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Posts Tagged ‘Politics’

Social movements, critique, and organizing mobilization

Laurence Cox on social movements and the case of Ireland (excerpt):

Movement organisations, for their part, now face substantial challenges. Is there a way back from dependence on funding? The much-discussed US book The Revolution Will Not Be Funded suggests that if there is, it lies in a shift from service delivery to advocacy and campaigning, linked to a principled decision for financial independence and self-funding. My own sense from talking to organisers over recent years is that this is now widely seen as common sense, but that it requires the development of skills which have not been in much demand in the years of funding proposals and policy submissions; and the willingness to endure an upheaval in internal relations as members, rather than professionals, come to take the lead in practice and not simply rhetorically.

[…]What critical political economy has lost, in its long engagement with the politics of ‘opinion’, is a willingness to reflect on agency – how a critique can come to acquire social and economic force – and to find ways of translating technical expertise into straightforward, strategic demands; key issues which can be widely understood and widely supported by those who do not have postgraduate degrees but nevertheless perceive themselves as losing out from the bailout and the cuts.

The key battle in this last respect, for several years now, has been the struggle in Rossport in the west of Ireland. At its simplest, we have a government minister, since imprisoned for corruption, handing over the keys to €540 billion of gas reserves to Shell and Statoil; the state under various governments backing this up with the deployment of the military and a police occupation whose overall conduct the police Ombudsman has been instructed not to investigate; and a right-wing hate campaign in the media against leading campaigners. We also have a remarkable alliance of social movements doing its very best under immense pressure to resist and transform this situation. Most recently, a recording of police discussing raping and deporting activists has highlighted realities which many people have preferred to ignore.

Rossport is not only the place where the actual economic choices made by the mainstream parties are most clearly visible, it is also a place which brings together local communities in struggle, key union issues, ecological concerns, an experience of police violence shared by many poor people on this island, majority world solidarity and, most recently, core feminist concerns. In the late 1970s, an alliance of mass movements stopped plans for nuclear power in Ireland at Carnsore Point in Wexford. If anywhere has the capacity to be the Carnsore Point of the 2010s – a place where the machinery of destruction and impoverishment can be stopped in its tracks, and where social movements can rally around the development of alternatives for Irish development – it is Rossport.

In order for this to happen, of course, movements and intellectuals have to throw off the ‘muck of ages’, or rather the office suits donned for the years of partnership. The desire to be on the inside, in line for funding and a seat at the table, dies hard – as does the intellectual desire to be a respectable dissenter. A respectable dissenter, in our contemporary usage, of course, is in the last analysis a member of the elite – one calling for a different direction, but making this call to other members of the elite. An effective organiser, by contrast, is one whose primary concern is to find issues around which ordinary people are willing to mobilise, around which effective alliances can be made, and which can offer the possibility of disrupting the polite and respectable world of meetings and policy papers.

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Dignity, justice: direct democracy

Zodwa Nsibande, from a post on South Africa’s Abahlali baseMjondolo, a shack dwellers movement:

In our days being involved in the struggle for change is no longer as popular as it was before simply because many people believe that because we had got rid of the oppressive government everything is now ok. But freedom was never just a case of replacing a white government with a black government. It was a case of building a different kind of society – a society that put human beings at the centre, a society in which there would be decent homes, decent work, decent schools and decent health care for everyone. It was a case of building a participatory democracy in which everyone’s voice and life would count the same irregardless of whether they were a woman or a man, black or white, gay or straight or poor or rich. In fact it was a case of building a society where poverty would be ended.

Those who think that the time of struggle is over are forgetting that we are still living under a kind of apartheid but that in this apartheid the difference is the people are divided by class. The gap between those who have and those who don’t have is huge and it is getting worse. Those who say that we must be patient are forgetting that things are getting worse for the poor and not better.

And here is a look at Spain’s days of protests in May of 2011.

By Siân Ruddick:

Mass demonstrations and protest camps have mushroomed across Spain as the young and the unemployed say “enough”. As many as 40 percent of Spain’s 4.5 million unemployed are under 25.

The economic crisis has brought further austerity and attacks on workers and the poor. But now the people are fighting back.

Unemployment runs at 21% in the country, 45% for those who are 18 to 25 years old.

Sokari Ekine writes about Uganda and Africa:

Uprisings continue across the continent, with Uganda being the latest country where citizens have taken to the streets in protest against rising food and energy prices.

