identity politics

The Rise of Fascism in a Brave New Digital World

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/01/2018 - 5:33pm in

by Jeff Einstein, via DigitalApostate There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution Aldous Huxley We are watching Huxley’s dystopian vision of a Brave New World controlled by state-sanctioned addiction unfold right before our eyes. And true to Huxley’s prescience, we rather enjoy it. The only surprise is that the operative pharmacological agents he warned against aren’t delivered in pill or liquid or other physical form, and we don’t call them soma or heroin or crystal meth or crack.  They’re delivered in bits and bytes instead, and we call them media.  Consider… The average American household has only 2.75 people, but 3 …

The anti-Trump “Resistance” Is Nothing More Than a Democratic Party Fundraising Campaign

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 20/01/2018 - 1:03am in

One year after Donald Trump took office and the Women’s March supposedly marked the rise of a new anti-Trump Resistance, it is crystal clear that the Resistance amounts to nothing more than a campaign to elect more Democrats to high office. The only trouble is, Democrats never push for liberal, much less progressive or left, politics once they get into power. The Democratic Party is where the American Left goes to die…and Trump hasn’t changed that.

Oprah Winfrey: The Corporate Democrat’s Choice to be the Next Presidential Candidate

The corporatist, Clintonite wing of the Democrats has looked at the success of Donald Trump, and drawn precisely the wrong lesson from it. They concluded that after a millionaire reality TV star won the Republican nomination and then the presidency, what they had to do was field their own millionaire TV star as a candidate. And in this instance, they’ve decided that this candidate might be Oprah Winfrey. The idea’s gone over well too in the press on this side of the Atlantic. The ‘Opinion Matrix’ column in the ‘I’ newspaper quoted two newspapers raving about what a wonderful idea this would be.

In this clip from The Jimmy Dore Show, Dore and his co-host, Ron Placone, talk about why Oprah would be a terrible candidate. There’s a lot in there, but essentially the argument is very simple.

They quote a long article from the Guardian, one of the few newspapers, which doesn’t think it’s a good idea to choose Oprah. This points out that the problems afflicting ordinary working Americans come from the very nature of free market capitalism. People are becoming poorer and more insecure because of the destruction of what remained of the American welfare net, outsourcing, privatisation, low wages and job insecurity. All of these need to be tackled.

But this is precisely what Oprah will not do. She’s another neoliberal, who believes that it’s not the system that needs to be changed, but you. If you look inside yourself, you can improve your place in society, and rise up to be anything you want. It’s a reassuring message for some people, as it tells them that America is still the land of opportunity. Even though it isn’t, and hasn’t been for a very long time. Way back in the 1990s there was little difference between social mobility in the UK and the US. An article commenting on this in the Financial Times made this point, and argued that what gave American society its attractive power was the myth that it was, that ordinary people could still move up to be president, or a company director, or whatever. This is now no longer true, and in fact there’s greater social mobility in Europe.

This explains why Oprah’s so attractive to the corporate elites. She’s a black woman, so if she got the presidency, it would be a symbolically liberal gesture. Just like Killary and her team were arguing that the election of Clinton would be a victory for all women. Even though Clinton has done and would do nothing for America’s working people, and especially not women, who do the lowest paid work. It was all identity politics, with Killary claiming to be the outsider because she was a woman. Even though she’s in the pocket of Wall Street and other corporations, and as thoroughly corporate and corrupt as any of them. But if you didn’t back her, and instead chose Bernie, who actually stood for policies that will benefit America’s working people, you were automatically smeared as a ‘misogynist’. This included women voters, who, La Clinton declared, were only doing what their husbands and boyfriends told them.

The same’s going to be the case with Oprah Winfrey. It’s more identity politics, even though identity politics didn’t work with Clinton, and they probably won’t work with Oprah. Winfrey offers ordinary working Americans nothing, which is presumably why the corporate press in Britain was raving about what a good candidate she is. All the billionaires now owning papers, who don’t pay tax in this country, are presumably salivating at the thought of another president, who’ll do just what business leaders tell them.

