfeld, not those who claim to be experts on Iraq, no one.
But international relief agencies are preparing for the worst.
Studies by respected medical organizations estimate that the death toll could rise to the hundreds of thousands. Confidential U.N. documents warn that a war could trigger a "humanitarian emergency of exceptional scale" -- including the possibility that 30 percent of Iraqi children could die from malnutrition.
Today the administration doesn't seem to be heeding the international relief agency warnings about an attack's horrendous aftermath.
The potential disasters are among the many reasons why decent human beings do not contemplate the threat or use of violence, whether in personal life or international affairs, unless reasons have been offered that have overwhelming force. And surely nothing remotely like that justification has come forward.
Noam Chomsky is a political activist, professor of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of the bestseller "9-11." He wrote this article for the New York Times Syndicate.
rabble.ca has posted a petition that offers George W. Bush, his entire family and all of his closest advisors asylum in Canada.
The Bush administration's relentless unilateral march towards war is profoundly disturbing for many reasons, but so far as American citizens are concerned the whole grotesque show is a tremendous failure in democracy. An immensely wealthy and powerful republic has been hijacked by a small cabal of individuals, all of them unelected and therefore unresponsive to public pressure, and simply turned on its head. It is no exaggeration to say that this war is the most unpopular in modern history. Before the war has begun there have been more people protesting it in this country alone than was the case at the height of the anti- Vietnam war demonstrations during the 60s and 70s. Note also that those rallies took place after the war had been going on for several years: this one has yet to begin, even though a large number of overtly aggressive and belligerent steps have already been taken by the US and its loyal puppy, the UK government of the increasingly ridiculous Tony Blair.
I have been criticised recently for my anti-war position by illiterates who claim that what I say is an implied defence of Saddam Hussein and his appalling regime. To my Kuwaiti critics, do I need to remind them that I publicly opposed Ba'athi Iraq during the only visit I made to Kuwait in 1985, when in an open conversation with the then Minister of Education Hassan Al-Ibrahim I accused him and his regime of aiding and abetting Arab fascism in their financial support of Saddam Hussein? I was told then that Kuwait was proud to have committed billions of dollars to Saddam's war against "the Persians", as they were then contemptuously called, and that it was a more important struggle than someone like me could comprehend. I remember clearly warning those Kuwaiti acolytes of Saddam Hussein about him and his ill will against Kuwait, but to no avail. I have been a public opponent of the Iraqi regime since it came to power in the 70s: I never visited the place, never was fooled by its claims to secularism and modernisation (even when many of my contemporaries either worked for or celebrated Iraq as the main gun in the Arab arsenal against Zionism, a stupid idea, I thought), never concealed my contempt for its methods of rule and fascist behaviour. And now when I speak my mind about the ridiculous posturing of certain members of the Iraqi opposition as hapless strutting tools of US imperialism, I am told that I know nothing about life without democracy (about which more later), and am therefore unable to appreciate their nobility of soul. Little notice is taken of the fact that barely a week after extolling President Bush's commitment to democracy Professor Makiya is now denouncing the US and its plans for a post-Saddam military-Ba'athi government in Iraq. When individuals get in the habit of switching the gods whom they worship politically there's no end to the number of changes they make before they finally come to rest in utter disgrace and well deserved oblivion.
But to return to the US and its current actions. In all my encounters and travels I have yet to meet a person who is for the war. Even worse, most Americans now feel that this mobilisation has already gone too far to stop, and that we are on the verge of a disaster for the country. Consider first of all that the Democratic Party, with few exceptions, has simply gone over to the president's side in a gutless display of false patriotism. Wherever you look in the Congress there are the tell-tale signs either of the Zionist lobby, the right-wing Christians, or the military-industrial complex, three inordinately influential minority groups who share hostility to the Arab world, unbridled support for extremist Zionism, and an insensate conviction that they are on the side of the angels. Every one of the 500 congressional districts in this country has a defence industry in it, so that war has been turned into a matter of jobs, not of security. But, one might well ask, how does running an unbelievably expensive war remedy, for instance, economic recession, the almost certain bankruptcy of the social security system, a mounting national debt, and a massive failure in public education? Demonstrations are looked at simply as a kind of degraded mob action, while the most hypocritical lies pass for absolute truth, without criticism and without objection.
The media has simply become a branch of the war effort. What has entirely disappeared from television is anything remotely resembling a consistently dissenting voice. Every major channel now employs retired generals, former CIA agents, terrorism experts and known neoconservatives as "consultants" who speak a revolting jargon designed to sound authoritative but in effect supporting everything done by the US, from the UN to the sands of Arabia. Only one major daily newspaper (in Baltimore) has published anything about US eavesdropping, telephone tapping and message interception of the six small countries that are members of the Security Council and whose votes are undecided. There are no antiwar voices to read or hear in any of the major medias of this country, no Arabs or Muslims (who have been consigned en masse to the ranks of the fanatics and terrorists of this world), no critics of Israel, not on Public Broadcasting, not in The New York Times, the New Yorker, US News and World Report, CNN and the rest. When these organisations mention Iraq's flouting of 17 UN resolutions as a pretext for war, the 64 resolutions flouted by Israel (with US support) are never mentioned. Nor is the enormous human suffering of the Iraqi people during the past 12 years mentioned. Whatever the dreaded Saddam has done Israel and Sharon have also done with American support, yet no one says anything about the latter while fulminating about the former. This makes a total mockery of taunts by Bush and others that the UN should abide by its own resolutions.
The American people have thus been deliberately lied to, their interests cynically misrepresented and misreported, the real aims and intentions of this private war of Bush the son and his junta concealed with complete arrogance. Never mind that Wolfowitz, Feith, and Perle, all of them unelected officials who work for unelected Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon, have for some time openly advocated Israeli annexation of the West Bank and Gaza and the cessation of the Oslo process, have called for war against Iraq (and later Iran), and the building of more illegal Israeli settlements in their capacity (during Netanyahu's successful campaign for prime minister in 1996) as private consultants to him, and that that has become US policy now.
Never mind that Israel's iniquitous policies against Palestinians, which are reported only at the ends of articles (when they are reported at all) as so many miscellaneous civilian deaths, are never compared with Saddam's crimes, which they match or in some cases exceed, all of them, in the final analysis, paid for by the US taxpayer without consultation or approval. Over 40,000 Palestinians have been wounded seriously in the last two years, and about 2,500 killed wantonly by Israeli soldiers who are instructed to humiliate and punish an entire people during what has become the longest military occupation in modern history.
