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"The last shall be first, and the first last"

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Pratyush Chandra

The Bush-Blair duo’s statements immediately after Zarqawi’s death were very interesting. The adolescent victorious spirit that they generally display was clearly absent. Bush said: “The difficult and necessary mission in Iraq continues. We can expect the terrorists and insurgents to carry on without him. We can expect the sectarian violence to continue.” And Blair echoed: “The death of Zarqawi is a strike against al-Qaeda in Iraq and therefore a strike against al-Qaeda everywhere but we should have no illusions. We know that they will continue to kill, we know that there are many, many obstacles to overcome.” Evidently, the ‘optimism’ that they demonstrated after Taliban’s and Saddam’s defeats was nowhere to be seen.

There is only one reason behind this cautiousness in the imperialist camp, that the duo themselves makes clear, is that the death of all these “evil” symbols will not curb the continuity of insurgency. In fact, as these symbols are rubbed off the media lenses, the anxiety increases with the revelation of the continuous and mass character of the insurgencies in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The presence of al-Qaeda has been a boon in the post-Cold War era, providing a definite target and rationale for the continued military expansion to cover up the political economic fragility of US-British imperialism. The domestic opinion was easily mobilized by this comic-strip type situation of the two Supermen countering the bearded and hideous aliens. With these aliens dying in their own fire, the Superiority of the “good” men diminishes. And that is dangerous. Thus we find Bush/Blair fumbling for words to characterize the ‘new’ insurgency, and to convince the public of continuing their own ‘noble’ mission. In fact, Blair in his statement on Zarqawi’s death went to the extent of completely shifting the subject to the irrelevant “domestic agenda”, which meant to tell the public that – don’t always stress on our gymnastics, we know we have landed in a thick soup, let’s talk about something else.

And we find them trying hard to convince their international allies, too: “And what I’ve always said about this is whatever people think about the original decision to remove Saddam — I mean, that happened now three years ago — our forces, American forces, other forces have been there with a full U.N. mandate, with the consent of the Iraqi government to do one thing, and that is stand with the Iraqi people in their desire for democracy.” (Blair)

Looming large on all these efforts to recompose the imperialist camp and its ideological campaign, the most formidable danger is the real danger of the increased and coherent insurgency. Al-Qaeda’s elitist character and its sectarian violence, despite its frequent use of pan-Islamic rhetoric to obtain legitimacy, curb every attempt by the colonized people of Afghanistan and Iraq to self-organize, thus helping the occupying forces in divide and rule. Al-Qaeda’s insistence to be the sole-contractor to “save Islam” in this world forces it to target civilians more than the occupants and oppressors, and indulge in sectarian terrorism replicating the same imperialist policy of divide and rule. It was thus that these ‘holy’ soldiers served the global masters during the Cold War, and after the Cold War they continue to serve them. In fact, throughout the Global South the ‘religiosisation’ and sectization of the nationalist and regional politics that we see today have been the immediate results of Post World War II neo-colonization that found post-colonial secular nationalism and regionalism as grave dangers to the imperial powers’ hegemony.

However, as these self-imposing vanguards vanish one by one, who indulge in physically removing the masses from the center-stage of insurgent politics with the help and for the benefit of the occupying forces, the spontaneous and organized nature of mass insurgency will be smoothly nurtured, which until now was always nipped in the bud after sectarian killings, bombings and kidnappings, forcing it to remobilize itself from scratch. The days are not very far when we might see an organized insurgency independent of all clans and sects, which will insist like the Algerians did in the 1950s – “Placing national interest above all petty and erroneous considerations of personality and prestige, in conformity with revolutionary principles, our action is directly solely against colonialism, our only blind and obstinate enemy, which has always refused to grant the least freedom by peaceful means.”