As for what effect her presidency will have on Black Americans, you only have to look at Barack Obama to see that this prospects aren’t good. Despite all the racist screaming from the Republicans that Obama was an anti-White racist, who was planning to exterminate White Americans, Obama in many ways was a completely unremarkable, corporate politico. And he did precious little to solve the various problems facing Black communities in America. Oprah will be exactly the same, only the poverty will be worse. Economists have looked at the decline in the household wealth of working Americans. This has declined drastically. But the decline in White household wealth is nowhere as severe as that experienced by Black families. It’s been estimated that in a few years, their average household wealth will be $8.

Oprah has nothing to say to that. Absolutely nothing. Except that people should look inside themselves, believe in themselves, work hard and then magically their dreams will come true.

Except we live in a harsh, cruel neoliberal corporate hell, rather than the dream reality held out by corporate shills like Killary.

And domestic poverty isn’t the only reason why Oprah would be an awful president. She’s another hawk in foreign policy. In this clip from the Sam Seder’s Majority Report, they comment on a piece in her show where she promotes the invasion of Iraq, repeating the lie that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.

Hussein didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction. There was no connection between him and Osama bin Laden. It was a Likudnik and Neocon lie to invade Iraq, steal their oil and plunder their state industries. The result has been chaos and mass death, carried out not just by Sunni insurgents, but also by the mercenaries under General McChristal, who was running death squads against the Shi’a.

If Oprah gets in, there’ll be more wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, as the American military machine keeps demanding more conflict and more funding.

Now I’ve nothing against Oprah Winfrey personally. She’s glamorous, intelligent and a genial TV host. But that’s all she is. In terms of policies, she offers absolutely nothing to ordinary Americans, except more corporatism, bigger profits for the rich, and more poverty and exploitation for the poor, including and especially Black Americans. And as far as foreign policy goes, she’s a danger to world peace. The Iraq invasion destroyed one of the most successful secular states in the Middle East, where women were safe to hold jobs outside the home, into a sectarian bloodbath. All for the profit of multinational corporations.

But I don’t doubt that if ordinary Americans don’t vote for her, the Democrat propaganda machine will vilify them, just as they smeared everyone who voted for Bernie against Killary. If you don’t vote Oprah, they’ll scream, you’ll be a racist and a misogynist. And no doubt Blacks will be told that they’re all ‘Uncle Toms’ and ‘housen****ers doing what Massah tells them. All while the Black, female candidate doesn’t care a jot about doing anything practical to help working Americans with their real problems, but just promotes the neoliberal myth of American social mobility. While seeing that the corporate rich get even richer, of course.

In search of cardinal virtues in Iraq

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 01/12/2017 - 9:59pm in

Political violence has ascended into a mode of governance in Iraq today, wherein religious identity reigns supreme.

Bullets on the ground in Mosul, Iraq, 01 June 2017. Picture by Noe Falk Nielsen/NurPhoto/SIPA USA/PA Images. All right reserved. I
arrived in Baghdad in November 2013. It was part of my doctoral
research on the afterlives of the Iraqi Baʿth state’s al-Anfāl
genocide (1987-1991). I wanted to record how the Iraqi federal
government shows its responsibility for the past, present, and future
of Iraq. I saw the future of Iraq to be entirely wrapped in women
survivors’ persistent demands for legal and ethical justice, for
tracing, exhuming, identifying and returning the remains of their
loved ones scattered in unknown mass graves in the country. In Iraq
women survivors remain the voice that translates into the ethical
urgency for building a more responsible and virtuous Iraq.

With
modern bureaucracy the Iraqi Baʿth regime pulled religion and the
constitution together to justify and to make legitimate genocidal
violence. The state’s decree no. 4008, dated June 20, 1987,
declares the Kurdish rural areas and village as outlawed, and that
they “shall be regarded as operational zones strictly out of bound
to all persons and animals […] in which the troops can open
fire at will

[…] The Corps shall carry out random bombardment, using artillery,
helicopter and aircraft […] in order to kill the largest number of
persons in the outlawed areas.” Jointly with thousands of other
al-Anfāl documents, the decree became a key legal evidence during
the al-Anfāl trials (2006-2007) and was used against Ali Hassan
al-Majid, the Secretary General of the Northern Bureau from
1987-1989. Al-Majid was the one who had signed the decree. Following
the trials, the verdict judged al-Anfāl as genocide.