Never mind that not a single critical Arab or Muslim voice has been seen or heard on the major American media, liberal, moderate, or reactionary, with any regularity at all since the preparations for war have gone into their final phase. Consider also that none of the major planners of this war, certainly not the so-called experts like Bernard Lewis and Fouad Ajami, neither of whom has so much as lived in or come near the Arab world in decades, nor the military and political people like Powell, Rice, Cheney, or the great god Bush himself, know anything about the Muslim or Arab worlds beyond what they see through Israeli or oil company or military lenses, and therefore have no idea what a war of this magnitude against Iraq will produce for the people actually living there.
And consider too the sheer, unadorned hubris of men like Wolfowitz and his assistants. Asked to testify to a largely somnolent Congress about the war's consequences and costs they are allowed to escape without giving any concrete answers, which effectively dismisses the evidence of the army chief of staff who has spoken of a military occupation force of 400,000 troops for 10 years at a cost of almost a trillion dollars.
Democracy traduced and betrayed, democracy celebrated but in fact humiliated and trampled on by a tiny group of men who have simply taken charge of this republic as if it were nothing more than, what, an Arab country? It is right to ask who is in charge since clearly the people of the United States are not properly represented by the war this administration is about to loose on a world already beleaguered by too much misery and poverty to endure more. And Americans have been badly served by a media controlled essentially by a tiny group of men who edit out anything that might cause the government the slightest concern or worry. As for the demagogues and servile intellectuals who talk about war from the privacy of their fantasy worlds, who gave them the right to connive in the immiseration of millions of people whose major crime seems to be that they are Muslims and Arabs? What American, except for this small unrepresentative group, is seriously interested in increasing the world's already ample stores of anti-Americanism? Hardly any I would suppose.
Jonathan Swift, thou shouldst be living at this hour.
by Les Payne
The moment this time rode in on a question.
The 43rd president of the United States does not like questions. He avoids them as he avoids the thesaurus. And for good reason. George W. Bush is perhaps the least articulate president since Dwight D. Eisenhower, the most uninformed since Gerald Ford and the most provincial since, say, Warren G. Harding.
The question that brought the moment came toward the end of the president's Thursday night press conference. The tangled question was truly welcomed, as revealed by the president's eyes, as they unbeaded momentarily then nearly teared.
"How is your faith guiding you? What should you tell America or what should America do collectively as you instructed before 9/11? Should it pray?"
The magic word "pray" snapped Bush out of a tailspin of a depressed White House conference that must have sent his most devoted handlers to their rosaries.
"I appreciate that question a lot," Bush said.
Before getting to the studied answer, the president fumbled through snatches of remembered, trite briefing notes about failed Iraq diplomacy, the Saddam Hussein menace and the lessons of 9/11. Then he got down to the part of the question that got him enraptured.
"My faith sustains me," he uttered. "Because I pray daily. I pray for guidance and wisdom and strength. If we were to commit our troops ... I would pray for their safety. And I would pray for the safety of innocent Iraqi lives as well. One thing that's really great about our country is there are thousands of people who pray for me who I'll never see - be able to thank. But it's a humbling experience to think that people I will never have met have lifted me and my family up in prayer. And for that I'm grateful.
"I pray for peace, I pray for peace."
Seldom in modern times have we had a U.S. president speak so prayerfully while done up in his war paint. It recalled those memorial services at the Dover Air Base, or Jimmy Carter on Sunday mornings, or Billy Sunday anytime. One might be moved to snicker, or even to laugh, until one recalls what President Bush 41st said of his son.
"He is a man of the spirit," the father once said, trying to allay fears of his son's finger on the nuclear trigger. At one level, the former president meant that the current one is a born-again Christian. At another, more disturbing level, the father knew that his son had substituted the Bible for the bottle. In a timely article, Newsweek magazine detailed how President Bush wasted his young years in riotous living and how, at age 40, he went dry with the aid of a Bible-thumping, fundamentalist West Texas religious group. "It was goodbye Jack Daniels, Hello Jesus," according to a friend from those early days.
The problem with middle-aged drunks turned Christian is that they can't sleep without yakking about Jesus, and they won't let anyone else sleep, either. Instead of embracing their religion as a private matter, they flaunt it as a mission to convert. They can become a terrible nuisance, especially to those born into the religion.
The drunk-gone-zealot may be reassuring to the troubled family. But it is not altogether reassuring to a modern world facing such a fanatic on the trigger of weapons of mass destruction that are capable of destroying the Earth several times over.
Is it possible that through religious zealotry Bush might make himself a nuisance when facing a non-Christian menace? Already he shows signs of violating secular doctrine in this republic that constitutionally separates government and religion.
Already the religious talk has stirred the hard Christian right to expect their man to walk the walk and enact favorable legislation. Ministers of the evangelical movement, Newsweek points out, "form the core of the Republican Party, which controls all of the capital for the first time in a half century."
With war approaching, Newsweek stated, "This president - this presidency - is the most resolutely 'faith-based' in modern times, an enterprise founded, supported and guided by trust in the temporal and spiritual power of God."
Sept. 11 certainly shifted American foreign policy into high gear against global terrorism. Attacking Iraq, as Bush demands, is not, for many, the most effective way to answer that challenge.
The United Nations Security Council is split on the impending war against Iraq. The Congress may well oppose it, but it doesn't matter. This legislative body, so-called, has already ceded its war-making influence to the White House. Thus, opposition to the war has been left to the people of the Western world. And, by the millions, they have taken to the boulevards of France, Germany and Rome and the streets of the United States.
"We really don't need anybody's permission" to send American planes, missiles and troops into war against Iraq, Bush said at his press conference.
This is indeed true, and it is indeed scary.
[Someone told me that the Times had printed an editorial on the side of war, but this recent editorial, clearly anti-war, doesn't mention it. In any case, here it is...]
Within days, barring a diplomatic breakthrough, President Bush will decide whether to send American troops into Iraq in the face of United Nations opposition. We believe there is a better option involving long-running, stepped-up weapons inspections. But like everyone else in America, we feel the window closing. If it comes down to a question of yes or no to invasion without broad international support, our answer is no.
