Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Good News From Sweden - Sort Of

If I often write about fascism, it’s because it is the lynchpin of current events. Fascism comes in many stripes and colors. The old fascism, which revolved around anti-Semitism, is still represented by Ukraine’s Right Sektor and its wolfangel-wearing associated thugs. With the new fascism, Israel is officially Washington’s junior partner, in practice often wagging its tail. Europe’s centuries-old anti-Semitism has been reinvigorated by Israel’s attitude toward the Palestinians, while a more recent one targets immigration. 
As ISIS’s thirty thousand strong army - a ridiculous number compared to the approximately 150,000 that the U.S. had in Iraq - continues to take and hold territory, beheading Westerners along the way, today’s fascism piece is inspired by the Social Democrats’ win in Sweden that was accompanied by a rise in its anti-immigrant party, putting Sweden in league with France and Greece. Sweden’s ‘Democrats’ garnered 13%, a figure similar to those of other European extreme-right parties that marked take-offs soon boasting a fourth of the electorate.
It’s certainly good news that the party that pioneered the Nordic welfare state in the early twentieth century (yes indeed!), is back in power after ten years of despicable center-right rule by the people who accused Jullian Assange of sex crimes and refused to guarantee that he wouldn’t be extradited to the U.S. for Wikileak’s revelations. (Assange’s announcement a couple of weeks ago that he expects to soon leave the Ecuadoran Embassy in London where he has been holed up for over two years may have been inspired by his anticipation of this election result…)
The far-right parties original supporters come overwhelmingly from the center-right, but their ascension is typically marked by defections from the left. They are defined by their anti-immigrant stance, hence the title of this article: this particular fascism that we see spreading across Europe is centered on the ‘threat’ posed by an on-going flux of immigrants, mainly from Islamic and Black Africa. When I was living in France in the eighties and nineties, I had already remarked that these parties’ followers had failed to do the simple math: with Europe representing about 300 million inhabitants at that time, Africa counted about 800,000. Now an enlarged Europe has 500 million, while Africa tops 1.1 billion, the second growing faster than the first, (while China is leveling off at over 1.3 billion, having been just under 1.3 billion in the nineties…).
These figures should give anyone pause. But Europeans apparently believe that their centuries of culture evidenced as well in their well-tended landscapes as in their monuments, guarantee a superiority that ‘barbarians’ will never be able to challenge. By the time they wake up, it will be too late, and that is where the significance of the Swedish vote comes in.
Responding to the rightward drift of the electorate, the victorious Social Democratic Party stressed its commitment to Sweden’s ‘inclusive’ policy toward immigrants. The Nordic countries have for decades had a robust pro-Third World stance that staffs UN development organizations as well as NGO’s on the ground. But devotion to the idea of equity between black, brown and white in what has always constituted a minority of the world’s total population is unlikely to affect an overall rightward drift. The North’s technological and cultural achievements will continue to blind it to the fact that the Caucasians are a minority in the world, which with each passing day becomes more ‘absolute’. 


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why are Westerners Joining ISIS?


Worried comments on Westerners joining ISIS tend to overlook the fact that this is an all-volunteer army.  Surely that has some significance when trying to explain its success. Fifty-five year old Senator Bob Casey has declared that he expects the campaign against Islamic terrorism to last beyond his lifetime, implying that we are dealing with a clash of civilizations. However, it’s a different clash from the one Samuel Huntington wrote about in the nineties.

Huntington and contemporary commentators inspired by him see it as a clash between ‘freedom’ and a religious dictatorship. But if that were the case, why are hundreds - and perhaps thousands of young people from the ‘free’ West flocking to join ISIS ranks?  Why did they come - the technicians who help them pump and sell their oil on the black market, the financial geniuses who enable them to make sophisticated money deals around the world, the doctors who presumably treat their wounded, not to mention the writers, photographers, video streamers and other technicians who run their recruiting websites, etc. etc.?

There must be a very compelling reasons why Westerners would overlook medieval beheadings to join the campaign for an Islamic Caliphate. (One commentator argued yesterday that beheadings are not necessarily more shocking than death by drone, but that explanation doesn’t suffice.) They do so for the same reasons that others join their national armies to fight organizations like ISIS: a belief in the values those armies defend. For Westerners, it’s about the freedom for individuals to develop to their full potential without too much government interference. But that freedom has increasingly been manipulated by a Madison Ave that gets the 99% to acquire all sorts of 'things' in order to fill the coffers of the 1%. That relentless campaign uses men, women and children as props, trivializing and often degrading them, as well as the lifestyles as those who are taken in by it. If you doubt this argument, consider that German cities are seeing ‘Sharia Patrols’ in their streets, (http://rt.com/news/185664-sharia-police-patrol-germany/) while Iran’s president Rouhani seeks to soften restrictions on women’s dress  http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/09/rouhani-speaks-out-veil-enforcement.html.