“This is life in Baghdad. It is a biological duration”

In
the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, it is now remembered to have resulted
in the killing and disappearance of ‘182.000’ people,
displacement of ‘1.5 million’ people, and complete destruction of
‘4.500’ villages.

At
the time of my arrival, ten years after the United States turned
“de-Baʿthification” of Iraq into law, Baghdad was still dotted
with checkpoints. It was a city under siege as mobile military units
and armored vehicles roamed the streets. Occupying the dangerous
sidewalk of the road between the liberation monument in Tahrir Square
and the “green zone,” where the Iraqi parliament, the Council of
Representatives of Iraq, and the respective American and British
embassies are located, vendors were forming a line and displayed
their goods. As the driver saw me watching the vendors, he told me,
“This is life in Baghdad. It is a biological duration.” He was
telling me whose life is at stake.

I
soon observed that al-Anfāl was not of concern to the Iraqi
government in the green zone. What happened had disappeared into a
past without trace. The dominant question in the pressroom of the
Iraqi parliament was whether to maintain or decrease the monthly food
rations (e.g. flour, rice, cooking oil etc.) to the Iraqi population.
This public distribution food program became a policy when sanctions
were imposed on Iraq. It was the punishment for Iraq’s invasion of
Kuwait in the beginning of August 1990. The United Nations’ “oil
for food” program in 1996, and the Iraqi food program increasingly
turned the Iraqi peoples into biological duration.

A
specially trained Kurdish Peshmerga (lit. ‘before death’) force
and a British Security company with employees from the Republic of
Fiji were responsible for the security of the parliament. “I am
surprised to see Peshmerga here,” I voiced my inquisitiveness to a
Peshmerga who scanned my body at the entrance. “Shīʿītes
and Sunnīs
do not trust each other, but they both trust us. There were
bloodbaths here before we came,” he responded. Yet, the
then President Jalal Talabani had left the Presidential Palace to the
city of Sulaimani in the Kurdistan Region. I was told that he is in
conflict with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister at the time. “He
will come back. This is how politics is done in Iraq. People get
angry at each other and they threaten to kill each other, and then
suddenly they are back together as if nothing ever happened between
them. It is the Iraqi civilians who suffer,” an Iraqi
parliamentarian told me over dinner at a small restaurant outside of
the green zone. Two boys, 17 years old and 18 years old respectively
were running the restaurant. The restaurant was 16 square meters, and
it was also where the two boys slept at night. “We are from the
south of Iraq, and have nowhere else to go to at night,” said the
17 year old boy.

Politics as irresponsibility and unaccountability is at the heart of the modern political history of Iraq.

The
2005 Iraqi state’s constitution that hosts rights and freedoms
neither
had a place at the restaurant nor in the everyday life of the two
boys and their families. “Our families can put bread on the table
because we send them money every month,” said the 18 year old boy.
The money had to be given to their respective mothers who in turn
would use it to take care of other children. If one doesn’t
immediately acknowledge that love, ethics, responsibility,
accountability, care and justice are always at work at this level of
the current Iraqi society then one denies the history and the future
of Iraq.

The
green zone is at work creating another Iraq, taking a different
stance in relation to the past, present, and future. Politics as
irresponsibility and unaccountability is at the heart of the modern
political history of Iraq. Because of his titanic depravity, Nouri
al-Maliki was replaced with Haider al-Abadi. Yet, he remains a
powerful figure in the Iraqi government. An electric engineer,
al-Abadi is now doing apoplectic politics in continuity with a
particular reading of religion. While claiming to be a strict
constitutional leader and reader, he continues to militarize Iraq to
be prepared to carry out constitutional and religious wars against
the Iraqi
Kurdish

citizens
at
any time. Al-Abadi’s matter of concern is not the living
conditions, national infrastructure, and promotion of national
education in all fields, health care, and cultural life, but the
politics of violence that has brought him closer to Iran and Turkey.