Even though Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, said that Saddam Hussein was not in complete compliance with United Nations orders to disarm, the report of the inspectors on Friday was generally devastating to the American position. They not only argued that progress was being made, they also discounted the idea that Iraq was actively attempting to manufacture nuclear weapons. History shows that inspectors can be misled, and that Mr. Hussein can never be trusted to disarm and stay disarmed on his own accord. But a far larger and more aggressive inspection program, backed by a firm and united Security Council, could keep a permanent lid on Iraq's weapons program.
By adding hundreds of additional inspectors, using the threat of force to give them a free hand and maintaining the option of attacking Iraq if it tries to shake free of a smothering inspection program, the United States could obtain much of what it was originally hoping to achieve. Mr. Hussein would now be likely to accept such an intrusive U.N. operation. Had Mr. Bush managed the showdown with Iraq in a more measured manner, he would now be in a position to rally the U.N. behind that bigger, tougher inspection program, declare victory and take most of the troops home.
Unfortunately, by demanding regime change, Mr. Bush has made it much harder for Washington to embrace this kind of long-term strategy. He has talked himself into a corner where war or an unthinkable American retreat seem to be the only alternatives visible to the administration. Every signal from the White House is that the diplomatic negotiations will be over in days, not weeks. Every signal from the United Nations is that when that day arrives, the United States will not have Security Council sanction to attack.
There are circumstances under which the president would have to act militarily no matter what the Security Council said. If America was attacked, we would have to respond swiftly and fiercely. But despite endless efforts by the Bush administration to connect Iraq to Sept. 11, the evidence simply isn't there. The administration has demonstrated that Iraq had members of Al Qaeda living within its borders, but that same accusation could be lodged against any number of American allies in the region. It is natural to suspect that one of America's enemies might be actively aiding another, but nations are not supposed to launch military invasions based on hunches and fragmentary intelligence.
The second argument the Bush administration cites for invading Iraq is its refusal to obey U.N. orders that it disarm. That's a good reason, but not when the U.N. itself believes disarmament is occurring and the weapons inspections can be made to work. If the United States ignores the Security Council and attacks on its own, the first victim in the conflict will be the United Nations itself. The whole scenario calls to mind that Vietnam-era catch phrase about how we had to destroy a village in order to save it.
President Bush has switched his own rationale for the invasion several times. Right now, the underlying theory seems to be that the United States can transform the Middle East by toppling Saddam Hussein, turning Iraq into a showplace democracy and inspiring the rest of the region to follow suit. That's another fine goal that seems impossible to accomplish outside the context of broad international agreement. The idea that the resolution to all the longstanding, complicated problems of that area begins with a quick military action is both seductive and extremely dangerous. The Bush administration has not been willing to risk any political capital in attempting to resolve the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, but now the president is theorizing that invading Iraq will do the trick.
Given the corner Mr. Bush has painted himself in, withdrawing troops — even if a considerable slice remains behind — would be an admission of failure. He obviously intends to go ahead, and bet on the very good chance that the Iraqi army will fall quickly. The fact that the United Nations might be irreparably weakened would not much bother his conservative political base at home, nor would the outcry abroad. But in the long run, this country needs a strong international body to keep the peace and defuse tension in a dozen different potential crisis points around the world. It needs the support of its allies, particularly embattled states like Pakistan, to fight the war on terror. And it needs to demonstrate by example that there are certain rules that everybody has to follow, one of the most important of which is that you do not invade another country for any but the most compelling of reasons. When the purpose is fuzzy, or based on questionable propositions, it's time to stop and look for other, less extreme means to achieve your goals.
by John Brady Kiesling
The following is the text of John Brady Kiesling's letter of resignation to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. Mr. Kiesling is a career diplomat who has served in United States embassies from Tel Aviv to Casablanca to Yerevan.
Dear Mr. Secretary:
I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.
It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer.
The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America’s most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.
The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam. The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to so to ourselves. Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo?
We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and mercenary U.S. interests override the cherished values of our partners. Even where our aims were not in question, our consistency is at issue. The model of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies wondering on what basis we plan to rebuild the Middle East, and in whose image and interests. Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the Occupied Territories, to our own advice, that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism? After the shambles of post-war Iraq joins the shambles in Grozny and Ramallah, it will be a brave foreigner who forms ranks with Micronesia to follow where we lead.
We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials. Has “oderint dum metuant” really become our motto?
I urge you to listen to America’s friends around the world. Even here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system, with the U.S. and EU in close partnership. When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?
Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the President goes too far. We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America’s ability to defend its interests.
I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share.
LOS ANGELES -- There is a subtext to what the Bushites are doing as they prepare for war in Iraq. My hypothesis is that President George W. Bush and many conservatives have come to the conclusion that the only way they can save America and get if off its present downslope is to become a regime with a greater military presence and drive toward empire. My fear is that Americans might lose their democracy in the process.
By downslope I'm referring not only to the corporate scandals, the church scandals and the FBI scandals. The country has gone kind of crazy in the eyes of conservatives. Also, kids can't read anymore. Especially for conservatives, the culture has become too sexual.
Iraq is the excuse for moving in an imperial direction. War with Iraq, as they originally conceived it, would be a quick, dramatic step that would enable them to control the Near East as a powerful base - not least because of the oil there, as well as the water supplies from the Tigris and Euphrates rivers - to build a world empire.
The Bushites also expect to bring democracy to the region and believe that in itself will help to diminish terrorism. But I expect the opposite will happen: terrorists are not impressed by democracy. They loathe it. They are fundamentalists of the most basic kind. The more successful democracy is in the Near East - not likely in my view - the more terrorism it will generate.
The only outstanding obstacle to the drive toward empire in the Bushites' minds is China. Indeed, one of the great fears in the Bush administration about America's downslope is that the "stem studies" such as science, technology and engineering are all faring poorly in U.S. universities. The number of American doctorates is going down and down. But the number of Asians obtaining doctorates in those same stem studies are increasing at a great rate.
Looking 20 years ahead, the administration perceives that there will come a time when China will have technology superior to America's. When that time comes, America might well say to China that "we can work together," we will be as the Romans to you Greeks. You will be our extraordinary, well-cultivated slaves. But don't try to dominate us. That would be your disaster. This is the scenario that some of the brightest neoconservatives are thinking about. (I use Rome as a metaphor, because metaphors are usually much closer to the truth than facts).
What has happened, of course, is that the Bushites have run into much more opposition than they thought they would from other countries and among the home population. It may well end up that we won't have a war, but a new strategy to contain Iraq and wear Saddam down. If that occurs, Bush is in terrible trouble.