ISIS’s black-flagged campaign against the West is not so much about God as it is about life-styles. Its Western recruits likely range from puritanic men who want all women to wear the hijab, to men and women who reject the emptiness of the consumer society and have come to the conclusion that speaking and writing about it will have no effect on a system that can crush all enemies. Considering that the priority is to overthrow the Behemoth, in the absence of Western revolutionary movements, they join ISIS, seeing it as the enemy of that enemy.

I do not believe there will ever be another Caliphate because the world has changed too much for that to happen: but part of what underlies the North/South divide is a radical difference in visions of the good society. Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, like most leaders of the developing world, condemn the barbarism of radical Islam, while disagreeing with the Western model of society. Together with a growing number of Western thinkers such as no-growth advocates like Serge Latouche, or essayists like Pankai Mishra, they see the lifestyles the consumer society promotes as empty and degrading. Their vision is of a capitalism that would not replace 'backwardness' with emptiness.

But that story doesn’t make good headlines.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

NATO Post-Mortem

In my book ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’, and in other works since its publication, I have noted that the world needs not only a coordinating body that would be akin to a world government, but also, and urgently, a rapid deployment force  - to use the NATO terminology - that could respond to natural disasters as well as military attacks anywhere, at short notice. Thus, when Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who just stepped down as NATO Secretary General in a blaze of glory at the biggest ever summit in Wales, announced the creation of such as force albeit without the natural disaster component, my first thought was that the infamous organization had finally done something useful.  
This week's ‘Crosstalk’, on RT, discusses NATO’s reasons for depicting Russia as its enemy, affirming that a Rapid Response Force on an enemy’s borders was purely defensive.  Alexander Mercouris, an astute political analyst, argued convincingly that NATO’s campaign against Russia is in fact about eventually taking on China. Rather than simply ‘defeating’ Russia, as most Western analysts believe, Washington wants to fold it and its vast resources into a Caucasian empire in order to defeat the much more threatening China, with its 1.3 billion plus inhabitants and roaring economy.
Mercouris’ analysis implies that the struggle is once again between two world views: not ‘capitalism vs communism’ as in the long post-World War II period, but between efforts to build a cooperative world community by the world’s multi-colored majority, joined by Russia, and a prolonged battle for global hegemony by the minority Caucasian world. In this analysis, Russia is the lynchpin: straddling the Eurasian continent, it is turning away from Gorbatchev’s aspirations for a ‘Common European Home’, to assume its Eurasian ‘destiny’ (a heavy word, but appropriate here), that will eventually include Europe when Europe’s leaders gather the courage to free themselves from American tutelage - perhaps as a long-term result of the botched Ukrainian adventure combined with the economic crisis. (Even Germany is balking at poneying up 2% of its GDP for military adventures, not to mention the countries hit by Wall St imposed austerity (to put it telegraphically). 
Putin’s Eurasian vision is not a land grab: much more meaningfully, it places Russia firmly on the side of ‘The Rest’ together with China, in opposition to the Caucasian versus ‘The Rest’ worldview represented by NATO. Come to think of it, that aspiration sees Putin-the-judoist overseeing a tectonic shift away from the legacy of Peter the Great, who brought European technology to a Russia that was the victim of its geography: with the Eurasia project Russia assumes its destiny within a multi-colored and multi-cultural continent. 
Western politicians and the media claim that: “Russia seeks to recreate the Soviet Union, whereas we want the former Soviet Republics to be independent, democratic countries, freely choosing their governments and alliances”. The reality is that in the twenty-first century, as opposed to the ‘Enlightened’ eighteenth, ‘democratic’ does not mean government of, by and for the people, but acquiescence to rule by a worldwide corporate oligarchy. 

With more and more people coming to this realization across the five continents, NATO’s Rapid Response Force will eventually be taken over by a successor to the United Nations. In lieu of the pipe-dream of indefinite hegemony, the Caucasian world minority should be adopting policies that will result in fair representation in a world government whose structure and functioning will be determined by ‘The Rest’.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

For Europe: Finlandization's Revenge or a Eurasian Identity?