Violence
is entrenched in the evolvement of what is now Iraq. Apart from the
violence of the Ottomans, the British and the Americans that are yet
to be accounted for, certain interpretations of religion are a
constitutive part of six separate genocidal violence in Iraq in the
twentieth and twenty-first century. The
Summayl massacre

against the Assyrians, an Iraqi Christian minority, on August 11,
1933; Al-Farūd
became the name for public hangings, massacre, and violent
dispossession of the Iraqi Jews in early 1941; The
Dujail massacre

targeting the Iraqi Shīʿītes between 1982-1985; Al-Anfāl
operations

targeting mainly the Kurds but also absorbing Êzîdîs
and Christians between 1987-1991; Shīʿīte religious cleansing of
the Sunnīs in 2006-2007; the Sinjar
operations

of the “Islamic state” against Êzîdîs,
and its exterminatory violence against Christians, Kāka’ees, and
Shabak between 2014-2017.

Political violence has ascended into a mode of governance in Iraq today

Political
violence has ascended into a mode of governance in Iraq today,
wherein religious identity reigns supreme.
The arrival and settlement of the “popular
mobilization forces” (Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī
)
in
the city of Kirkuk on October 16, 2017, attests to how freedoms and
rights break down and the control over the oil reserves takes
precedence. In its visible form, it is a Shīʿīte army
acting
rather in the name of God, and making public the growing solidarity
between the Islamic Republic of Iran and Haider al-Abadi. A shared
religious identity, Shīʿīsm is subjected to a political
translation that shapes a new but asymmetric relationship between
Baghdad and Tehran. The Iranian state is only at work foisting its
own reading of Shīʿīte identity on the entire region. This
particular mode of existence is the Islamic Republic’s only
contribution to the modern history of the Middle East, and it remains
its only option of survival. Its survival and its acts of violence
both within Iran and in the region are inseparable. An identity that
makes invisible all other identities, as Amartya
Sen writes,
“can kill – and kill with abandon.”

Dichotomized
religious identities have advanced into an Iraqi ordinance. Together
with other friends, I had the privilege of visiting a renowned Iraqi
artist while in Bagdad. Lamenting the loss of cultural life in
Baghdad, the artist reflected on how the politicization of Islam is
gradually cleaning all traces of art and aesthetics in the memory of
the city. Later on, one of the hosts invited me to an art exhibition
and while walking he whispered to me how the Iraqi Sunnīs were
transformed into a measurable enemy and identified on the basis of
their names or their location inscribed on their national
identification cards. “Many Sunnīs were exterminated and their
bodies were thrown into the Tigris River,” he told me. He continued
saying how this policy precipitously turned neighbors and communities
into historical religious enemies and brought the everyday living
together to an ultimate end.

The
very exclusive religious mission of Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī

brings it closer to the Islamic states’ phantasmagoria, informing
the Iraqis that they are exclusively Shīʿīte. This comes to life
during the holy Day of Ashura, when some organized groups
occupy the streets with swords and chains, cutting and whipping their
own bodies. Physical pain and bleeding become evidence of religious
duty and identity, remembering the killing of ḥussein
Ibn ʿAli at the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE. The politics of
viscerality is an act that sanctifies the self and the land where
ʿAli, Prophet Mohammed’s first cousin
and son-in-law, and ḥussein,
ʿAli’s
son, and other martyrs of the Battle of Karbala are buried.
Located at the heart of Iraq, Karbala and the city of Najaf fall
within the area where Sunnīs and Shīʿītes sacrificed lives and
spilled blood in their battles over who would become the ultimate
face of Islam on earth, following the death of the Prophet Mohammed
in 632 CE.

Dichotomized religious identities have advanced into an Iraqi ordinance.

Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī
cannot,
therefore, be confined to what the name proposes.
Al-shaʿbī
is a euphemism for al-Shīʿīte,
just
as al-Anfāl
was a euphemism
for genocide. Born from a religious declaration (fatwā)
of Al-Sayyed Ali al-Sistani, the highest Shīʿa
authority
in Iraq, on 15 June 2014 Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī

is the manifestation of divine punishment. Its mission was to descend
into war with the “Islamic state.” It has now advanced into a
force that can suspend law and ethics and make and unmake the
humanity of its target group with impunity. Its reputation as a
merciless armed force renders it foreign to the principle that each
and every person has civil and political rights that she/he should be
able to express and realize freely and without any fear of death. It
makes infinitely public al-Abadi’s religious reading of the Iraqi
constitution, in the name of which he claims to order and command
military operations. The
operations target Iraqi citizens (Kurds) whose rights and freedoms
are also guaranteed by the same constitution
.
The constitution was written under the US-UK rule. In his book,
Constitution Making Under Occupation
,
Andrew Arato writes that a “short time period was provided for the
making of the permanent constitution (seven months), some of this was
eaten up by the problems of government formation and the formation of
the Constitutional Committee itself (three and a half months in all),
and it took another two months to include Sunni representatives.”

The
paradox embedded in the relation of religion
to
the constitution continues to be integral to the justification of
violence or the right of the state to kill. While Article 2 insists,
“Islam is the official religion of the State and is a foundation
source of legislation,” Section
Two: Rights and Freedoms

of the constitution encapsulates the rights and freedoms of all
persons, that are taken to be independent of “gender, race,
ethnicity, nationality, origin, color, religion, sect, belief or
opinion, or economic or social status” (Article 14). These rights
are enshrined in the Universal Declarations of Human Rights of which
Iraq is a signatory state. In this respect, as it is also inscribed
in Article 8, the Iraqi state is made nationally and internationally
accountable for any violations of fundamental rights and freedoms.

It is characteristic of neoliberal democracy that one sings democracy at “home” and participates in annihilatory violence elsewhere – that one is at once a democrat and a monster. 

The
terrorizing invasion of Tuz Khurmatu, Kirkuk, Khanaqin, and Sinjar
and the forced displacement of the Kurdish civilians from what
Article 140 of the constitution gathers together under the name
“disputed territories” are rather trends toward violation of all
rights and freedoms. The name also turns
the inhabitants into “disputed populations.” Sinjar is yet to get
free of the genocidal violence of the “Islamic state,” and its
inhabitants, Êzîdîs, continue to live in the shadow of that
violence in camps for “internally displaced persons” in the
Kurdistan Region. The Shīʿīte dominated Iraqi government’s
unwillingness to break free of terror and violence and the active
deferral of the constitution, has securely turned the no
longer valid

Article 140 into annihilatory violence. Paragraph
2 of Article 140, insists that the “Iraqi Transitional Government
stipulated in Article 58 of the Transitional Administrative Law,”
shall through “a referendum in Kirkuk and other disputed
territories … determine the will of their citizens … by a date
not to exceed the 31st of
December 2007.” Noticing the date (31st
of
December 2007
),
Article 140 must be a
thing of the past
.

What
Article 140 archives is now
actualized violence. The
arrival and presence of Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī
with
sophisticated weapons, turning the disputed territories into a war
zone,

cannot display protection of “The will of [Iraqi]
citizens.”
Fundamental to the annihilatory force of Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī
is
the modernity’s technics of extermination. This is what connects it
to the global arms trade for which no one is held accountable. This
dimension reveals how weapons produced in democracies, e.g. the
United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, and traded
with Iraq, inevitably makes them complicit. According to the
Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Yearbook
2017
,
these democracies are among the main exporters of weapons and Iraq is
among the main importers of these weapons. It
is characteristic of neoliberal democracy that one sings democracy at
“home” and participates in annihilatory violence elsewhere –
that one is at once a democrat and a monster.
In
politics,” wrote Hannah Arendt, “obedience and support are the
same.”