And the Middle East has a great history of anti-colonialist and nationalist uprisings. Even if the officials (both colonials and their local cahoots) have forgotten this, the Middle Eastern people can never forget it. They don’t need to “borrow history” from others. Zarqawi and bin Laden can inspire fear and admiration among those who have forgotten the brilliant struggle for decolonization, but the people throughout the Global South have continued to live this struggle every moment of their lives – against political and economic tyranny, against direct or semi-coloniality. As violence escalates in Iraq and Afghanistan, the natives are not at all afraid. They are not afraid and innocent; they too threw stones at the passing tanks and brigades in the streets of the Afghani towns. As Fanon aptly taught us –

“This atmosphere of violence and menaces, these rockets brandished by both sides, do not frighten nor deflect the colonized peoples. We have seen that all their recent history has prepared them to understand and grasp the situation…. The native and the underdeveloped man are today political animals in the most universal sense of the word.”

Herein lies the danger for imperialism. Afraid of relying on hired locals, as it increases its force and drowns in its own muck, there is a genuine hope for the organized rise in the aspirations of self-determination among the natives. As Sartre would put, all that these hired soldiers can do is to delay the completion of the uncompleted decolonization process that started long back, but ultimately, as Jesus commanded, “So the last shall be first, and the first last” (Mathew 20:16). Amen.

And thus the colonizers are anxious, and the colonized hopeful.

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Written by Pratyush Chandra

September 20, 2006 at 3:25 am

Cartoons, Anti-Semitism and the “Aestheticisation of Politics”

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Pratyush Chandra

The way the European press and politicians behaved on the issue of the publication of “anti-Islamic cartoons” can really be interpreted as, a Haaretz journalist puts, “a new breed of anti-Semitism. But the Semites, in this case, are not Jews.” (1)

It is worth pondering, why did these European “cartoonists” choose to indulge in this sort of “freedom of expression” at the time when they knew it would be volatile to do so. Either it was an act of sheer cheap commercialism, or it had a political meaning – a journalistic contribution in the hegemonist World ‘War on terrorism’. This “contribution” serves one major purpose – to provide an ideological sustenance to this war, by creating and homogenising “the enemy”, and of course its mirror image – a homogenised West, the land of the “advanced” people terrorised by the “backward” Orient. What is happening now seems to evidence the designs.

There might have been wider underlying international political economic reasons that brought Hitler to power, but the ideology of anti-Semitism was essential for its sustenance. Today’s Western mode of dubbing all movements of self-determination in the Middle East (which goes against the interests of the Western Powers) as “Osama’s conspiracy” is not very dissimilar to “the Myth of the Jewish World Conspiracy and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. The myth of “Osama” (if we separate it from Osama the man, if he is really one) itself can sustain the Western militancy and its regional cohorts throughout the globe for a long time to come, not only against the “Islamic” forces, but also, and more so, against any “rogue” states and movements (leftists or nationalists).

For example, already, now and then ‘journalists’ report about Osama’s “shadows” emerging in different places in the Indian subcontinent. One was sighted in Sri Lanka with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) just after 9/11.(2) Moreover, the Indians have traditionally found Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI)’s involvement in every uncomfortable movement of ‘self-determination’ within its territory, and after 2001, it has become synonymous to Al Qaeda’s involvement. Interestingly, nowadays ‘reports’ regularly come about ISI’s role in the radical left movement of India too. It has already been ‘spotted’ in Nepal’s communist upsurge. And of course, through ISI, it’s Al Qaeda that operates!!! So the target is set and reasoned!

In the case of Hitler, anti-Semitism of one sort (with the ghost of “the Elders of Zion” and their protocols) could enable him to invade regions with negligible Jewish population or influence, and to be on continuous war. Now, it is anti-Semitism of another sort (with the ghost of Osama and his audiovisual tapes) that provides reason to the global ride of the international ‘security guards’ to wage their ‘crusades’. The time is not far when we will find Osama’s shadow roaming in Latin America too. Or, may be it has been already spotted, and the “investigative report” is awaited.

