Friday, September 10, 2010

9-11: Nine Years On

David Seaton's News Links
Seen through a cloud of burning Koran smoke, nine years on and counting, most Americans still have no real idea what happened on the eleventh of September in 2001 or why it happened.

The big mistake almost all Americans make when contemplating 9-11 is to think that we were attacked, when if fact we were counterattacked. Americans have been just too self-absorbed to ever know, or even probably care what was being done all over the world in their name. We have been blithely pushing ourselves into other cultures, into other traditions and other economies without ever thinking that this might have painful consequences or that those offended could ever really hit back in a meaningful way. And now that the new technologies have made it possible, we are surprised that somebody who drinks the same Coke we do could explode right next to us.

9/11 was basically imperial blow back, as if Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse could have raided Wall Street with a Sioux war party in the 1870s. The seeds for the attacks on Manhattan and Washington were planted when the United States of America took over Britain and France's imperial role in the Middle East after World War II.  The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union  left the anti-imperialist movement without a superpower patron and overseer and the ideological packaging that went with it.

The anti-imperialist movement has existed since the local (called "native") elites of the European colonies absorbed the western concept of nationalism, it certainly was not invented by the USSR, who used it as a weapon against the "free world". When the USSR went down, opening the way for globalization, the national liberation movements were orphaned and, like orphans, those who wanted to continue to struggle against imperialism had to make their own way in the world.

"Imperialism" here is taken to mean the domination of non-Christian, non-European peoples, by European or Euro-American-Christians (since roughly the 1950s the Jewish people of the United States under the neologism, "Judeo-Christian" have been given the status of "honorary Christians", in much the same way that the Japanese were considered "honorary whites" under the former apartheid regime of South Africa). Certainly for the inhabitants of Muslim countries the distinction between Zionists (read Jews) and "crusaders" (read Christians) has become rather blurred over time.

At first the political tools used by "third world" countries to resist this domination were nationalism (emphasizing local sovereignty, UN seat, nationalized-socialized economy, etc.) and in many cases simultaneous alignment with the Soviet block in "national liberation struggles". In order to weaken the allure of left-wing nationalism, the United States and her allies often encouraged Islamic fundamentalism and encouraged the growth of movements such as the Taliban, Hamas and Hizbullah. With the fall of the Soviet Union and the advent of globalization, secular nationalism and socialism lost practically all their usefulness as tools for loosening the grip of aliens on the economies, lives and customs of non-"European" peoples.

However, by now, many Muslims have discovered that, for better or worse, Islam is the one idea, culture and "way of life" that cannot be dissolved or co-opted by the omnivorous powers of synthesis and the economic and military hegemony of the "New World Order". Thus, as day follows night, with nowhere else to turn, "Islam is the Answer" has now become the default slogan of anti-imperialism among Muslims and may, who knows, begin to resonate among disaffected, heretofore non-Muslims, that find themselves helpless victims of American-led globalization.

What makes the situation today more explosive than the cold war is the difference in ideological potency between Islam and Marxist-Leninism. Marxist-Leninism had a great attraction for young, nationalist intellectual elites in the third world and gave them an organizational structure, international connections and financing for forming a revolutionary vanguard and cadres.

However Marxism never had much attraction in itself for the masses in Muslim countries (or any other for that matter) and neither did proletarian internationalism. A traditional "ultra-nationalist-international" is a contradiction in terms. But, Islam squares that circle: Islam works on the level of the most militant, nationalist chauvinism, while at the same time being totally international constantly searching for common denominators among Muslims everywhere.

In the cold war equation there was no wild card factor like Israel, which, with the demise of South African apartheid, can be seen as the last "western colony" left standing, something, which at the same time stimulates nationalist and internationalist feelings among the masses and elites alike in Muslim countries. This is what makes political Islam so revolutionary... Really, all that was necessary was to add modern communications (Internet, with its social networks and chat rooms and Satellite TV) to  the Israel/Palestinian/Iraq conflict for the waiting Umma to get to critical mass.

This is the context that made Osama bin Laden's "super stardom" possible.
Through the initial spending of a few hundred thousand dollars, training and then sacrificing 19 of his foot soldiers, bin Laden has watched his relatively tiny and all but anonymous organization of a few hundred zealots turn into the most recognized international franchise since McDonald's. Could any enemy of the United States have achieved more with less?  Ted Koppel - Washington Post
Al Qaeda exists because of a political failure that goes back many years. A political failure born of contempt for a stubborn culture's refusal to bend its neck to "reality".

At the heart of the GWOT is a rebellion of the most proactive, hard core and daring of the Muslim world against Western domination of their space. Once that political failure connects with a plan to attack it, organizations will spring up spontaneously to continue that attack.

Religion in itself is not really the only driving force here, but rather serves as the ideological adhesive to articulate a cultural rebellion that cuts across nationalities and ethnic groups and welds them into a force for violent change. Osama's Islam replaces Marxist-Leninism and nationalism, all of which have failed to free Muslim countries from their perceived oppression. Tied to the newest technologies the ancient concept of the Muslim Umma is proving more potent than any imported ideology ever was.

I agree with Harvard professor, Niall Ferguson, who thinks that Osama Bin Laden is in reality more a "Leninist" than a religious leader. Just as Lenin was first a revolutionary and second a Marxist. Bin Laden's Islam structures his proud rebelliousness. Bin Laden shares with Lenin the rather unique ability to see revolutionary possibilities where others see only backward and illiterate masses and then to craft an organization and an ideology to fit that vision... and he also shares Lenin's "just do it" insistence on action instead of endless talk.

Americans love to personalize things, but important as they are, Bin Laden and Al Qaeda are more symptoms than causes.