[…]The protests have met with a violent response from the government of Yoweri Museveni, with police firing live bullets at crowds, beatings and mass arrests.

[…]Ndumba Jonnah Kamwanyah in the Southern Africa FBP likens Museveni to Egypt’s Mubarak with the same mindset and the same relationship with the West:

‘Typical of a mindset of a dictator, President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power for 25 years, does not see the connection between the uprisings and his governing style. Instead his delusional mentality makes him see how indispensable he is to Uganda. Narcissistic is what he is, just like all dictators and autocratic leaders, and he does not care about what the Ugandan citizens think or want.’

Protest in Uganda

In Egypt, here’s a peek at May 20, Tahrir Square:

Hossam el-Hamalway in an interview:

The revolution was against the Mubarak regime but all we’ve managed to do so far is remove Mubarak himself. The ones running the country right now are Mubarak’s generals, who were the backbone of his dictatorship from day one.

[…]Attempts are already under way by middle-class activists to place limits on this revolution and ensure it remains only within the realm of formal political institutions.

[…]But the main part of any revolution has to be socio-economic emancipation for the citizens of a country; if you want to eliminate corruption or stop vote-buying then you have to give people decent salaries, make them aware of their rights and not leave them in dire economic need. A middle-class activist can return to his executive job after they think the revolution is over, but a public transport worker who has spent 20 years in service and is getting paid only 189 Egyptian pounds a month – you can’t ask this guy to go back to work and tell his starving kids at home that everything will be sorted out once we have a civilian government in the future.So this is phase two of the revolution, the phase of socio-economic change. What we need to do now is take Tahrir to the factories, the universities, the workplaces. In every single institution in this country there is a mini-Mubarak who needs to be overthrown. In every institution there are figures from the old state security regime who need to be overthrown. These guys are the counter-revolution.

And in Greece, according to Matthaois Tsimitakis:

The village of Keratea is a conservative and peaceful place, about an hour’s drive from Athens. When, a few months ago, the central government decided without consultation to create a garbage landfill destroying antiquities, polluting the environment and defying the European Commission’s rejection of the plan as unsustainable, Keratea erupted into violent confrontation with the police.

[…]The Keratea resistance is part of a series of low or higher intensity confrontations with the government, its preferred contractors and the repressive apparatus of state brought in to protect the corporations. Such local movements have spread all over the country for some time, defending public spaces against privatization (this has happened repeatedly in Athens where the last remaining green spots are consistently given over to construction companies), natural resources (the Canadian gold mining corporation TVX is facing a strong resistance movement in the North of the country), or protesting against the repeated corruption scandals.

Palestinian refugees marched to commemorate Nakba on May 15, the expulsion of hundreds of thousands from their homes in today’s occupied Palestine and Israel.

Karma Nabulsi has this to say:

It was the moment for which we had all been holding our breath for decades – for 63 years to be precise. Palestinians everywhere watched the unfolding scene transfixed and awed. The camera followed the movements of a small group of people advancing from the mass of protesters. They were carefully making their way down a hill towards the high fence that closed off the mined field separating Syria from its own occupied territory of the Golan that borders historic Palestine, now Israel.

They were mostly young Palestinians, drawn from the 470,000-plus refugee community in Syria: from Yarmouk refugee camp inside Damascus, from Khan el-Sheikh camp outside it, from Deraa and Homs refugee camps in the south, from Palestinian gatherings all over the country.

Slowly, and in spite of the shouted warnings from the villagers from Majdal Shams about the lethal landmines installed by the Israeli military right up to the fence, these remarkable ordinary young people – Palestinian refugees – began to both climb and push at the fence. We were going home.

It was a profoundly revolutionary moment, for these hundreds of young people entering Majdal Shams last Sunday made public the private heart of every Palestinian citizen, who has lived each day since 1948 in the emergency crisis of a catastrophe. Waiting, and struggling, and organising for only two things: liberation and return.

[…]On Sunday, this moment of return was enacted simultaneously in Haifa and among Palestinians displaced inside Israel, on the borders of Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, and Gaza, in the West Bank near the Qalandia refugee camp – wherever the more than 7 million stateless Palestinian refugees now live, very near their original villages and towns. Just out of sight, over the hill, across the border.

