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Though the US has blundered in Iraq, it is hard to understand how any decent person can glorify the "resistance" - terrorists who cut off heads, blow up worshippers in mosques and are preventing any return to normalcy in Iraq. Kidnappings, robbery and banditry are all carried out in the name of "resistance." Only a fool or a knave could find any reason to support such scum.
However, the world does not lack fools and knaves. In Al Ahram, Galal Nassar writes:
In fact, in the current menu offered by ideological cafeterias, we may be may be forced to chose between the grotesque alternative of glorifying the murderers, offered by Al-Ahram, and the unappetizing and equally uncomfortable stance of offering unquestioning support to the fiasco being perpetrated by the Bush administration in Iraq. Is there a third way?
Ian Buruma and Avishai Margalit have provided an account of the ideological framework of such fools and knaves, in a book called Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies reprinted by Penguin and reviewed by Marko Attila Hoare in Democratiya, and further discussed by Jeff Weintraub under the title Occidentalism and "Anti-Imperialism".
Occidentalism, the complementary phenomenon to "Orientalism" described by Edward Said, views the West and all its doings as automatically evil and immoral.
The central argument of Occidentalism was presented in a 2004 article by Ian Buruma, "The Origins of Occidentalism", in the Chronicle of Higher Education (Vol. 50, Issue 22 - February 6, 2004 - Page B10).:
Buruma and Margalit's analysis, Hoare's article and Weintraub's commentary have in common the characteristic that they fit the facts more or less, but they do not fit a particular brand name of ideology. Standard issue "leftists" will be irate at this explanation for obvious reasons. However, the joy of neoconservatives will be short lived, because of the injunction in the continuation:
This analysis is either the work of people who are only happy when everyone is angry at them, or it is part of a new ideological third way, being pioneered in works and ideas represented in Democratiya and The Euston Manifesto. You can read a bit of the background of the Euston Manifesto here, but that preliminary sketch looks like an attempt to define something new in terms of older ideas and slogans such as "progressive" and "leftist" and "socialist," terms whose associations may confuse as much as they explain. If like me, you cannot read either an entire average article in The Nation or an entire article in NRO without feeling sick and angry at some point, this new intellectual path may be for you. If however, you must label anyone you meet or anything you read as "leftist" or "rightist" or "pro-Palestinian" or "Zionist" before you will dare to venture an opinion about it or them, you may feel very uncomfortable with these ideas.
The danger of abandoning your "left" and "right" stickers are that you will be forced into the dangerous occupation of original thought, and that you might reach conclusions that are not popular among your friends. The potential gain is that you would no longer have to support odious causes such as Iraqi "resistance" on the one hand, or undiluted Bushism on the other, just because they are decreed to be politically correct by your currently accepted political label.
Perhaps you will hear more from me about this third way soon.
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Replies: 5 comments
Ami, I would also recommend you and others with similar concerns check out www.workersliberty.com/iraq . This is a decidedly leftist website, but the organisation behind it (AWL) is very much "Third Campist" - ie opposed to both the American invasion and the essentially fascist-led insurgency. The Euston lot have the same sort of illusions in the USA as the 'jihadist left' have in the "resistance" and don't I think represent anything new or radical.
The problem with the knee-jerk left is that they boil all world events down to "imperialism" and "anti-imperialism" and cheerlead the latter. This is how so many leftists came to support the Soviet Union even when the true nature of that regime was known and the same process is at work now. The main exponents of this kind of Marxism-Made-Stupid in the UK are the Socialist Workers Party who have gained control of the UK Stop the War movement.
This leads to all sorts of idiocy, for example they tend to deny that there is a serious problem of Sunni-Shia sectarianism in Iraq or that the present insurgency is based solely in the Sunni community, and they applauded the election of Hamas.
(There is also a damaging cultural relativism at work on the left, which would require a separate contribution to outline).