In 1989 my book Une autre Europe, un Autre Monde, was published in France by a small academic house, after being rejected by all the progressive publishers. It foresaw the reunification of Europe, the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa, the rise of China (erroneously predicting greater democratization, however) and called for the creation of a Eurasian Community of Communities to include what I named before the fact as “a Europe of Thirty”, the Soviet Union, China, Japan and India, five giant entities that would balance each other out, eliminating the perceived need for Europe to be protected from the Russian Bear by the United States.
The book came out resolutely against then First Secretary Gorbatchev’s suggestion that not only the Soviet Union, but also the US and Japan, should be part of a large ‘European House’.  
<blockquote>The URSS, a giant that reaches to the Pacific, is still not part of Peter the Great’s Europe, even though Russians are considered as Europeans in contrast to Asians and Muslims. But whether in Europe or Asia, the URSS is too large to be included in any group, too immense to be primus inter pares. Poland, Bulgaria and Romania today constitute Eastern Europe, while Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary make up Central Europe. To cling to the formula ‘Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals’, which would make Russia its Eastern region, is not only outrageously ethnocentric, implying that Europe is white and Christian, it prevents us from building a credible European future.</blockquote>
Though today Gorbatchev’s vision is not mentioned in reference to Vladimir Putin’s project for a Eurasian Union, one cannot discuss the latter without referring to the former. Or rather, at the risk of appearing too pretentious as a woman who twice eschewed academic credentialization, one cannot discuss Putin’s dream without considering the message of  ‘Une autre Europe, un autre Monde’.
Regarding the Soviet Union, the French historian and founder of the Annals school Fernand Braudel wrote: 
<blockquote>The destiny of this country which is located in the middle of the Eurasian landmass has been that of an immense frontier-zone between Europe, which it protects, and Asia, whose ever more brutal assaults fell upon it. Russia’s invaders - Mongols, Turks, Arabs - were nomads. Its merchants, city people, travelled the immense territory, but refrained from visiting its peoples. Thus, it is no surprise that while Westerners think that democracy equals the right to emigrate, the Russians, huddled together because of their geography, have always seen emigration as a betrayal.</blockquote>
I noted that “It took Levi’s, a non-violent invasion, to change that mentality”, and that “while so many changes are happening in the USSR, Europe remains attached to its old criteria, seen as immutable even in the space age, locating the European frontier at the Urals, a holdover from a time when Nation-states did not yet exist, but only peoples, when it was necessary, as Braudel wrote, ‘to separate light from darkness, barbarism from civilization, as peoples moved from East to West.’”
I held the first copy of my book on the day the Berlin Wall fell in November, 1989. Western Europe still consisted of only twelve countries and was called The Common Market. The latter chapters of the book proposed ways in which East and West could be reunited, forming a larger entity. Two of my neighbors in Paris at the time were a German-Italian couple, with whom I shared champagne that night, and they were sure I was being overly optimistic when I announced without the slightest hesitation that Germany would be reunited within a year. (It happened in October of 1990.) 
Although my elaborate plan for a gradual building of confidence between the countries of Eastern and Western Europe had proved unnecessary, during that year I spoke out in EU meetings in Brussels for an accelerated entry of the newly independent countries into the European Union. French President Francois Mitterrand wanted the project put on the back burner, having also tried to delay the reunification of Germany, that country having invaded France three times in the last century. My book accused France of continuing to fear Germany while condemning it for what were at the time its pacifist policies vis a vis a Soviet Union, preventing Europe’s two largest countries from forming the center of a revitalized Europe and delaying its independence from the United States. Since the end of World War II, Washington had consistently portrayed the Soviet Union as an existential threat to Europe, falling back on Finlandization (a soft, economic takeover), when predictions of Russian tanks rolling unopposed across the European plain failed to be taken seriously in the face of NATO’s massive buildup.