Moe Ali Nayel writes:

things will not be the same as before 15 May. Just like after Muhammad Bouazizi, things are not the same as before he shook the Arab world. The Arab people, us, the Arab youth, we are not going to let the status quocontinue, we are not going to be humiliated by our own people anymore. We are not going to let Palestine and the Palestinian people be humiliated and tortured every time they breathe.

We are freedom-loving people and we won’t live anymore on empty promises from our corrupt governments who use Palestine as a pretext to repress us while they enjoy stealing from our pockets. We won’t let them continue to make sure Israel is safe and sound, enjoying the beautiful land of Palestine, while hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in inhumane conditions in the camps.

In Portugal, on March 12 ” Upwards of 300,000 people took to the streets in Lisbon and other Portuguese cities on Saturday to protest job insecurity…”

In the UK, there have been cuts to education, health care and social spending after providing massive ‘bailouts’ to financial institutions that continue to pull in enormous profits. This has resulted in direct action, protests, and occupations of universities.

From We are the Third Force by S’bu Zikode of Abahlali baseMjondolo:

The community has realised that voting for parties has not brought any change to us.

[…]For us time has been a very good teacher. People have realised so many things. We have learnt from the past – we have suffered alone. That pain and suffering has taught us a lot. We have begun to realise that we are not supposed to be living under these conditions.

And here’s a little song courtesy of Nina Simone:

The ‘state of national safety’ in Bahrain

May 12, 2011 1 comment

The Kingdom Bahrain is safe, so says the man in charge. His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa announced a three month reign of safety called “a State of National Safety” to protect citizens’ lives. This March 15 announcement was made in response to popular demonstrations in that country.

European and US support for justice and human rights are armed and supposedly on the march, after all — Bahraini officials would have been sanctioned, and no-fly zones issued by these countries, and the military alliance of NATO. Surely ‘precision’ freedom rockets would have rained from the sky and made impact on government compounds if innocent people were truly at risk. There would have been talk of weapons provided to the opposition movement that is asking for a constitutional monarchy or democracy.

The State of National Safety is decreed to end on June 1. Perhaps this means national safety is being amply protected by targeting and eliminating threats.

Since mass demonstrations took place in Bahrain, threats being handled so far include special military courts being given 405 political detainees to prosecute, including 23 doctors and 24 nurses.

Here is an Al Jazeera report of raids on schools and beatings of school girls.

A lot of work went into getting things to this stage. There was “systematic and coordinated attacks against medical personnel, as a result of their efforts to provide unbiased care for wounded protestors.” The abuse ranged from threats to beatings. Hospitalised patients and detainees received a generous share of the national safety efforts as well, “including torture, beating, verbal abuse, humiliation, and threats of rape and killing; government security forces stealing ambulances and posing as medics; the militarization of hospitals and clinics which has resulted in the obstruction of medical care; and rampant fear that prevents patients from seeking urgent medical treatment.” These are documented by and quoted from Physicians for Human Rights.

Some hospitalised patients are said to have been abused by masked security officers. On the subject of masked men, they have made a couple of other notable appearances of late.

At least two groups of masked men went into action the night of May 1-2. They grabbed Matar Ebrahim Matar and Jawad Fairuz.

Matar, a member of al-Wefaq political party, was taken off the street and forced into a car at gunpoint. A government spokesperson has put it this way: Matar “has been called in for investigation.”

Before the abduction, Matar was accused of directing the killing of two security officers during the period of popular uprisings. The accusation was very dramatic. It took place on television. A man detained and charged for the death of two security officers was broadcast admitting the direction of Matar in targeting officers.

Prior to his own detention, Matar identified the bearer of the television accusation as Ali Isa Ibrahim Saqer. This man is dead now, since early April. He seems to haven been tortured to death. Fairuz, also a member of al-Wefaq who had earlier resigned from the lower house of parliament, was victim of a home invasion by men with weapons in hand, and he was taken. You can read more about this from Human Rights Watch.

The Kingdom of Bahrain has had help. Its partners include the thousand strong Saudi-led military men who entered the country to help the royal Al Khalifa family maintain control.

Mercenaries were also requested to boost the power and security of the royal family during this time of increased opposition. And it should have by now become increasingly clear that the national safety announced by the king is primarily about the maintenance of power in the hands of the royal family.

The Kingdom of Bahrain benefited from an advert to “urgently” hire military and security personnel from Pakistan. This is what the advert looked like.

