Gwydion M Williams takes a look at the alternative tactics of appeasement, enragement or actually playing by agreed rules
The influence of the USA has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished.
Mr Blair wants us to be horrified by acts of unauthorised terrorism, such as September 11th. But not authorised terrorism, which the USA has retained as an instrument of policy. And no connection is to be made between unauthorised terrorism happening now, and exactly the same people practicing authorised terrorism a few years before.
There is still time for the USA to switch back to the UN framework of agreed International Law, rather than each US president making it up as he goes along. The USA has been able to evade or ignore the UN, which cannot be relied upon to serve the interests of the US Overclass. Instead they use a series of US-defined and US-dominated clubs: NATO, NAFTA, APEC, the World Bank & IMF, but above all the G7/G8. If this goes on, the present fight with bin Laden and the Taliban will be just a beginning.
The culture that produced bin Laden is the United States of America. As a favoured son in a rich Yemeni family flourishing in Saudi Arabia, he was one thing. As a CIA ally in Afghanistan he became something else. Unready to be treated as ‘war surplus’ when the USA no longer needed his kind.
We are supposed to make a huge distinction between terrorist acts applied to poor or middling people with US approval, and the same thing applied by to the USA by its victims. But even in Britain, people see that there is no real different. Burning buildings in Baghdad, Belgrade or Manhattan are much of a muchness.
It is unfair to blame Arab-Muslim culture, when the West has repeatedly interfered to discredit or smash traditional arrangements, and also to defeat home-grown radicalism. The Ottoman Empire under the Young Turks was functional and capable of development, but the West roused up an Arab Revolt while also intending to cheat them all along. Then when Arabs did get their act together through Nasserite secular culture and socialism, this too was sabotaged, and religious extremism encouraged.
Western Imperialism knocked over the secular controls in Islamic states, left the religious authorities free-wheeling. And in the Cold War, the West’s short-term calculations led them to favour Islamic opposition to secular regimes.
Without thought as to what this particular djinn would do once let out of the bottle of traditional Islamic controls.
I don’t see Islam as a truly global force. Muslims have spread, with the general intermingling of world populations. But Islam has made very little progress into non-Muslim populations, except in Black Africa.
What has emerged instead is a highly Americanised version of Islam. And that’s what makes it so dangerous.
Nihilism as a natural response to globalism. The privatisation of terror is part of a trend.
The bin Laden version of Islam seems to have acquired the rootless self-righteousness that is typical of the USA. Islam always has had its own extremes, but with a sense of territory and honour. This has been destroyed in a few places, is being stretched thin in many other places. The Arabian subject of the Saudi dynasty seem highly discontented, with the US presence disruptive.
The USA has continuously sanctioned and sanctified the idea of personal vengeance, carried through regardless of law. Law is fetishized but also evaded.
September 11th was not an attack on how the US governs itself, but on what it does to other countries. This has included knocking down democratic regimes when it suited them—coups in Greece and Chile, coup and mass murder in Indonesia, threats of a coup in Italy if the Communists had ever been included. And with the Cold War over, the USA’s ‘Cash Crusaders’ have destabilised a lot of place. They even tried unsuccessfully to replace a successful secular regime in pluralist Malaysia with a variant of Islamic extremism that was willing to accommodate Globalisation.
Islam, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism accept that other religions have a valid if inferior version of the Divine Vision. Muslims suppose that bad Muslims will go to Hell whereas good Christians etc. will go to some secondary but eminently enjoyable suburb of Heaven. Only Christianity traditionally regarded all other religions as works of the Devil.
The Christian heritage of intolerance has now been translated into legal and economic forms, a ‘Cash Crusade’. Religion is to be reduced to the status of a hobby, you can believe what you choose so long as you obey the narrow range of globalised legal and economic forms.
Not, indeed, that they can deliver what they promise. Even without rival cultural values, the US and its imitators generate a lot of internal violence—remember McVeigh?
The violence of 1914-18 and 1939-45, which ‘mysteriously’ ended previously bouts of speculative globalisation, is not puzzling at all. It’s a predictable response to the tensions built up by subversive, seductive and asocial market. Superior production that does not lead to better happier lives, but instead splits the world into well-paid overstressed people and the impoverished unemployed.
Happiness could loosely be seen as the difference between what you get and what you were expecting. Bread and cheese is delightful when you were expecting to go hungry, an insult when you were expecting a banquet.
Advertising is the foe of happiness, always raised expectations beyond what can possibly be met for the bulk of the population. The same is true of gambling and get-rich schemes and many more aspects of modern life.