My guess though, is that, like it or not, want it or not, America is going to go to war because that is the only solution Bush and his people can see.
The dire prospect that opens, therefore, is that America is going to become a mega-banana republic where the army will have more and more importance in Americans' lives. It will be an ever greater and greater overlay on the American system. And before it is all over, democracy, noble and delicate as it is, may give way. My long experience with human nature - I'm 80 years old now - suggests that it is possible that fascism, not democracy, is the natural state.
Indeed, democracy is the special condition - a condition we will be called upon to defend in the coming years. That will be enormously difficult because the combination of the corporation, the military and the complete investiture of the flag with mass spectator sports has set up a pre-fascistic atmosphere in America already.
We stand truly at an historical juncture, with several directions mapped before us, and several more unknown. Yesterday's protests demonstrated an immense will for peace around the world, a growing sense "the people" have had enough. While immensely inspiring, the moment also calls for a clarity of mind, to assess the powers before and behind us, as well as within, and the road ahead. We must not underestimate the technological and ideological behemoth massed at the borders of Iraq and lodged in the minds of the men who command it.
At the same time as free (and some not-so-free) countries around the world allowed their citizens to mass in peaceful protest, the forces of liberalization—manifested in the superiority of American air, ballistics and communications power—appear ready to take a calculated risk with liberalism's next logical step across the globe. (I discuss the largely symbolic, though still significant, distinctions between "liberalism" and "imperialism" below.) To wit: if American and British (plus any other willing coalition's) troops are "met in Baghdad by Iraqis lining the street in celebration," then Blair and Bush's increasingly-reviled faces will enjoy a dramatic and successful makeover (Schell). Even North Korea, with its fledgling nuclear weapons program, or Iran, with its intractable fundamentalist regime, will be unable to resist a seemingly implacable forward march of history.
The strategy is one of three-step brinkmanship:
1) overwhelming force is massed, preferably by a unanimous international coalition, so persuasively that the resisting regime finally backs down and goes into exile;
2) barring that, the regime is isolated (as in Kosovo) and the air and communications environment so dominated by the "liberating" forces that the regime implodes under popular pressure;
3) when this strategy fails (as, debatably, in Iraq), an invasion becomes necessary to remove the regime by force.
The U.S. and its key UN (as well as NATO) partners do not disagree on the fundamentals of this strategy: the differences are of timing, and of which of the three steps at present to push (though there is an understandable reluctance on the part of the allies to allow a unilateral U.S. progression to step three, which reluctance I discuss at length below). The U.S., Britain and a handful of European allies with little to contribute and much to gain from supporting the effort, are clearly pushing for steps one and/or three. France, Germany, Russia and China, amongst others, seem to think the resources of step two have not yet been exhausted. If, in fact, warfare is increasingly a technological race to dominate the communications sphere (De Landa), then why make haste to draw blood? Can we not just step up the surveillance and monitoring (U2 fly-overs, teams of inspectors on the ground backed by troops, etc.) to the point of squeezing the life out of the Baath regime? The goal is the same—promoting democracy through the threat of "overwhelming force"—but without the risks implicit in the inherent unpredictability of warfare and the ensuing military occupation. Haven't we learned to use our guns without firing them?
The U.S. argues that steps one and two appear unlikely, if not impossible—twelve years of sanctions having only broken the Iraqi people and hardened Hussein's grip on power, rather than inspiring, as hoped, a popular revolt; and the rough ideological terrain obviously requiring oversight, deeply divided as it is between Shiite, Kurd, Sunni and secular concerns, promising little in the way of a "spontaneous" transition to democracy. But U.S.-led force has another, more intrinsic reason for having no options but step three: until tested in the battlefield, the U.S. will not truly be able to "deploy" its intended domination of the global communications sphere (De Landa). The U.S. will not decisively have demonstrated to the world its undisputed military-technological superiority (à la Hiroshima and Nagasaki—cf. Ullman; Afghanistan was a start but also disappointingly easy in its initial phase), and it will not be able to progress to the next stage of research and development without testing its innovations in the field.
Just as Gulf War I was, in the main, a showcase for the new technology of "smart bombs," Episode II promises to open a new theatre of digitized "real time" command-to-operations communications and space-based, as well as autonomous ("intelligent") artillery operations:
If they do attack Iraq, U.S. commanders would have an unprecedented view of the battlefield, provided by a network of spy satellites at 400 miles in space, Global Hawk reconnaissance drones loitering at 65,000 feet, manned JSTARS aircraft with moving-target indicator radar at 40,000 feet and Predator drones with video, infrared and radar sensors at 20,000 feet, all feeding data back to command centers and, in some cases, directly to combat aircraft. (Ricks and Loeb)
The U.S. Administration has to toe a line between minimizing civilian casualties, and maximizing the overwhelming effect of the new technology ("Shock and Awe"): not an easy line to walk (Ullman et al). The risks are great—on the side of U.S. forces, with inevitable glitches in the technology on which these forces are increasingly dependent, including new vulnerabilities implicit in open architecture cyberware (a trade-off for stability), and with increasing strain and fatigue on "volunteer" human resources stretched thin and worked to the breaking point (De Landa, Ricks and Loeb); on the Iraqi side, with the question of Hussein's willingness to use whatever stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons he does harbor on his own people and/or the invading forces, if pushed, plus his demonstrated willingness to use his own people as "human shields" for military targets—but the risks of inaction, of failing to complete the step to global communications hegemony, are, by this zero-sum logic of military dominance, far greater.
Whether this is a dominance of "liberalism" or "imperialism" in part depends on success in patching over an increasingly evident mid-Atlantic rift: while in some respects the disagreement with France, Germany, Russia and China is one of means, in other respects it signals a potentially far more serious rift. As Jonathan Schell argues in his latest piece for Harper's on the "futility of war," the closest historical analogue for the present moment would be not, as is generally argued in camps both for and against the war, 1938, but, rather, 1945—in particular, the period between the drafting of the outlines of a U.N. Charter at the San Francisco Conference on International Organization in April of that year, and the destruction of Hiroshima on August 6. U.S. deployment of the atomic bomb effectively rendered the U.N., which came into existence on October 24, 1945, irrelevant as a governing body. Today, the United States' rival powers (rival being a very relative term here) understandably hope, however quixotically, to forestall as long as possible a decisive U.S. victory in the race to "space-based" military hegemony. France, for example, is currently working on its own versions of the new high-powered "microwave" weaponry the U.S. reportedly will test out in a war on Iraq.