Urgent Requirement - Manpower for Bahrain National Guard

Urgent Requirement - Manpower for Bahrain National Guard

Part 2 of advert

Urgent Requirement - Manpower for Bahrain National Guard

Part 3 of advert

The News, from Pakistan, in April expanded on the subject:

The Fauji Security Services (Pvt) Limited, which is run by the Fauji Foundation, a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, is currently recruiting on war footing basis thousands of retired military personnel from the Pakistan Army, Navy and the Air Force who will be getting jobs in the Gulf region, especially in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. But sources in the Fauji Foundation say over 90 per cent of the fresh recruitments, which started in the backdrop of the recent political upheaval in the Arab world, are being sent to Bahrain to perform services in the Bahrain National Guard (BNG), and that too at exorbitant salaries. Thousands of ex-servicemen of the Pakistani origin are already serving in Bahrain and the fresh recruitments are aimed at boosting up the strength of the BNG to deal with the country’s majority Shia population, which is calling for replacement of the Sunni monarchy. Bahrain’s ruling elite is Sunni, although about 70% of the population is Shia.

[…]According to available figures, over 1,000 Pakistanis have so far been recruited in March 2011 alone.

[…]Bahrain has long been a happy hunting ground for ex-Pakistani army personnel — an estimated 10,000 Pakistanis are already serving in various security services of Bahrain.

The work of repression includes such things as demolitions. Shia mosques and shrines have been demolished. Minister of Justice and Islamic Affairs Sheikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla al-Khalifa, has claimed, “These are not mosques. These are illegal buildings.”

The Justice Ministry’s website had this response: “The ministry will provide legal alternatives for buildings with a licence for those cabins and facilities being removed.” (from Reuters)

Pepe Escobar writes in the Asia Times that detainees put on trial include “Shi’ite dissident Hassan Mushaimaa, leader of the opposition group Haq who has called for the overthrow of the monarchy; and Ebrahim Shareef, the Sunni leader of the secular Waad group that called for a constitutional monarchy.”

Human Rights Watch has reported that on May 3 it “received credible reports that a human rights and opposition activist, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, who was arrested on April 9 and whose whereabouts and well-being were unknown, had been admitted to Bahrain Defense Force hospital for six days for treatment of injuries, including to his jaw and head. One person who saw him said he was unrecognizable as a result of apparent beatings in detention.”

Local media has also been targeted. For example, three editors from an opposition newspaper, Al-Wasat, are being taken to court. Their charges include unethical coverage of demonstrations.

The Al Khalija family is wielding terror, violence, and detentions in its campaign to retain a monopoly on power. This is the same family that has been ruling Bahrain since 1783.

Here is one dimension of the country’s recent history as written by the US State Department:

In the 1830s the Al Khalifa family signed the first of many treaties establishing Bahrain as a British Protectorate.

[…]The main British naval base in the region was moved to Bahrain in 1935 shortly after the start of large-scale oil production.

[…]Bahrain… declare[d] itself fully independent on August 15, 1971.

[…]Bahrain promulgated a constitution and elected its first parliament in 1973, but just 2 years later, in August 1975, the Amir disbanded the National Assembly after it attempted to legislate the end of Al-Khalifa rule and the expulsion of the U.S. Navy from Bahrain.

[…]Military exercises are conducted on a regular basis to increase the BDF’s [Bahrain Defence Force] readiness and improve coordination with the U.S. and other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] forces. The BDF also sends personnel to the United States for military training.

[…]Bahrain’s strategic partnership with the U.S. has intensified since 1991. Bahraini pilots flew strikes in Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War, and the country was used as a base for military operations in the Gulf. Bahrain also provided logistical and basing support to international Maritime Interdiction efforts to enforce UN sanctions and prevent illegal smuggling of oil from Iraq in the 1990s. Bahrain also provided extensive basing and overflight clearances for a multitude of U.S. aircraft operating in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Bahrain also deployed forces in support of coalition operations during both OEF and OIF.

[…]Bahrain and the United States signed a Defense Cooperation Agreement in October 1991 granting U.S. forces access to Bahraini facilities and ensuring the right to pre-position material for future crises. Bahrain is the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. The U.S. designated Bahrain a Major Non-NATO Ally in October 2001. Bahrain and the United States signed a Free Trade Agreement in 2004.

People: free will versus complex animals that must be controlled

The language that is understood in our modern democracy [is] through putting thousands of people on the street. […] We need to go out and do mobilization. […] It is the only thing that will push into a meaningful engagement; not a discussion. […] Our power remains in our numbers. Unity is our strength.