As well as being told to uphold the beauties and splendours of Globalisation, opponents of the war are called ‘appeasers’. But demands for peace have gone along with demands for proper UN control and for some impartial tribunal to try bin Lanen. And insistence on sticking to the rules, whereas the appeasers of the 1930s junked existing rules in a vain quest for peace.
The appeasement of Nazi Germany came on top of an earlier ‘enragement’ through the Versailles Treaty. Trying to create modern states out of a set of unstable and overlapping nationalities in Eastern Europe was bound to lead to trouble. It was also done in a partisan way, not according to popular opinion but with a desire to punish and humiliate Germany, Austria and Hungary. The Sudetenland was majority-German, and a rather larger Hungary would have left fewer discontented minorities who suddenly found themselves living as unwanted guests in what was defined as someone else’s national territory
The first and worst error with Germany was to junk the apparent guarantees which the German Social Democrats had relied on when they made peace. Germany was losing the war, yet far from defeated. The Social Democrats, bravely yet unwisely, accepted the substance of defeat in the belief that it would not then be ‘woe to the conquered’.
Promises had been made, that should not have been made if they were not going to be honoured. Germany would have collapsed in a few months anyway, but there would have been no feeling of betrayal and so probably no Nazi movement.
After World War Two, when Germany had behaved far worse, there was the Cold War with the Soviet Union and Germans were deemed innocent for the duration. Some people never did accept this, which is far enough. What is not fair at all is the way in which a vast amount of extra German guilt was suddenly ‘discovered’ once Germany was reunified and committed to Western values
International Law as a real and independent system would be a fine thing. International Law as a cover for arbitrary US actions is something else. It is not a question of approving of the Taliban. But of saying that they have legal rights which have been ignored.
Where is the proof of bin Laden’s guilt? It may well be that an impartial tribunal would agree he was responsible for the deeds of men who looked to him for guidance and who were probably funded by his agents. But for now, the USA prefers to sit on the evidence and enact a kind of global lynch law in which accusation is the same as proof.
It’s not one of Bush Junior’s personal failings, but typical of the whole US mentality. Built around a sanctified constitution full of 18th century delusions, the USA could not have become a major military and industrial power without evading those restrictions. Perhaps it should have remained a poor-but-happy rural arcadia with minimal government, but it didn’t. And given the way it developed, it became of necessity a law-evading society.
Note also, a refusal to extradite suspects has been accepted in the case of Saudi Arabia. They have been failing to do anything about people whom the USA considers guilty of terrorist acts. But bombing oil-rich Saudis is not an option, only poor and unwanted Afghans are so treated.
“Talks continued until just days before the Sept. 11 attacks, and Taliban representatives repeatedly suggested they would hand over bin Laden if their conditions were met, sources close to the discussions said.
“Throughout the years, however, State Department officials refused to soften their demand that bin Laden face trial in the U.S. justice system. It also remained murky whether the Taliban envoys, representing at least one division of the fractious Islamic movement, could actually deliver on their promises.” (Washington Post, October 29, 2001)
But outside of the U.S. justice system, could one be sure that bin Laden would be found guilty? Propaganda intended to encourage terrorism is not the same as actual terrorism. British law needed specific statutes about ‘incitement to hatred’, because no one can be held legally responsible for a crime they were not involved in, even if they helped create the mood which allowed the crime to happen. The same is true of most judicial systems, and only a US court could be trusted to deliver the desired verdict. (Just as blacks accused of crimes against whites were commonly found guilty, and whites accused of crimes against blacks commonly found guilty, a solid rule before the 1960s and there is a strong bias even nowadays.)
A global law imposing draconian punishments against ‘incitement to terrorist acts’ would also be a problem, though, since it could be applied against all sorts of people.
The evidence linking bin Laden to World Trade Centre massacres is weaker than that linking Henry Kissinger to the Chilean coup. Or various other US notables to numerous war crimes and crimes against peace and democracy. The Taliban demand for proper evidence and a neutral court is valid. The USA however wants to impose its own judgement—International Law for foreigners, but never applying to US citizens. Nor even to US enemies whose guilt is not wholly clear.
Supposing bin Laden turned himself over to some neutral country with an agreement for a fair trial before some tribunal the USA could not fix? It might be his best move, given that we’ve already had the provocative US bombings in Afghanistan.
Bombing does work, of course. And not just when the USA does it.
The IRA’s Brighton bombing back in 1984 broke the will of Norman Tebbit. He came close to death, his wife was left permanently injured and Tebbit later withdrew from serious politics. The one man who could have continued the Thatcherite agenda has been reduced to malignant sniping from the sidelines. Thatcher too got knocked off course, opting for an Anglo-Irish agreement that conceded that Ulster was not really British.