Europe would like to perpetuate the '90's facade of a "liberal" coalition that at the same time enables a sharing of its de facto imperial benefits (Anderson). In this light, Blair's stubborn embrace of the U.S. program, awkwardly reaching across the Atlantic chasm, is both a calculated realization of the inevitability of U.S. hegemony ("empire") and a "heroic" attempt to keep Europe on board, and thus, to sustain the hopes of "liberalism." In "Force and Consent" Perry Anderson has argued that the death of any democratic elements of "liberalism" went down long ago, in an effectively imperial "Americanization" of the planet sugar-coated with a palaver of humanitarian and democratizing high-mindedness; nevertheless, a unilateral (or bilateral) "preemptive" U.S. strike will still mark a critical turning point. The discourse of liberalism will be dealt a fatal blow in the "theatre of operations" as the U.S. demonstrates its unrivaled power and, more importantly, its will to use that power in flagrant disregard of the will of the international community. The "liberal" system of international alliances will be discredited, and fundamentalist or other popular resistances to U.S. imperialism will be emboldened. At the same time, a successful "liberation" of Iraq, under the new sign of empire, would bring potent viability to the notion of a Pax Americana (Anderson). The U.S. "showdown" in Iraq has significantly more to do with these kinds of calculations (outlined in The National Security Strategy of the United States) than with either Saddam Hussein or evident U.S. oil interests in the region.
To dispense with "old Europe's" liberalism does seem like madness, and the possibility of this has brought the world's liberals (who supported the bombings of Kosovo and Afghanistan) into a now-mainstream anti-war movement—but the end of liberalism is built into the logic, strategic as well as tactical, of U.S. militarization, and it is also a step impelled by frankly theocratic elements in the current U.S. administration. A conviction that the U.S. has been "chosen" to lead the world to "freedom" apparently outweighs the potentially fatal results of choosing to scrap old alliances. It is all or nothing: a brinkmanship with a fearful God where only inaction is unforgivable. What matters is to assume the righteous cause; the righteous who lose themselves, or the world, in the process, will be forgiven; but the righteous will prevail, confident in their faith—or so the screed goes. In many respects, the fate of the world hangs on the outcome of an old ideological debate internal to the dominant "culture" of the United States . . . between the "moral majority" and its more secular counterparts. It is a debate that may already have been decided in the elections of 2000 and 2002. The economics of U.S. militarization also have a large role to play in the outcome. Strains internal to the military as well as on an already precarious U.S. economy, of a $1 billion-per-day deployment, are tremendous and cannot be sustained for long (Ricks and Loeb). All of these factors—a militarized strategy for global dominance, extremist theocratic tendencies within at least two, if not all three branches of the U.S. government, and the material momentum of military buildup itself—come together in a decision for military action in Iraq; all that holds the U.S. back are the liberal interests of international backing and (which is part of this) some friction provided by an alliance with the Blair administration—a friction which may become more apparent as the U.S. moves toward decisive action.
Or is that all that holds the U.S. back? Popular manifestations of opposition to U.S. imperialism around the world are the largest they have been in thirty years, dwarfing the anti-globalization protests of the '90's, and this movement is just getting underway. If such opposition is merely a drag on an inevitable U.S. attack, and if the U.S. calculation succeeds with even the moderate success that has been encountered in Afghanistan, then such popular opposition will swiftly evaporate. (It would be interesting to know how many of this weekend's protesters would support a multilateral operation in Iraq.) If, however, a U.S. operation in Iraq encounters any serious setbacks, then popular opposition could become full-scale. Dissension if not outright mutiny within the U.S. military is even possible. Finally, if popular dissent is earnest about actually stopping the U.S. military machine before it goes to the brink, then several questions need to be asked up front—all posed under the general rubric of asking whether, indeed, "the people have the power."
1) As I have already asked, to what extent are the current demonstrations a continuation of the critique of "liberalism" manifested in the pre-9/11 "anti-globalization" protests? Or is the much-celebrated, new ideological diversity of these protests, at its mainstream core, largely a response to the threat of unilateral U.S. sabotage of that status quo?
2) To what extent was the "velvet revolution" across Central and Eastern Europe (as well as peaceful revolutions in other parts of the globe) a "flowering," as Jonathan Schell claims, of "liberal democratic" nonviolent action? Or was it, as U.S. hardline strategists obviously believe, a gift of the U.S. "defeat" of the Soviet Union through economic, military and technological might? The official line is, of course, a bit of both. But nonviolent activists in the U.S. would do well to break that history down and assess the odds, as they move forward with actions modeled on such precedents. The same goes for the much-invoked examples of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, or Nelson Mandela.
3) Demonstrations have so far been "legal" or "permitted" and the authorities have, in the main, handled protestors with kid gloves. An effective campaign of nonviolent "non-cooperation" will, when push comes to shove, inevitably involve mass civil disobedience (and mass arrests). In what way will the new tools (cf. USA PATRIOT Act, "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism") of what is now effectively a U.S. police state be applied to such demonstrators? What is the critical mass that would deter authorities from locking up or otherwise silencing dissenters, and is such a mass attainable? What support could U.S. dissenters count on from the international community?
4) The odds of popular revolution are strengthened by a perhaps unintended side-effect of communications technology: the possibility for instantaneous coordination around the planet. This weekend's rallies—millions of people marching in the U.S., South Africa, Ireland, Scotland, England, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, Germany, Austria, Italy, Bosnia, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Ukraine, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Israel, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Brazil, Mexico and a host of other countries—were coordinated in less than five weeks. The popular will for peace, a collective assertion that the zero-sum game of military conflict is a dead-end for the planet, seems to cut across many ideological and cultural barriers. Have these new circumstances even begun to be exploited? How much can the "unpredictable" nature of the new, asymmetrical global terrain be counted on?
U.S. military brinkmanship thus operates in at least two directions at once. It seems ready to dissolve old liberal alliances like the United Nations or even NATO, but it also may be provoking a popular solidarity across the globe, the likes of which have never been seen before. For those who oppose U.S. imperialism, the riskiest course of action is inaction, to "wait and see" what happens in Iraq. The uncertainties of that venture are terrifying; but the worst possible, and most likely, outcome would be a swift and successful victory for the U.S. (Anderson). A fiasco would be second worst, entailing possibly dire consequences but also new room for change (the "things have to get much worse before they get better" outlook).