The timing of the publication of these cartoons is very important to understand their significance – the ongoing war in Iraq and the ensuing discomfiture, continuing embarrassment of the Europeans over their ineffectiveness in the Middle East (lately on the Iranian issue), humiliation in their efforts to outrun the Americans throughout the globe, the Hamas victory… The First World rulers have many reasons to be upset. Their anxiety is heightened by their inability to completely monopolise critical information, whose unhindered transmission despite all kinds of borders and boundaries erected through international negotiations, intellectual and material property rights have virtually recreated an alternative world of commons. The ‘ dynamic’ reproduction of the ruler’s real self in its ever-changing forms by the immense ‘horde’ of ‘commoners’ is bound to make him anxious, and this is what forces him time and again to aestheticise politics – to occlude critique. And what else is the ‘official’ function of the media? What else can be the function of these cartoons? To force the readers, viewers and listeners to “think with one’s blood’. And that’s what they are doing.

Note:

(1) Bradley Burston, The New Anti-Semitism, cartoon division, Haaretz (February 6, 2006)

(2) Osama hand in glove with LTTE, The Times of India (September 22, 2001),

Written by Pratyush Chandra

February 7, 2006 at 3:16 pm

Volcker’s Report Reread: Business, not Corruption

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Pratyush Chandra

The Report on Programme Manipulation (Volcker Report) brought out by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC) into the United Nations’ Oil-for-Food Programme provides a graphic account of how Saddam Hussein’s regime struggled to “launder” a meager sum of 1.8 billion dollars in the span of more than two years. The Report seeks to demonstrate how Iraq had to manipulate the sanction regime and play on various companies and agencies involved in the OFFP to obtain that amount.

I Saddam meant business!

The timing of the Volcker Report makes it an efficient tool for providing legitimacy to the American occupation and delegitimizing the UN’s ability to act as a multilateral world power opposed to the unilateralist US. Despite this, one may commend Volcker and his associates for describing Saddam Hussein’s scheme in such minute details. It seems that they used every real, half-real fact to complete this picture, putting many politicians and businessmen, who shook hands with Saddam Hussein when he was Iraq’s head-of-state, in the range of ‘suspicion’. However, a brief scrutiny shows that the whole exercise is an exposition of what every petty businessman does to survive in the world of competition, monopolies and surveillance. Of course, the Iraqi ruling elite and its “national” oil bourgeoisie had to be smarter as, on the one hand, the eyes of the competitors in the fellow oil economies and Western corporate oil companies were constantly watching the effect of Iraq’s primitive “in kind” oil sale on their own “in cash” transactions; while, on the other hand, any slack would have only hastened the execution of “what was already written” – the pending invasion by the US.

Iraq tried to make good use of its only privilege under the OFFP, choosing its oil buyers. The Volcker Report complains:

“Yet the decision to allow Iraq to choose its buyers empowered Iraq with economic and political leverage to advance its broader interest in overturning the sanctions regime. Iraq selected oil recipients in order to influence foreign policy and international public opinion in its favor. Several years into the Programme, Iraq realized that it could generate illicit income outside of the United Nations’ oversight by requiring its oil buyers to pay “surcharges” of generally between ten to thirty cents per barrel of oil.”

Only this privilege provided Iraq a degree of economic sovereignty, which other countries enjoyed more amply. And what it did with this privilege was nothing different from other countries. Every country requires a friendly international atmosphere to survive and grow, and it utilizes every means under its command to build it, and Iraq had only one way to mobilize “international public opinion in its favor” – by selecting oil recipients. Others, too, do have this privilege, but they have more than simply this.

The Volcker Report notes that Iraqis started by appeasing US companies, but found no effect on the US government’s attitude towards Iraq. So they had to approach other Security Council members to influence international bodies, like Russia and France. But this did not mean that the US companies didn’t gain by these arrangements. The report itself finds, “a substantial volume of oil under contract with Russian companies was purchased and financed by companies based in the United States and other countries.” So it was really, business as usual!