Fast forward to the present: Gorbatchev, though a hero in the West, was swept away by his own people, to be replaced by a man who became a joke, but not before presiding over a Washington-directed economic overhaul that left Russia weaker than at any time in its history. When Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, declared that the end of the Soviet Union was the biggest disaster in history, he was referring to the costs to ordinary citizens of that dislocation. American politicians seized upon that remark to condemn his idea of a Eurasian Community as an ill-disguised plan to recreate the Soviet Union, resubjugating hapless neighbors.
Washington’s deliberate distortion of this project is facilitated by the fact that most Americans ignore the fundamental difference between a socialist worldview and that of a capitalist empire. A fundamental part of the socialist ethos is a privileging of negotiation over armed conflict, and as a logical consequence of this, a conviction that there must ultimately be some form of world government. That of an empire is to ‘do what it takes’ to ‘get the job done’ of aligning the periphery with the center’s plans.
(Russia is no longer a socialist country, but as I have written before, it has not thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and hence should be labelled as an aspiring social-democracy that has yet to develop an advanced parliamentary system such as exist in Northern and Western Europe. That socialist social policies have been maintained or reaffirmed is illustrated by the desire of Russians living in Ukraine to rejoin the mother country, whose social benefits are better than those of its oligarch-ruled neighbor.) 
The conviction that international relations should prvilege cooperation over con-frontation is reflected in everything that Putin writes or says - including his consistent refusal to be dawn into a conflict over Ukraine -  and forms the bedrock of his Eurasian project. Alas, the intellectual foundations for Putin’s dream are never discussed, being way too complicated for your average American reader - not to mention his average political representative who didn’t even know where Ukraine was newscasters began pinpointing it on a map. By systematically dismissing Putin’s pronouncements as propaganda, Washington can declare that his plan is a threat to Europe, the West in general and the United States in particular. In fact, it is no more a threat than was the plan I outlined in 1989: both, however, could free Europe from American hegemony.
Putin’s Eurasian Community, which would include China, India, Iran and eventually the countries of the Middle East (he just invited Turkey to join while clinching economic deals in the wake of U.S. sanctions), with Europe as an equal partner, would be a close cousin to my idea of a Eurasia composed of a Thirty nation Europe, the URSS, India, China, and Japan, in which the URSS would have been simply one of five giant entities and therefore a threat to none.
As things stand today, Russia has re-cemented the ties it had forged with China during the early postwar years, after a tense period that lasted from the mid-fifties to the early eighties, when the two leading Communist countries each feared the other. Today the United States sees each of them as a threat for different reasons: Russia contains within its immensity a veritable cornucopia of minerals and other scarce resources, while China is set to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy with the next year. Washington is said to have revised its estimate of the China threat from the 2020’s to the near future. And when Russia and China created the BRICS - inviting India, Brazil and South Africa to join with them - their combined threat became existential. Hence the plan to double down on NATO’s eastward march, via Ukraine, with Georgia next in line, weakening Russia before confronting China. 