The popular will for peace needs to be tested and encouraged by a clear education in the likely scenarios and the long-term issues at stake, which includes a frank discussion of the undersides of a Pax Americana and/or "liberal" democracy, along the lines of the "anti-globalization" critiques vocal just two years ago— foregrounding environmental, labor and social justice, as well as human rights, issues. And that momentum thus clarified, spurred by the U.S. administration's brinkmanship, needs to be rallied to fearless and overwhelming nonviolent force—something along the lines of a national strike. Otherwise it will remain merely symbolic if the U.S. succeeds in Iraq, or unprepared in the case of a disastrous outcome.
At this very moment we are living a critical historical juncture; the seeds of the future are latent right now in the actions of each and every human being on this planet. The moment is not lost on violent militarized states and terrorists; will the powerful forces of nonviolence, for their part, allow this uncertain moment to slip by? Last weekend's outpouring was a call to get in the streets and stay in the streets, and not to shrink from power when it comes marching with its clubs and its chemicals. I, for one, do not intend to be a spectator, to let the dogs of war have the upper hand—while the rest of us sit around, to "wait and see" what will "happen" on TV. Do you?
SUNY at Buffalo, Poetics
February 16-17, 2003
Anderson, Perry "Force and Consent," New Left Review 17, Sept-Oct 2002
De Landa, Manuel War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, Zone Books: NY, 1991
Ricks, Thomas E. and Vernon Loeb "Unrivaled Military Feels Strains of Unending War; For U.S. Forces, a Technological Revolution and a Constant Call to Do More," Washington Post, Sunday, Feb. 16, 2003
Schell, Jonathan "No More Unto the Breach: Why War is Futile," Harper's March 2003
The National Security Strategy of the United States. Winterhouse Editions: Falls Village, CT 2002 (PDF version available at www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html)
The daily newspapers: especially The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The UK Guardian.
Ullman, Harlan K., and James P. Wade, with L. A. Edney et al. Shock and Awe: Achieving Rapid Dominance. Washington, DC: National Defense Univ., 1996
USA PATRIOT Act, "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism" (HR 3162)
[Here's a speech of Byrd's from last year -- this one's even scarier. I'll try to get some more of his writings on the site. Here's his follow up speech -- I don't remember how much of this was reported in the media.]
September 20, 2002Mr. President, yesterday at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, I asked a question of the Secretary of Defense.ï¿S
Specifically during yesterday's hearing, I asked Secretary Rumsfeld:
"Mr. Secretary, to your knowledge, did the United States help Iraq to acquire the building blocks of biological weapons during the Iran-Iraq War? Are we, in fact, now facing the possibility of reaping what we have sown?"
The Secretary quickly and flatly denied any knowledge, but said he would review Pentagon records. I suggest that the Administration speed up that review for today my concerns have grown.
A letter from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which I submit for the Record, and other documents show that the United States may, in fact, be preparing to reap what it has sown.
The CDC letter, written in 1995 by former Director David Satcher to Senator Donald W. Riegle, Jr., points out that the United States Government provided nearly two dozen viral and bacterial samples to Iraqi scientists in the 1985.
According to the letter from Doctor Satcher to Senator Donald Riegle, many of the materials were hand-carried by an Iraqi scientist to Iraq after he had spent three months training in a C-D-C laboratory.
The Armed Services Committee is requesting information from the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense on the history of the United States providing the building blocks for weapons of mass destruction to Iraq. I recommend that the Department of Health and Human Services be included in that request as well.
We do not need obfuscation and denial. The American people need the truth. The American people need to know whether the United States is, in large part, responsible for the very Iraqi weapons of mass destruction which the Administration now seeks to destroy. We may very well have created the monster that we seek to eliminate.
The Senate deserves to know the whole story. The American people deserve answers.
[I ripped this from Kasey Mohammad's blog lime tree, but first I asked him in an email whether I could post it on Circulars and included some of my own feedback on the post. This sparked a little debate, much of which, I think, will be appearing on his blog.]
I sense that the poetry community is in a sensitive transitional period right now. By "the poetry community," I mean all the thousands of people who write poetry and who are increasingly more aware of each other's views and activities than historically ever before thanks largely to electronic technology. And by "sensitive" I mean simultaneously very promising of increased dialogue and cooperation, and very delicately poised on the brink of bitter conflict. It seems trivial to use such a phrase when the world is poised on the brink of a much bitterer conflict, but it is especially that larger conflict, along with poets' responses to it, that has advanced this transitional phase dramatically in the past month or so.
If you go to today's Washington Post, you'll find an obnoxious editorial by Richard Cohen on the Poets Against the War movement. Never mind his predictable "bad manners" take on the scuttling of Laura Bush's little poetry party; never mind his ignorantly dismissive attitude toward poetry itself; what is really striking is Cohen's explicit acknowledgement that poets have been at the vanguard of the anti-war effort, that they are actually influencing public opinion. Poets making a difference! And poets of all camps!
Of course, within those camps, mutual opposition still rears its head. Some people have made a big deal out of the way in which Sam Hamill has selectively represented the poets he finds most noteworthy or illustrious in his web "chapbook." This is understandable: it is a very safe, mainstreamy gathering of names, and does little to acknowledge alternative approaches to poetry, etc. But it is his website, and he had the idea first--and more importantly, it has done some good. I am almost as impatient with poets on "my side" who grouse about Hamill's poetic conservatism in this situation as I am with the real conservatives out there who discount poets' (and everyone else's) resistance to war. Today I heard a poet whose work I admire and to whose politics I am generally sympathetic refer to those who have contributed to Hamill's site as "lame-o's." This kind of misguided purist negativity is the last thing we need right now as a community of objectors. Shame on you, unidentified poet!
The transition I mentioned earlier is one that could be dramatic: poets could go collectively from a reputation for obscurity and irrelevance to one for engagement and activism. Or they could succumb to the temptation to hurl divisive invectives at each other over their "jism-splattered" (thanks for that charming image, Jim Behrle) computer screens. (Oh, and Jim is not the unidentified cranky poet mentioned above.)