Having said all that, I don't think you can reduce the resistance in Iraq to beheadings and mosque bombings. A more nuanced view is necessary here also. While the Zarquawi strand evidently does fit the 'occidentalist' paradigm you suggest, there are also motivations bound up with straightforward nationalism - occupy any country with an arrogant alien force and a violent resistance is likely to emerge sooner or later - and also with remnants of the Ba'ath party. Most insurgent attacks have actually been made against occupation forces, although the attacks against civilian targets tend to produce a higher body count. Added to which much of the new Iraqi government is just as occidentalist as the resistance - ask any "westernised" woman in Iraq.
AWL supports neither the USA nor the insurgency but the Iraqi trade union and women's movements as represented by the IFTU, OWFI and others. OK, those groups are small and so are the forces in the 'west' supporting them, but I don't see that as a reason to change our thinking on the basic issues of principle involved.
Clearly the implications go way beyond Iraq and here again there is a strand which supports working class self-organisation against both imperialism and the kind of reactionary thinking you have labelled "occidentalism".
Posted by Chris @ 06/19/2006 07:57 PM CST
Priorities for Iraqi workers and children and gay people and everyone else: Get the electricity working, stop the bombings, stop the mayhem, make the streets safe, get the oil flowing and generate some income (and make sure it is used in the right way). Work with the government to stop corruption - a full time job. All the rest must come later. Put out the fires first.
Your idea of undermining the Iraqi government is approximately the strategy of the Communist party in Germany in 1932. If you "succeed" then all your people will end up in the same place as German communists finished then - in Dachau or worse. What any of these regimes will do, will make Halabja look like a health resort.
They have a lot of stuff at that Web site about imperialism and it is just the sort of thing we are aiming at it seems. They have nothing there about Chinese imperialism in Tibet or about genocide in Darfur. Nothing about Iran either. I bet rights of gay people and workers are violated in Iran, but there isn't anything about it there, is there? Don't you ever question why that is? To their credit, they do at least have a section on workers' rights in China.
Posted by Moderator @ 06/20/2006 12:53 AM CST
workersliberty.org indeed, thankyou for the correction. However you then move swiftly into straw man territory.
There's plenty of stuff about workers rights in Iran on the AWL site, for example the recent bus strike jailings in Tehran. You clearly didn't look very carefully. The lessons of what happened to Tudeh are very plainly outlined, with particular reference to the present SWP love affair with Islamism.
I have no idea what you mean about "undermining the Iraqi government". Do you regard building an independent trade union movement as "undermining", or what? In fact the elected Iraqi government are of a similar stripe to the "elected" Iranian government but for the fact that they presently need to rely on US firepower to stay in office. The Sadrists are part of the government, in case you hadn't noticed.
I note your point about the consequences for women, workers and minorities but (1) these things are happening already (2) if your alternative is for the US occupation to continue until a stable secular democracy is in place we are probably talking about infinity. Things appear to have been getting steadily worse since 2003 and the USA's firefighting technique appears to involve the liberal application of gasoline (apt in the circumstances).
Having said that, I believe there is a debate within AWL over whether to call for coalition troops out now or maintain a discreet silence on the issue.
Anyway, I would invite you to return to the AWL website and engage with what it actually says rather than what you think it says.
Posted by Chris @ 06/20/2006 04:12 PM CST
I would invite you both to read the recent report, published at the Washington Post, from the US Ambassador to Iraq, Khalilizad.
I have some quotations from it, and a link to it, on my blog
Posted by Josh Narins @ 06/20/2006 06:41 PM CST
Perfect, especially the final comment. I think that all of the analysis of this phenomena really describes the nature of evil, that is, the abuse of good. Hence, no group of people ever has gotten up one day and decided arbitrarily to blow themselves up in a nihilistic obsession posing as righteousness, but it's a gradual process of the good (in this case, being the initial awareness of the real moral evils of overindulgence, greed, lack of self-restraint, immorality, nihilistic tendencies of materialistic/pragmatic, reductionism seen in the 'west' or the 'modern world')being parasitically by degrees, twisted into evil (in this case, destruction as it own goal, no matter who, where, etc.)
Posted by Josephus @ 06/29/2006 06:12 PM CST
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