In the twenty-five years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Europe has only deepened its subservience to the United States, as illustrated by its abject decision to impose upon Russia sanctions that compound the disastrous effects of the 2008 economic meltdown on its welfare state. Washington will try to persuade the Europeans that dependence on Russian energy is Finlandization’s revenge, but they should hope Putin succeeds in his Eurasian project, because that would offer them another opportunity to replace Atlantic subservience with an equal partnership with the other continental giants.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fareed's Screed

The American media campaign against Vladimir Putin reached a new low last Sunday when CNN’s Fareed Zakaria turned his attention to the Russian President’s trip to Cuba.  It happened a month ago, but was presented as news. In the current propganda war against Vladimir Putin, anything goes, for even New York Times readers have only the sketchiest knowedge of international affairs. Fareed mentioned the U.S.’s fifty plus year long embargo, failing to mention that Cuban exiles centered in Miami have campaigned successfuly to prevent it from being lifted and normal ties instituted.
Successive American Presidents, with that particular morgue gifted only to them, have repeated the conditions that Cuba must meet in order to be treated like any other country in the world. It most not only ‘democratize’, holding ‘free and fair elections’, it must release its few political prisoners, some of whom were trying in one way or another to overthrow the state, others being Americans on missions to facilitate that under-taking. Cuba has been holding elections to its parliament for decades, however Fareed doesn’t mention that.  What he does acknowledge is that Raul Castro recently introduced some privat ownership of businesses as well as the right to buy and sell property and even to purchase foreign automobiles.
However, now this ‘progress’ counts for naught, given that Putin and Raul Castro discussed the possibility of reopening Soviet era listening stations ’90 miles from the US’, in the consecrated phrase.  Never mind that the US has pushed NATO to the Polish border with Bela Rus and overthown the elected Ukrainian president, after trying to effectuate regime change in Georgia a few years ago. Russia, having forfeited its place ‘in the international community’ by accepting a referendum in Crime overwhelmingly in favor of rejoining Russia, cannot hope to enjoy the benefits of effective sovereignty. 
But America’s initiatives vis a vis Cuba are another matter. In Fareed’s unique version of history, the ’special period’ that Cuba faced when the Soviet Union collapsed in the early nineties, depriving it of vital oil supplies, endured right up until Putin came and embraced Raul Castro. When a fellow Communist, Hugo Chavez, came to power in Venezuela, Cuba’s oil problems - and several others - were solved.  But things aren’t going so well in Venezela these days (Fareed fails to mention the U.S. role in that situation), so Cuba needs to strengthen other contacts. 
In reality, Havana and Moscow did not break off relations after the fall of the USSR and as soon as Russia recovered from the chaotic period under Yeltsin, it renewed its economic support to Cuba. President Putin and other high officials made several trips to Havana, and Raul Castro visited Moscow in 2009. 
But never mind reality, according to Zakaria, the fact that during this year’s visit Putin forgave ninety percent of their debt is nothing for Cuban’s to rejoice about, because that only strengthened the ‘remaining hard-line communists’ in the government who are holding back Cuba’s transformation to a full-fledged capitalist country. 
Inadvertently, Zakaria confirms that capitalist Russia is no less a threat to Washington than the Communist USSR. Though never stated, the reasons are clear: not only does Russia’s size and extraordinary mineral wealth give it an advantage over the United States in the current race for resources. In order to bring his country up to the West’s level of development, while tolerating outrageously rich oligarchs, Putin believes that government has obligations toward the 99%, and supports other governments that espouse that conviction. 

Washington brought down Europe’s welfare state via the economic meltdown of 2008, and Fareed’s screed is part of its campaign against Russia. With his most solemn face and authoritiative voice he can make the outrageous claim that Putin’s continuing support for a socialist government ‘ninety miles from America’s shores’ justifies the continuation of the blockade. Relying on the MSM’s versions of the facts, his viewers don’t know that most of the world is not only on Cuba’s side, as it has been for decades, but also, and increasingly, on Putin’s.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ukraine's Broader Impact