The mainstream IRA can congratulate themselves on a terrorist job well done, and terrorist aims imposed on Britain with considerable US pressure in favour of Republican aims. The matter has almost been forgotten now, except perhaps by other terrorists when they assess their chances of eventual success.
Of course from a US viewpoint, British and Irish are on the same level of the pyramid and thus the US role is to mediate, not punish. A ‘revolt of Islam’ is something else.
Since the 1980s, we have had the globalisation of a rather corrupt culture that has a strong Christian content. The World Trade Centre was a highly visible expression of the forces that hijacked the Western financial system. Keynesianism was a rising tide that mostly did ‘lift all boats’, In the name of economic freedom, it was turned into a turbulent torrent that can sink or exalt almost at random, favouring a mix of luck, strength, cleverness and ruthlessness.
Globalisation is Limited-Sovereignty Globalisation. The world must be thrown open to money, but unwanted labour from poor countries is constrained by national barriers. The world does not owe you a living, but you are forbidden to make a living disconnected from the rest of the world.
It’s not quite Imperialism. In the Philippines, the US endorsed the unconstitutional removal of a President who’d been too favourable to the Philippines poor. It’s a standard tactic, cripple imperfect democracies and you lay them open to commercial exploitation. But always they remain sovereign nations, so that their poor stay squalidly in place while the rich world helps itself to their cleverest, best educated and most dynamic people.
What the West currently offers is a shallow culture, lusting after money with a quasi-religious fervour. We are drenched in a low-level exposure to sex, which is then diverted onto consumer products (few of which will satisfy the yearnings that have been aroused). But in the interests of morality, our governments also insist on interfering with actual sex, and in making noisy complaints about its private depiction in pornography or its commercial expression in prostitution.
The new-born capitalist system of the 1980s doesn’t have a name, at least no name that would distinguish it from dozens of other completely different systems that are also be called ‘capitalist’. So I’ll call it ‘Punk Capitalism’, since it came into the world in the same era as Punk Rock and Punk Fashion. (The foul-mouthed radicalism of some of those characters was insignificant, since they had no positive vision of the world. Modern-minded people in the power elites don’t mind if you bad-mouth the Queen, just so long as you are respectful of money.)
Punk Capitalism has the typical punk feature of rather disliking itself, but being bitterly opposed to any realistic alternative. Thatcher caught the mood when she said ‘there is no alternative’, and many people before me have noted the parallels. Lots of those who had grown up in the 1960s slid quite easily from ‘Alternative Society’ to ‘There Is No Alternative’, even as they made profitable moral and economic choices that they didn’t want to admit to.
Even though ‘Punk Capitalism’ hasn’t worked well even on its home ground, there is a messianic determination to impose it on everyone. Especially on societies that have now adapted nicely to what the West managed to impose on them a few decades back.
The Keynesian semi-capitalist system sought to impose a common standard but also accepted a duty to look after people. It had something of the Wellsian vision, hoping to process everyone into an identical citizen of a world state. Punk Capitalism also seeks to impose a common standard – a worse system even by the crude measurement of growth in GNP. But also flatly denies any duty to look after people. They are expected to look after themselves, but forbidden to do it their way. They must run their own affairs, but only in a manner that the West approves of.
And when this fails, ‘authorised terrorists’ may be set against the misbehaving regime. As in Angola and Mozambique, and with the Contras and whole regiments of torturers and mass-killers trained at the US ‘School Of The Americas’.
And if even this fails, the US air force can come in as the ultimate ‘authorised terrorists’. Talk of ‘precision strikes’ has been just talk, whether in Baghdad, Belgrade or Afghanistan. The Gulf War did at least include the defeat of the Iraqi army, the Serbian army was barely scratched by the Kosovo campaign, but accepted defeat after numerous ‘accidental’ strikes on non-military targets.
The Taliban so far seem not to have got any weaker. Stronger, if anything, so that they turn away armed volunteers. Damage is being done to ordinary Afghans, with such weapons as ‘Cluster bombs’. Which is a misleading term, they are air-dropped landmines, there is nothing selective about them.
Outside of the USA, no one is much impressed by the difference between authorised and unauthorised terrorism. Vengeance for September 11th was fair enough, but only if it had been specific and well-targeted. Which the Afghan War most clearly is not.
First published in Labour & Trade Union Review, some time in 2001
[I later dropped the term ‘Punk Capitalism’ in favour of Coolhearts. Punks were rebels of a sort, though not a very effective sort. Coolheart attitudes originated among radicals but have been very useful to the New World Order.]