In
fear of terrorization and death, more than a hundred thousand Kurdish
civilians in Sinjar, Tuz Khurmatu, and Kirkuk left their homes
already
on October 16-17, 2017. Homelessness and statelessness are again
turning families, many of whom are survivors of al-Anfāl, into
depoliticized bodies. The homes that have been set on fire and
worldly possessions looted in Tuz Khurmatu and Kirkuk must testify to
how the state materialized in Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī
displays
its will to erase human plurality while miniaturizing
Iraq, as Amartya Sen would say. This is already an appalling marker
of how the state forgets
the constitution. Apart from “public morality,” and the “right
to individual privacy,” Article 17 of the Iraqi constitution
states: “The sanctity of the homes shall be protected. Homes may
not be entered, searched, or violated, except by a judicial decision
in accordance with the law.”

The unprecedented rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Haider al-Abadi is a political reversal – friends becoming enemies and enemies becoming friends.

The
referendum [The will of Iraqi citizens]
for
independence in the Kurdistan Region is made responsible for
terrorization and threat of annihilation, forced displacement and the
burning of homes. Al-Abadi describes the referendum as “a thing of
the past” that is both “unconstitutional” and a threat to state
“sovereignty.” The constitution and sovereignty are thus taken as
sufficient source for the forgetfulness
of the past

and the legitimization of Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī
as
a fearful armed force. State sovereignty is not seen to be applicable
to the dominant military presence and participation of the Islamic
Republic of Iran,
operating through Qasem Suleimani,
commander of Iran’s “Quds Force” with a commitment to
extraterritorial wars. It is also
the Islamic
Republic of Iran
that
has divided and controls the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan as a
Kafkaian gatekeeper and shapes its politics of withdrawal at any
moment. Like the Kurdistan Democratic Party, it, too, remains to be
held accountable for its history of political violence. What link
together these Kurdish political parties with the the Islamic Dawa
party in Baghdad, are their political translation of “Kurdish and
Shīʿīte
victimhood”
and their unaccountable abuse of national wealth.

The
unprecedented rapprochement between Iran, Turkey and Haider al-Abadi
is a political reversal – friends becoming enemies and enemies
becoming friends
.
They are now suddenly each other’s only hope. Iran and Turkey were
“friends” of the two most powerful Kurdish political parties
before the referendum. Together with al-Abadi they are now at work
drawing a cartographic control of the Iraqi Kurdish citizens.
Politics and religious identity are made indivisible. The
conquest
of the disputed territories is a viscerally arresting testimony. This
shows how humiliation and symbolic violence – taking off, throwing
away,
trampling on, and burning the
Kurdish flag and homes – embody a politics of religious identity
that feed on hatred between different human collectives in Iraq.
As acts of genocide throughout the world can plainly demonstrate,
hatred is intrinsically genocidal. If the future of Al-Hashd
al-shaʿbī

in the disputed territories
cannot
be fully calculated, their right to render rightless continues to
create Iraq as the legitimate domain of the Shīʿīte.
It produces radical identitarianism that points at a monstrous
future.

Al-Anfāl
operations, too, produced the Kurdish rural civilians and political
demand an internal threat to the Iraqi state sovereignty and national
security. Saddam Hussein, then the president of Iraq, also claimed to
be an adherent to the Interim Constitution of July 1970, which it had
at its disposal. While during the reign of the Baʿth party the
constitution was due mainly to political violence, today for the
Islamic Dawa party it is due to violence founded on religious
identity beyond the national borders of Iraq. The carryover of
centralization of political power and monopolization of violence
clearly marks how the overthrow of the genocidal Baʿth party has not
guaranteed fundamental rights and freedoms of all Iraqis.

Contrary
to the politics that has given birth to hatred and mass murder again
and again in Iraq, what I physically encountered and heard in Baghdad
and in villages and cities in the Kurdistan Region is an urgent call
for what W. E. B. Du Bois called cardinal
virtues
:
“individual prudence, courage, temperance, and justice, and the
more modern faith, hope and love.” These virtues as a complete
opening up of the Iraqi political configuration places the future in
Iraq, if not in the rest of the world, on the side of the urgent
political and ethical demands of all Iraqis outside of the green
zone.

Sideboxes
Related stories: 

Iraq and rest of humanity

Can the president of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq cry?

But what was so appealing about ISIS?