Anyone who has witnessed European farmers drive their tractors into the center of Brussels and dump crops in front of EU headquarters, knows the hold they have on legislators. Much of European agriculture takes place on family farms and the EU has had to create special rules and subsidies to keep its food producers happy.
Since 2008, the US has caused immense suffering across the EU by allowing Wall Street a free rein, and as I’ve written before, I believe this is partly a deliberate attempt to eliminate the welfare state. For information about its benefits are finally seeping through decades of media silence, making American workers wonder why they can’t have one too. The latest installment in America’s use of the EU for its own purposes consists of getting it to impose sanctions on Russia, with which, since the fall of the Soviet Union, it has developed close commercial ties.
Washington succeeded in getting the individual EU leaders, notwithstanding their better judgement, to vote together in Brussels to impose sanctions on Russia, by claiming that Russia ‘took over’ Crimea, a land that had historically been part of Russia except for a few decades after a Soviet leader gifted it to Ukraine, and whose inhabitants, largely ethnic Russians, voted in an internationally monitored referendum to rejoin the mother country. The accusation makes a mockery of US interventions around the world to impose hand-picked rulers, however it had fifty years of fear-mongering behind it: since the end of World War II, Western Europe has lived under a constant barrage of   propaganda warning that Soviet tanks are about to take it over, with the countries of Eastern Europe held up as hapless examples, in a rewrite of large pages of history. (The Yalta agreements on spheres of influence and the fact that those countries, still living under more or less feudal regimes, had significant communist and socialist parties.) During the entire Post-War period up until the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S. diplomates, aided by a powerful propaganda apparatus (Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, etc.), continued to warn European leaders that Russian tanks were poised to overrun their defenseless lands, justifying American-manned bases and NATO. 
Not only is Washington still living those bygone days, its chosen ally in Kiev is imitating the enemy it’s trying to defeat, an imaginary Russian Communism, by adopting legislation reminiscent of the Iron Curtain, banning Russian broadcasts into Ukraine, and now, declaring that a fleet of 280 aid trucks carrying 2,000 tons of aid, including grain, sugar, medicine, sleeping bags and power generators, will be denied entry to assist the victims of its aggression in the east of the country. In what seems eerily like a vindication of all those Cold War warnings of an imminent Russian takeover of Europe, the drumbeat is as absurd now as it was then. According to The Guardian (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/aug/13/russia-aid-convoy-reach-ukraine-within-hours); 
“On Monday, NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, said there was a ‘high probability" of a Russian attack which might happen under the guise of a humanitarian operation’…. Ukraine's interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said in a statement on Wednesday that ‘no humanitarian convoy from Putin will be let through the Kharkiv region…A provocation by a cynical aggressor on our territory cannot be allowed’, he said.” On Tuesday, the French president, Fran├žois Hollande, told Putin in a phone call that he had ‘grave concerns’ about Russia's ongoing unilateral mission in Ukraine…..and “Andrei Illarionov, a former economic policy adviser to Putin who is now a fellow at the conservative Cato Institute in Washington, told the Ukrainian publication Gordon on Monday that any humanitarian convoy to Ukraine would be a sign of Russian aggression aimed at supporting the separatist cause.”
It seems clear to me - and probably to many others whose vision is not clouded by propaganda - that Kiev’s aim is to rid eastern Ukraine of its Russian inhabitants, and that Moscow, understanding that this is the lesser of all evils, welcomes them to Russia instead of starting World War III. And yet, in a move that should provoke international outrage, but hasn’t, Kiev has banned Russian broadcasts into Ukraine, contradicting everything liberal democracy is supposed to stand for.  (The almost irrelevant OSCE did say TV ban needs to be reversed.) In another demonstration of its ridiculous behavior, the Ukrainian parliament voted to freeze all Russian assets, ban Russian internet activity, prevent Russian goods from entering the country, threatening to also block entrance by Russian citizens and giving Security personnel the right to shoot without warning.
Such behavior is explained by the presence, within the ruling coalition, of self-proclaimed Neo-Nazis. (Though they shout their beliefs from the rooftops, the Western does not report them.) Recently, Andriy Biletsky, the commander of the Azov special battalion, who in June described Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's decision to cease fire in the east of Ukraine as a strategic mistake, declared in a commentary titled:  “A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen,” that “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival.” A former history student and amateur boxer, Mr Biletsky also heads the Ukrainian parliamentary group called The Social National Assembly (for Social National, read National Socialist…).
Even more than the horrific pictures of the Ukraine tragedy circulating on the web, declarations such as these - and there have been many since the early days of the coup - show that Ukraine is not only not part of Europe, it is not even part of the 21st century: its ‘liberals’ have accepted to rely on the extreme-right’s thugs, failing to realize that even those in the West who agree with them would not publicize the slogans of Nazi Germany.  
Meanwhile, a few more cracks are appearing in the sacred Atlantic Alliance: Latin America, Washington’s ‘backyard’, is stepping into the sanctions breach, ready to sell the foods Russia can no longer buy from the EU.  And as Poland and Lithuania get ready to sue the EU for their export losses, Putin is negotiating a free trade zone Egypt’s new president, former General Al-Sisi - a good example of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ that is sure to cock a snoot at Washington, not least because it suggests that Putin’s planned Eurasian Community could also be open to the Arab world.






Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution, A Review


On July 27th, in the midst of the twin crises in Gaza and Ukraine, Representative Mike Rogers on Face the Nation ‘revealed’ to Americans that Iran is supporting both Sunni Hamas and Shia Hezbollah, leaving Bob Shaffer as confused as his listeners.  What the American media is missing - never mind the public - is an understanding of the concept of ‘Resistance’ that applies equally to Islam’s two main sectarian groups.  Alastair Crooke’s book Resistance: the Essence of the Islamist Revolution fills that crucial gap.

Crooke is a former British diplomate who advised Xavier Solana on the Middle East when Solana was the UN’s High Representative to that region. In 2006 he founded Conflicts Forum in Beirut, whose purpose is “to shift Western opinion towards a deeper, less rigid, linear and compartmentalized understanding of Islam and the Middle East.”: http://www.conflictsforum.org/about/#sthash.LTWaAKD6.dpuf

In 2009 Crooke published Resistance: The Essence of the Islamist Revolution.  I cannot say that it is an easy read, or that it could not have benefitted from some serious editing, but it goes a long way toward fulfilling Conflict Forum’s remit.  In this review I will concentrate on the differences between Western philosophy and political theory and those of Islam, which form the book’s core.