As far as “surcharges” are concerned, they were ‘illicit’ because Iraq was exceptionally segregated from involving itself in the ‘licit’ price war in which its competitors were engaged. And even the Bretton Woods institutions (WB/IMF) would admit it is not illegitimate to ‘curb’ the laws if they put hurdles in the ‘natural’ dynamics of market and capital. What Iraq did was nothing exceptional for a businessman facing a legal system adverse to his business interests. It was doing what was best for it in the face of UN induced ‘market imperfections’.

The other source of illicit income obtained by Iraq was “kickbacks paid by companies that it selected to receive contracts for humanitarian goods under the Programme”. The Volcker Report notes that here too “political considerations influenced Iraq’s selection of humanitarian vendors”. Interestingly, the Report itself accepts the legitimacy of this kickback policy by stating that it “began in mid-1999 from Iraq’s effort to recoup purported costs it incurred to transport goods to inland destinations after their arrival by sea at the Persian Gulf port of Umm Qasr”. However, the Report complains that Iraq could have sought approval from the United Nations for compensation of such costs, without noting that under normal circumstances any intermediation in such bilateral arrangements are abhorred. So why will Iraq like any other country or even business entity not covet sovereignty in its contractual engagements? Why will it allow UN surveillance in whatever it does? Why cannot it have its own business secrets? Why will it not engage in profiteering in the limited ‘market’ and opportunity that it is granted?

What Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and agencies dealing with it did were the only ‘rational’ business options before them under the exceptional regime of politico-economic sanctions. Its few loopholes were the only source of opportunities available for them, from which, even the Volcker Report admits, Iraq could not gain much except a few billion dollars. Whatever else it could acquire under the Oil-for-Food Programme was just enough to survive in destitution – food, medicines etc. The Programme was not meant for the reconstruction of the economy destroyed by bombs and isolation.

II Committee’s Unintended Conclusion

Less known is another report brought out by a Working Group instituted by Volcker’s Independent Inquiry Committee, The Impact of the Oil-for-food Programme on the Iraqi People (7 September 2005), which explicitly puts the very purpose of the OFFP as its main negative aspect:

“The short-term approach of the OFFP, essentially as a relief operation, led to many missed opportunities for greater impact, and indeed to some actual harm. A more effective humanitarian approach would have aimed to restore productive capacity, repair infrastructure, generate employment, and use the extensive capabilities of the Iraqi people to support their own livelihood. The basis for the “relief” approach was presumably at first the perceived urgency of the deteriorating situation – food had to be supplied – but the opportunity to move towards support to livelihood was not taken, for reasons such as the policy of reducing the Government of Iraq’s access to hard currency.”

The so-called “corruption” in the OFFP was fundamentally linked with the struggle over the “access to hard currency”. The UN and the hegemonic forces were hell bent upon enfeebling the Iraqi economy by making it cash-stricken; while Iraq was determined to utilize whatever limited opportunities the loopholes in the OFFP granted it. It even went on offensive by attempting to cut on dollar’s seigniorage by selling its oil in euro. (The Observer, 16 February 2003) Against all these, the OFFP’s realpolitik was rendered ineffective.

Hence, the dual purpose of the Programme was to allow the Iraqi population survive, while inciting them against the ‘intransigent’ regime of Saddam Hussein by providing opposed images of this intransigence against the “humanitarian” external forces. When the lingering sanctions and hardships seemed to homogenize the society furthermore making the possibility of any internal revolt very remote, and Iraq was able to “corrupt” the realpolitik of the Programme, the Security Council’s bosses began finding it obsolete. As the Report on the OFFP’s impact clearly states, the Programme as a “relief operation” was a marvelous success on almost every humanitarian account despite administrative problems and “corruption”. But this success could never be a reason for its continuance. Hence, the invasion took place.

Written by Pratyush Chandra

November 10, 2005 at 1:11 am

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