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Antifa in Theory and Practice: Storm Troopers of the Neoliberal War Party

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 14/10/2017 - 9:50pm in

by Diana Johnstone, 9 October 2017, via Counterpunch “Fascists are divided into two categories: the fascists and the anti-fascists.” – Ennio Flaiano, Italian writer and co-author of Federico Fellini’s greatest film scripts. In recent weeks, a totally disoriented left has been widely exhorted to unify around a masked vanguard calling itself Antifa, for anti-fascist.  Hooded and dressed in black, Antifa is essentially a variation of the Black Bloc, familiar for introducing violence into peaceful demonstrations in many countries. Imported from Europe, the label Antifa sounds more political.  It also serves the purpose of stigmatizing those it attacks as “fascists”. Despite its imported European name, Antifa is basically just another example of America’s steady descent into violence. Historical Pretensions Antifa first came to prominence from its role in reversing Berkeley’s proud “free speech” tradition by preventing right wing personalities from speaking there. But its moment of glory was its clash with rightwingers in Charlottesville on August 12, largely because Trump commented that there were “good people on both sides”. With exuberant Schadenfreude, commentators grabbed the opportunity …

Lebanon’s enduring contradictions

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 12/10/2017 - 6:18am in

A century later, and after several civil wars and invasions, not much has changed in how different Lebanese communities invent and reinvent their national identities.

AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved. Representatives of Lebanon's religious communities stand with protesters behind a banner reading "We only have each other" as they take part in a demonstration against the possibility of a civil war outside the National Museum of Beirut on May 31, 2012. AA/ABACA/Press Association Images. All rights reserved.Ever since it was created by the French colonial (or mandatory)
authorities in 1920, Lebanon was dotted by all sorts of ideological, social,
and economic contradictions. The
cultural identity of the new polity has always been at the core of these
contradictions.

Two competing ‘visions of Lebanon’[1]
– in Albert Hourani’s memorable words – emerged at the time: Lebanism and
Arabism, associated respectively with the Christian and Muslim communities.

Whereas the former anchored Lebanon’s identity, cultural
orientation, and foreign policy in the west, the latter insisted on the new
country’s Arab origins, culture, and political choices. Ultimately, as Hourani
noted, new visions of Lebanon would emerge, but especially that championed by
Lebanon’s (then) ascending Shia community. 

A recent debate suggests that a century later, and after several
civil wars and invasions, not much has changed in how different Lebanese
communities invent and reinvent their national identities, with devastating consequences
for the prospects of living peacefully in a deeply divided society.

It is a classic example of what Julien Benda famously labelled
La Trahison des Clercs, in this case the treason of sectarian entrepreneurs
bent on stirring political discord for purely populist purposes. Its main
protagonists are two MPs: the Sunni Khaled al-Daher and the Maronite
Neamatallah Abi Nasr.

Daher is behind a proposal in Parliament demanding the state
recognize a new official weekend, Friday and Sunday, instead of the commonly
practiced western weekend. After all, Daher contends, Friday is the standard
Islamic holiday in most Muslim countries. He is supported by no other than the
Sunni Mufti of the republic.

In response, Abi Nasr introduced a proposal demanding that 1
September, the date commemorating the French declaration of the founding of Grand
Liban
in 1920, also be declared a national holiday.

The first proposal would cut Lebanon off western economies for one
full day, and is bound to be ignored in Christian areas and by many private
schools. The second would add another useless holiday in a national calendar
laden with sectarian vacations. After all, in Lebanon each sect celebrates the
holiday that best fits its own vision of Lebanon and ignores those of other
communities. At least for now, both proposals are buried in barren
parliamentary committees. 

Here we have an example of sectarian entrepreneurs deploying
populism callously at the service of mobilizing sectarian votes and electoral
constituencies, always at the expense of the greater national good. It is also
a vivid reminder of how the ‘invented’ foundational visions of what Lebanon is
and should be have changed little since 1920.