Crooke quotes at length from a series of discussions with a ”tall, bearded, white-turbaned ‘Hojat-al-Islam’ - a position nudging on that of Ayatollah”, whose knowledge of Western thinking is certain to come as a surprise to many readers. The Shi’te cleric sees  Protestantism’s essential difference from Catholicism is that it replaced a community-based faith with an individualistic one.  Protestantism “was no longer concerned with ‘managing social divisions’, but rather ‘accepted constant transformation as the normal and desirable human state…. The Anglo-Saxon ethos, with its pursuit of business, efficiency and an ever-rising standard of living was unconnected to any deeper vision of life or meaning.”  In classical terms,“it lacked Plato’s telos, or rationality and purpose,” which is contrasted with the democracy of the Athenian port, rough and rowdy.

“For the Iranian Revolution, democracy is the higher project of justice, equity and compassion…. Instead of being used to perceive truth and values, in the West rationality is a tool for fulfilling man’s psychological and material needs…..Western thinking has been channeled into the construction of a desire-seeking and materialistic society.”

Who would have thought that a religion supposedly stuck in the Middle Ages could be echoing the growing number of contemporaries who are disaffected with Western society?

The Hojat continues: “By eliminating God from society, [the West] has eliminated the values and structures which enable men to advance and to aspire to perfection.’” 

Personally, I do not think humans should aspire to perfection, even if this were not an impossible goal. However I agree with the rest of the message, even though I’ve been an atheist since the age of ten:  “The separation of faith from reason was contrived deliberately to eliminate from our minds the potential to know the values and realities of the world.  This severance facilitated man’s materialistic mind to dedicate itself to the ‘management of society’ - without the intrusion of God - and without ethical values.”

In the early nineties, after writing a book in French that foresaw the reunification of Europe and the dissolution of the Soviet Union, I began to reflect on attitudes toward death and their relationship to politics. It led me to spell out my conviction that while modern man does not need religion, he does need the serenity that can be gained from the insights of ancient intuitions that are confirmed by the new physics.  The resulting work, ‘A Taoist Politics: The Case for Sacredness.’ underwent many iterations over more than a decade, but its basic political message remains: Remedying society’s ills does not require the presence of a supreme being - or the external authority of government,  but rather each individual’s trust in his or her own ‘internal authority’.  The chapter ‘Islam and Otherness’ states:

“The notion of sacredness implies that responsibility does not derive from any Truth-as-an-absolute, but flows from man’s only real freedom. It is inalienable, not because it is given by God, but because it is internal. This realization could enable both Islam and the West to walk the path of life with a modicum of serenity.
For this to happen, both the West and Islam need to move away from their dualistic ethos, with its linear implications, toward recognition of the Whole of which we are a part.” 

Imagine my satisfaction when I read:

“According to Islam, the individual is part of the reality of existence, and there is no separation between him and existence.”  

With respect to the ecological crisis I had written: “As the Muslim world confronts the ecological crisis, the overarching imperative of obeying God could be translated as preserving the life that God created, in Qutb’s words, establishing a non-distorted relation between man and the physical world.”

Resistance provides a firm foundation for what had essentially been a leap of faith on my part. The Hojat affirms that: 

“The system of existence of which we are a part is a moral one. Moral and ethical values are part of this existence and of this world. Values such as justice, love and freedom are things within existence, and no one has the right to transgress or breach them.  When Islam talks about God and the values of existence - an existence that is dependent on God - God is not an abstract concept.”

I can live with this until people realize that God is simply another word for the order/disorder dyad of modern physics. In both views humans are part of a greater Whole that encompasses other humans, creatures and the planet, making them responsible toward that Whole. 

Crooke delves deeply into the philosophical foundations of the Iranian religion, whose basis is ‘resistance’ to Western values that place man at the center of the universe, endowing him with a freedom tempered only by the freedom of others.  When writing about the difference between the liberal definition of freedom and that of socialists, I have described the former as situated at the apex of a triangle, with responsibility beneath it together with other obligations embodied in the ten commandments.  As Crooke’s Hojat says:

“Values are only a means to power and to satiate personal desires and pleasures … Justice and rights in the West no longer represent any meaningful criteria by which to define an individual’s ‘welfare’.  Man’s welfare is greater than mere power of enjoyment. It is the individual’s ‘right’ to pursue his own welfare, but (in theWest) its attainment is a purely personal matter; he or she is not expected to consider the welfare of the community.