Suppose it had been birdhouse-makers instead of poets who had made the big media splash by gathering 9,000 birdhouses and statements of conscience against war on Iraq. Do you suppose that within the birdhouse-making community, there would be intense backbiting and controversy over whether the correct birdhouses were being chosen for inclusion? Maybe, but I doubt it. Now even Billy Collins has spoken out against war; is it really helpful to worry that maybe as a result of this his poetry might be taken more seriously or something like that? Shouldn't we just be glad that arguably the most visible public figure in contemporary poetry has taken advantage of his position to make his opposition known?
Let's make this as clear as possible. In comparison with the impending loss of thousands of human lives, poetry--what kind of poetry, what about, how many syllables, intentional or nonintentional procedures, blah blah blah--is really really insignificant. The only significant thing about poetry in such a context is its potential use as a blunt instrument, a symbolic bludgeon, an abstracted blob of conceptual splat that gets a job done. Bad, good, difficult, rhyming, containing no words with the letter "p": that don't matter so much. Reactionaries like Cohen in his Post column and dissenters within "experimental" groups all choke on the same fallacy: that American poets' authority to speak out against governmental policy stems from the quality of their work, instead of where it does come from, which is their constitutional right as Americans to voice their opinions on whatever the hell they feel like! The fact that they are poets is incidental. The best thing that could come of all this is that poets come to be perceived as workers like people who do all other kinds of jobs, as concerned citizens who live in the real world like everyone else and can see beyond the details of their specialization to more pressing matters.
After we avert the atrocity Bush and his owners are pushing for, then we can sit around and decide which poets should get which medals for the poems with particularly high aleatory merit or superior hexameter that totally helped stop war more than any other. In the ugly meantime, let's put our collective collectivities to the wheel and get over ourselves.
[I ripped this from Heriberto Yepez's blog, The Tijuana Bible of Poetics.]
I've having problems writing in English these days.
I think a great number of Mexicans are becoming basically anti-American State and if this new series of wars is conducted further, the United States needs to know this is going to damage greatly the relationship between our two cultures.
This war has no reason. This war is part of the system to make America richer, and dominant over the rest of the world. Bush is no more good than Saddam. He's just your Bin Laden.
The American government looks like a serial killer to us.
I come from a great series of cultures, an even though we have been sleeping for some time now, we are now awake. And even this stupid blog is part of a campaign from our culture to try to communicate before language has no meaning left.
Is this war going to really happen? And then what other war is the United States government going to create next?
You're cloning yourselves all over the world. It appears like the United States wants to erase the Other, and wants to take resources from other cultures to continue your way of life. Your government and our corrupt politicians are uniting to turning Mexico, for example, into a slum. How could you helped our interior enemies to destroy Mexico? This cannot continue.
The alliance between these two corrupt governments is turning the Mexican people into enemies of both, and now sees them as one force whose purpose is to destroy our freedom.
The American government and American companies are making money out of our future. The signs of a social disaster are everywhere. And a big part of the problem is the role of the U.S. in our economical, social and political life.
The U.S. is part of the present threat against our language and existence. We are starting a revolt against our government because we want to put an end to our racism and social injustice (40% of Mexicans live in extreme poverty because 90% of the wealth is property of less than 10% of the population, the TV system is erasing the real issues, and is part of the government, drug dealing is widespread and is, of course, part of the government). We need to transform ourselves to fix the political life of our culture—and that involves the United States, because this government is corrupting even more our political life and is making us poorer and poorer.
And now we see how the American government is going into one more of its international lies, at the same time that is ruining our economy. The Irak war (the sequal!) is part of the same pattern that promotes the transformation of Mexico and Latin America into the employees of American interests.
The United States has been the leader of implementing a nuclear orden, a continuous war. The United States, because of that, is solely responsabile of stopping this blindness. First this new war, and then the total order your politicians and companies run.
You are headed to a disaster. This kind of world cannot go on more than two or three decades more. Change before your population is subject of all kinds of attacks, from terrorism to world wide hate.
This is one of the most dark times of American History. Get out of it.
Do you know, for example, that burning American flags is becoming an increasing activity in Mexican life? Each day that goes by Antiamericanism grows in Mexico. I'm sure this is not something which your media let's you know, but this is happening here.
The feeling in Mexico is 9/11 happened because the U.S. States asked it for. Spreading violence and inequality all over the world brings you this kind of karma. Every time I meet with my students, friends or talk with any people, the U.S. is strongly criticized.
We don't like violence. So, why do you believe so much in violence? What's the fun of it?
This has been happening all over the 20th Century, but now it has reached a point, in which the Mexican national project is collapsing. This is a moment in which Mexican history is about to change drastically. Different groups are preparing to go to war against poverty, and popular culture is imagining a third quest for justice, after the first two in 1810 and 1910. Too many things have happened in the last decades and now the country is a daily state of discontent.
The U.S. is criticized strongly here, radically. First the government, for behaving like a butcher, and then regular Americans, who appear to be powerless or lacking any desire to see what your country represents in the world.
You appear to have no respect for espirituality and others. You appear to be the leaders of destroying the Earth.
I would not say this to you, if I didn't know for sure this is not just me talking, but a whole culture. This is what is being discussed here. You.
You need to realize you must stop your government. It is destroying not only our cultures but also your own culture. You are a country with a great number of cultures, and you have created great things (like your different literatures and musics) but now you're turning into this monster which even your neighbors fear and are now preparing to resist.
You may say, "What is this young Mexic@n intellectual talking about? This e-dude must be crazy, exaggerating, have nothing to do". But believe me, your government and your silence is damaging the way we see, feel and think about the United States. Mexico is becoming basically anti-American.
You must take responsability for stopping Bush, the CIA and the companies that are runing the war. You're risking to live Vietnam again.
But this time all the world is going to be Vietnam.
The last time three American intellectuals (friends of mine) came to Tijuana, I was afraid we could encounter anti-American reactions. And it kind of happen. We were sitting in a dowtown bar, drinking a beer, and then a man came, directed his talk to my friends, and used the bottles to explain us in the table how he felt the U.S. is opressing Mexico and other countries, and then he asked if we had any work for him because he had no job thanks to both governments.
It was a completely miserable situation. Here I was sitting with American writers I admire, and here I was also hearing a Mexican poor man, with no future. Two worlds in a strange encounter. None of us knowing what to say or do.