For embedded in Daher’s proposal is the insistence that Lebanon is
first and foremost a Muslim Arab country; its Muslim cultural identity supplants
any other mongrel or composite one. By contrast, Abi Nasr’s counter proposal attempts
to celebrate Lebanon’s Christian western orientation. It should be viewed as a
demographic minority’s struggle to defend its own vision of Lebanon and its
political economic role in it, now and in the future, against what it views as an
irreversible Islamisation of the country. 

Such binaries do not build an intercultural nation at peace with
its diversity, however; they raise communities ghettoised behind sectarian barricades.

We have a devastating glimpse into the psychological workings of
these barricades in Toni (a diehard supporter of the Maronite Lebanese Forces);
he is one of the main protagonists in Lebanese cinematographer, film director,
and writer Ziad Doueiri’s new film The Insult (2017). 

Doueiri’s first, semi-autobiographical, movie West Beirut (1998) took
Lebanon by storm as it followed the lives of two young boys growing up during
the civil war in Beirut. The film ignited debates about the war and Lebanon’s
cultural identity and political divisions. The Insult continues this critical interrogation
of the war and its memory.

A confrontation between Toni and Yasser, a Palestinian engineer working
illegally for a Lebanese contractor over an illegal water pipe blows out of
proportion and divides the country along religious and political lines. 

An insult by Yasser enrages Toni, who decides to sue him, a
situation that becomes more complicated after Yasser throws a fist at Toni when
the latter makes a hateful reference to Ariel Sharon and the Palestinians. 

Toni is haunted by wartime memories, but especially the massacre
perpetrated against the inhabitants of his southern Christian village, Damour,
by (pro-Syrian) Palestinian guerrillas. He is obsessed by what he takes to be the
marginalisation of the Christians in post-war Lebanon. He feels that, like the
Palestinians, post-war Christians have become ‘the victims of the victims’. He
seeks refuge in assassinated Maronite leader Bashir Gemayel’s wartime speeches berating
the Palestinians as the cause of all of Lebanon’s miseries, and in his
unshakable post-war support of the Lebanese Forces and its leader – who, oddly,
comes out in the film as a bigger than life character. 

The spectacle in the courtroom, as the lawyers build their cases
against or in defence of Yasser, reveals a country still divided along mainly
religious lines, and the failure of post-war generations to interrogate
critically the horrors – more precisely, the many massacres – committed during
the war. 

This is almost virgin territory in a country where – unlike other post-war
societies, whether in Rwanda, South Africa, or East Timur – no truth and
reconciliation commissions were established after the end of the civil war.
Amnesia was considered a better elixir than truth-telling.

Doueiri seems to suggest that there is no hope for true post-war
reconciliation unless the Lebanese face up to, and seek the truth behind, their
past crimes. At this level, all are war victims: Christian, Muslims, and
Palestinians. 

Doueiri’s movie is
not unproblematic, however. It rightly introduces a new generation of Lebanese to
devastating footage of the horrific 1976 Damour massacre, but there is no
mention of the countless other massacres committed on all sides of the
barricades, or of the infamous Sabra and Shatila massacres perpetrated by
Lebanese Forces militias bent on avenging Bashir’s assassination – this, despite the aforementioned reference to Sharon, one
that prompted Yasser to assault Toni in the first place. 

There is also something odd about Doueiri’s insistence on privileging
religious (Muslim-Christian) and national (Lebanese-Palestinian) divisions over
what are currently more powerful sectarian divisions.

This is not to say that religious divisions are not important in post-war
Lebanon, as the aforementioned Daher-Abi Nasr episode suggests. But Toni’s fixations
with the threat of the Palestinian ‘other’ seems to belong to a different time,
and may have been overtaken by what many Christians now consider to be more
dangerous Sunni and Shia ‘others’.

But perhaps this is what irks Toni so much: that his community is
doomed politically and culturally, and has simply replaced one existential
threat by another.

On this view, then, Doueiri wants post-war generations to realise
that nothing has changed in their country; that different generations invent
their own visions of Lebanon, and in the process their own demonized others. A
perfect recipe for perpetual disasters.

[1] Albert Hourani,
“Visions of Lebanon,” in Toward a Viable Lebanon, ed. Halim Barakat
(Washington: Georgetown University Press, 1988).

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