In the West, such Islamic concepts often have been confused with, and not correctly distinguished from, Christian doctrine.  The belief in God in Islam is, before anything, a belief in an invariable order of values and ethics - in the sense that the reality which created the world is also the reality which created the order of values and ethics for the world…..As for what are today called man’s personal needs, these are not capable of providing true human happiness.”

It is interesting to note that while some Westerners who join the Islamic jihad do so out of a thirst for adventure, others are responding the above spiritual analysis. Beyond these extreme cases, dissatisfaction with the Western way of life, long known as ‘the rat race’, is rising in places as diverse as Turkey and Brazil. It will come to China when the emptiness of the consumer society hits home.)

The Islamic message regarding the belief in God is about reason:

“Reason in Islamic thought is the guide by which man may obtain knowledge of the values of existence, and from which he may build a sound society.  The concepts of governance and politics in Islam do not permit of the notion of one man dominating another, or of man’s domination over nature. In Qur’anic thought, man is the criterion around which all revolves.

In opposition to a secularism that believes that values are contained within man, and are made by man, Islam believes that values are more sublime than man and are the point of perfection and happiness for man. Therefore acting justly and wanting peace and observing the rights of others as well as the rights of the environment are all duties of man.”  

It is from this point of view that Crooke examines the devastating repercussions of the fall of the Ottoman Caliphate and the secularization of Turkey by Ataturk, as well as the philosophies of the main Islamic contributors to the concept of resistance. HE takes us from the Sunni Qut’b and his followers, continuing with the Shi’a fathers of the Iranian Revolution: Ali Shariati, Baqir Sadr, and of course Ayatollah Khomeini and crucially for today, the Marxist influence on the Iranian Revolution. Although Russia is no longer ruled by a Soviet system, an understanding of Marxism helps explain the fact that Russia, Iran, Assad’s Syria - and the Sunni Baathists - are on the same side of the ideological divide vis a vis the West. As I have written many times, not-withstanding the prominent role played by oligarchs in post-Soviet Russia, the government did not throw the welfare baby out with the Communist bathwater, while Islam’s fundamental command is that humans treat each other with justice, equity and respect.

Examining resistance from the perspective of the two leading resistance movements, the Sunni Hamas, and the Shia Hezbollah, Crooke argues that “armed islamic resistance is not, as parodied in the Western press, a reactionary violence directed against a modernity to which Islamists are either resistant or incapable of assimilating….Its purpose is to force the West to change its behavior, not to exterminate Westerners as the crusaders sought to do to Muslims in the Holy Land.

When Islamists dispute the claim that Western secular modernity brings human welfare, ‘they are rejecting a particular process of instrumental western thinking - and the abuses of power to which it has given rise’…A part from a small minority of Muslims who see the struggle in eschatological terms or in terms of ‘burning the system to rebuild it afresh’ as Al Qaeda does’ , the revolution is a struggle - a resistance - centered not on killing but on ideas and principles.”

In brief: “Islam charges that the West is guilty of distorting the foundational concepts of its own Enlightenment…..It has evolved a different concept of rational human beings, society and the individual, from that of the Enlightenment, one that is separated from the legacy of cumulative human experience.”  And Cooke adds: “It’s because of this fundamental dichotomy that the Iranian cleric is skeptical that dialogue with the West can be meaningful.”

Readers who do not have a background in contemporary philosophy will be surprised to learn that the cleric’s reservations are echoed by the celebrated Frankfurt School, who’s major  thinkers, Jurgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer and Theodore Adorno, are, according to Crooke, all widely read in Teheran. 
In a final, brilliant note, Crooke contrasts the ideas of the Frankfurt School with those of the Chicago School, embodied by Carl Schmitt, the postwar German refugee whose ‘language of instrumentalist diplomacy’ helped American Neo-Cons deliver Ukraine to a liberal coalition that relies on Neo-Nazi thugs. And toward the end of the book, an excerpt from J.-M. Coetzee’s novel ‘Waiting for the Barbarians’, illustrates British writer Terry Eagleton’s comment that ‘reason on its outer edge is demented because it seeks to possess the whole world, and to do so must override the recalcitrance of reality’.

This book is worth sticking with, even if you haven’t had Philosophy 101.  At a time when the notion of Islamic “resistance” long familiar to Europeans, is becoming current in the United States, it reveals a worldview that confronts the West using the West’s own heritage - and whose goal is the opposite of confrontation.