Just last night somebody remembered to me, that the Indian uprising in Chiapas started the same day that Nafta oficially began working. It was the first war against the Mexican-U.S. goverments alliance. It was a war against what president Carlos Salinas represented: the poverty and opression of the Indian population in Mexico, the continuation of the PRI (which was the party who ruled Mexico, thanks to violence and fraud, for the last seventy years) and the strenghtening of the American influence in our daily life.
The Mexican 1910 Revolution started in a similar way. For similar causes.
And now after the PRI was beaten in an election we all prevented from becoming another electoral fraud, this new party arrived, PAN. We got out of the PRI perfect dictatorship (as it was called some years ago by Vargas Llosa, one of the most important writers in Latin America) but entered into this new way of functioning, less visibly corrupt but far more effective in widening the difference among the classes.
PAN is a party from the right wing. And guess what? The head of our first "democratic goverment" is a former president of Coca Cola.
(Literally. This is not a joke).
Mexico headed by a Coca Cola ex-president? This is simple humillating to what our culture means. Mexicans are people who dedicate a great part of their energy to understand our relationship with language, knowledge, the place we live in, and now, suddenly a bunch of crooks are humillating us with this Coca Cola clown?
This will not stand. Americans need to understand you cannot do this to Mexico. We are going to reconstruct the relationship with ourselves, because it has been damaged greatly due to our corruption and Mexicans selling our country to the highest client. We are going to take care of ourselves, but you need to stop your companies and politicians. They are going to fail.
So do what you have to do before they throw you into this non-sensical situation they are creating. Your culture is strong, it doesn't need this kind of generals, senators, ceo's and fools damaging it.
The Mexican population is thinking how to act on the threat of us becoming Americanized.
Even though our media and our government don't appear to be anti-American State, regular people are becoming that in great great numbers. We used to be the country represented by maize, but know we buy corn from the U.S.
Mexico is realizing following the American way is destroying our culture.
I am telling you this because you need to know this is happening in the South. A couple of days ago, the most important newspaper (leftstist and anti-PAN-PRI) from Mexico City reported the poets stance against the war (click here). Guess why this makes front news in Mexico?
It looks to us as if the people of the United States, its politicians, intellectuals, don't care enough about the killings and injustice your government is spreading. An any news about resistence inside the U.S. is welcome.
To the Mexican mind, an American (a "gringo") is somebody who is a macho, doesn't understand his relationship with this planet, and wants to make more money, and would do anything to accomplish this, even organizing wars or trying to control other countries. This is the image your sending.
I'm convinced this is a moment you're going to regret if you don't act. This is a moment similar to that before and during the nazi regime. People knew what was being done to the jews, but many of them didn't do anything to stop the nazi government. You're government is behaving like a serial killer, like a sniper (the sniper from Washington), you're government is the leading terrorist State, don't you see how this is turning the world against you?
Do you want to become a culture who is going to be blame for the murder of many thousands, even millions of people, in two or three decades or even in a few years?
And all of this is why, when I have try to write in English these days, something happens in my hands. A discomfort.
[This came flying into my inbox this morning -- see Weinberger's earlier commentary in the archives. Not quite sure if this is going to spark a flame war -- the kind of thing I don't want on Circulars -- but nonetheless, it pertains to the way poets are engaging in the anti-war effort and is thus important.]
Why is the "Poems Not Fit for the White House" event at Lincoln Center a benefit (with $100 orchestra seats) for Not In Our Name (NION)?
NION was founded a few months ago by leaders of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP). The RCP is a nut-group that defends Pol Pot, the Shining Path in Peru, the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the massacre in Tiananmen Square. NION is their attempt-- as has been done in the past by various Lyndon LaRouche spinoffs-- to insert themselves into more mainstream opposition politics.
NION has been instrumental in organizing antiwar demonstrations, but otherwise only exists to propagate the NION statement and the "Pledge of Resistance," which is meant to be recited (at considerable length) in unison by large groups.
The NION statement has a few strange sentences, but generally confines itself to opinions held by most with antiwar and anti-Bush sentiments. It was signed by many honorable people, and was notable as the first widespread newspaper petition. Whether this petition should continue to be propagated is another question.
I do not share the opinion held by lefties such as Todd Gitlin, Michael Berube, and David Corn that the presence of NION, ANSWER, and other bizarre groups as organizing forces delegitimizes the antiwar movement (though it certainly provides plenty of ammo for the right). The organizational skills and dedication of their followers are often initially necessary, until they recede into the mosaic of hundreds of other grassroots organizations. They do not delegitimize the movement; what is disturbing is that the movement legitimizes them.
All forms of non-violent antiwar anti-Bush protest from all sectors, and all antiwar poetry events are, without question, worthwhile. Personally, I happen to believe that the hundreds of smaller antiwar poetry readings and the free circulation of poems and statements on the internet are more effective than an expensive and glitzy event at Lincoln Center.
But if this event is to be held, why should it benefit the perpetuation of a dubious fringe group and not Unicef or Oxfam or Doctors Without Borders or a hundred other organizations that are actually out there helping the victims of US policy?
Or if, as Michael Palmer has suggested, newspaper advertisements and humanitarian aid are separate issues or causes, why shouldn't the proceeds from the event go to advertisements of a statement written by the invited poets themselves? Why should they continue to allow Not In Our Name to speak in their name?
I find myself here, today, in an impossible situation.
I must speak to you--the press--with you and through you, using your kind of sentences and leaps of reason, letting you sell me like a precious but marginal commodity, so I can say what everyone already knows but a few vaguely important people in this city are unwilling to admit: that no one wants a war; that an attack against Iraq is no attack against terrorism; that an attack will in fact make the United States less safe; that the Iraqi people do not want a war to liberate them because they will not live through the liberation; that as Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. said, "if we do not act we shall surely be dragged down the long dark and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight." I must convey all of this to you, sell it to you, all the while knowing that I find you despicable.
The wild dogs of Baghdad have more dignity and sense than you. You travel in packs and think the same way. You mistake quotes with facts and facts with meaning. You lack historical imagination and intellectual empathy. Your sentences are short and puritanical. In Baghdad you step over children and knock over speakers, reduce subtleties and ignore contexts. An American newspaper journalist in Baghdad told me with a gleeful sense of pride that journalists are lazy and under pressure to write, so issues and ideas have to be reduced into sound bites in order to function as media. Pathetic.
History rarely reads like a press release. And history is being made right now by those who have no time to issue statements. Get complex and get curious or get out of the way.
I think we are going to stop this one without you.