Today in countries like Egypt even moderate Muslims, people that don't plan on ever putting a bomb in their jockey shorts, are wearing beards and hijabs and chorusing, "Islam is the answer": They see it as a vaccine against being digested and assimilated and then excreted by the dynamics of globalization.

Are Muslims just being insanely paranoiac when they accuse the United States of trying to "destroy" Islam?

In my opinion, yes and no. "Yes", from the American point of view, where we think it jolly nice if some people go to church on Sunday, others go to temple on Saturday and, what the heck, others can go to mosque on Friday if they want to... but for the rest of what is left of the week, it is business as usual or else.

"No", from the point of view of many Muslims, if by "to destroy" means "to trivialize" their religion, which, in their view, is a seven day, 24 hour a day project, which is the arbiter of all human affairs. This is contrary to the rules of our economic system: within globalization the "market" has taken on the role that Islam assigns to God. Therefore Islam being indigestible in its present form must be reshaped or "Disneyfied" if you will. Except it can't be and still be Islam.

More than confronting the American people themselves, it seems to me that Muslim fundamentalists are confronting history's most powerful exponent of a system that was once described as turning "all that is solid into air", leaving commerce as the fundamental activity of all human beings. If we consider in what shape our economic system has left the teachings of Jesus Christ, perhaps the Muslims aren't as far off target as they appear at first glance.

If you stop and think about it, every traditional relationship between human beings that ever existed anywhere, clan, tribe, nationality, religion, family authority, has been either dissolved or degraded by our economic system: this is what we have lost in exchange for our standard of living. We happen to be cool with that, but not everybody else is.

Be that as it may, the principal objective of Muslim fundamentalists, in my opinion, is to eject an alien civilization (us), and all those who empower it (ME, American client regimes), from the spiritual-emotional center of Islam. At heart this is just an continuation of the dismantling of the Euro-American (white) domination of the world that began at the end of WWII, a domination which globalization has given a new breath of life.

So basically this is yet another "national liberation struggle". If we look at the cost-effectiveness of everything Al Qaeda have done since the attack on the USS Cole and the African embassies and compare it with the sacrifices made by the Vietnamese people to finally gain their independence, I imagine that sooner or later the Muslim fundamentalists are going to succeed in driving us out of the Middle East.

What happens then?

Obviously if there is a general Islamist revolution in the Middle East followed by the Magreb, with America's client regimes falling like dominoes, it would have the immediate effect of pushing the price of oil through the roof and that alone would bring on a major economic crisis. It would be every man for himself as Europe, Japan and China scrambled to assure their energy supplies. This might bring protectionism roaring in, if it didn't start a series of wars. Israel, of course, might always do something crazy, but I think that in such a situation, observers might be amazed at how "prudent" the Israelis could be, if Egypt, Jordan and Syria, for example, fell to the Muslim Brotherhood in short succession.

Whatever finally happened, the period of transformation would be a harrowing, violent roller coaster ride, however, when the transformation had been completed, we would find the resulting situation:
  • The new rulers would immediately have to find some way of feeding their populations
  • The only thing they would have to sell to feed them would be oil. 
  • The thirst of the developed and developing nations for oil would be as great as ever.
In those three points we have the makings of a workable peace.

What would that peace look like?

The best model I can think of would be some Muslim/post-Christian version of the Treaty of Westphalia, a miracle of diplomacy whereby Protestants and Catholics managed to end the "Thirty Years War", religious conflict in Europe, and perhaps most importantly enshrined the idea of state's non-meddling in the internal affairs of other states. This idea of inviolable sovereignty had managed to limp along for hundreds of years until Bush and Blair under aegis of the neocons trashed it... with the results we are living with today.

In some perfect neo-Westphalian world, the Muslim minority of Europe would be allowed to practice their religion in peace and the Christian and Jewish minorities in the Middle East practice theirs. Too good to be true? Well, the part about Christians and Jews being able to practice their religions in peace in the Middle East is a workmanlike description of how the Ottoman empire worked, otherwise how do you think that 19th century Zionist settlers under the patronage of the Rothschilds were allowed to settle in Palestine in the first place?

The bit about the Ottoman empire being a place where the three religions "of the book" lived in peace is why, contrary to many commentators, I view very favorably Turkey's moves to cool their relations with Israel and reclaim a prominent place in the world of Islam. Turkey's role in the post-American-hegemony, multipolar world of compartmentalized and case by case globalization is a key one.

Of course the joker in the deck is Israel. There is always a possibility that Israel, finding itself "eyeless in Gaza", might Samson-like pull the whole thing down around their ears, but I don't think so. I imagine rather that there will be a series of tipping points, where American public opinion visibly sours on Israel's involving the US in an endless, fruitless series of wars that deteriorate America's power and endanger American lives, combined with the aforesaid rise of Islamic republics in the Middle East and the Magreb... not to mention Iran's future possession of the atomic bomb, followed closely by Egypt and Saudi Arabia (then probably called the Islamic Republic of Mecca and Medina). These tipping points will send many Israelis with double nationality heading for the doors and make it obvious to those who stay that a more accommodating manner of behavior, shall we say, is now required.

Summing up, the years ahead will surely be horrible and dangerous, like the period of the above mentioned Thirty Years War, but the peace that may follow it, like the peace that followed that endless religious war, could be very stable and last for quite a long time. DS


Anonymous said...

Mr. Seaton,

Your observations are unique and your scenarios are plausible; your writing style is second to none.

I have followed your blog for the last six months and your posts are always interesting. Are there any articles, authored by you, in printed publications that I could read?

David Seaton's Newslinks said...

Only in Spanish, I'm afraid.

Harry Haller said...

This is good, congratulations. Today is also the 37th anniversary of Pinochet's coup d'etat.