Above is an excerpt from a short talk given by S’bu Zikode. Below is the speech in full.

There are two broad schools of thought on people, that they are capable of effective self-determination and free action, or that they are almost exclusively shaped by the social, environmental, and material conditions of their daily life and so they cannot be trusted to decide their own fate.

These two streams of thought take on many different forms, have various names, and are championed by various causes. They both seem to regularly offer the same examples of human atrocities, such as global wars, as events that prove the basis for their argument. A war that mobilizes a great mass of people to kill and die is represented as either:

  1. The horror of people lacking good judgment and committing murder or mass suicide; or
  2. The oppressive power of privileged factions organizing a system of government that coerces the mass of people to commit murder.

These ideas of a people, as reactionary networks of individuals or people as the most suitable for determining their own lives touches on all aspects of life, from deciding on types of healthcare to how best to determine good forms of employment.

These schools demand broadly different approaches to governance. Simply put they demand rule by a supposedly enlightened elite that knows best or direct decision-making by empowered collectives of people. These governing bodies range in size from national or international governments to local boards or movements.

B.F. Skinner is famous for supporting the notion that people cannot govern themselves. He helped develop behaviouralism. This presents people as shaped by their social and environmental context, their behaviours shaped in response to stimuli (rewards and punishments). Of course, an ‘engineer’ could then command people’s behaviours. Here is an example.

Here is a a video of Skinner giving a short talk on the subject.

There is also the notion of people having the capacity for self-determination by applying their free will. This is not a complex form of reflex or manipulated bahaviour.

The will of the people is, to quote the philosopher Peter Hallward, “a deliberate, emancipatory and inclusive process of collective self-determination.” This requires that people not be slave to purely behavioural control. The application of free will requires the people to “resist the power of the historical, cultural or socio-economic terrain to determine” their/our own way. (quotes from Hallward’s essay, The will of the people, available online)

Here is an eloquent articulation of why and how people must organize together:

Our politics starts by recognizing the humanity of every human being. We decided that we will no longer be good boys and girls that quietly wait for our humanity to be finally recognized one day. Voting has not worked for us. We have already taken our place on the land in the cities and we have held that ground. We have also decided to take our place in all the discussions and to take it right now. We take our place humbly because we know that we don’t have all the answers, that no one has all the answers. Our politics is about carefully working things out together, moving forward together. But although we take our place humbly we take it firmly.

[…]Our politics starts from the places we have taken. We call it a living politic because it comes from the people and stays with the people. It is ours and it is part of our lives. We organize it in our own languages and in our own communities. It is the politics of our lives. It is made at home with what we have and it is made for us and by us. We are finished with being ladders for politicians to climb up over the people.

[…]To think about all this we must start with the history of where we come from. Who are we and what type of society we want to build.

It has become clear to us that whenever we talk about history we are seen to be launching an offensive. It has become clear to us that this is because the rich want to believe that we are poor because we are less than them – less intelligent, less responsible, less clean, less honest, less educated. If we are poor because we are just less than the rich then we must be happy for every little thing that we are given, we must be happy with a hamper or some old clothes when our children are dying in the rats and the fire and the mud.

But we are not poor because we are less than the rich. We are poor because we were made poor. The rich are rich because they were made rich. If your ancestors had the land you will go to university and get a nice job and look after your family well. If your ancestors lost the land you will be lucky to find a dangerous job that you hate so that your family can just survive.

The above are excerpts from a speech given by S’bu Zikode. Zikode is the president of Abhalali baseMjondo, a South African shack dwellers movement that began in early 2005.

Jacques Ranciere writes the following in his book, The Ignorant School Master:

There is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another. […] That subjection is purely one of will over will.

[…]There aren’t two sorts of minds. There is inequality in the manifestations of intelligence, according to the greater or lesser energy communicated to the intelligence by the will for discovering and combining new relations: but there is no hierarchy of intellectual capacity.

[…] Whoever looks always finds. He doesn’t necessarily find what he was looking for, and even less what he was supposed to find. But he finds something new to relate to the thing that he already knows.”

What’s new in Egypt

Is there something new being introduced in Egypt, launched by a series of mass rebellions in the country and region? If something new is being introduced, then what is it?

Change from an old structure and practice of governance to the new comes in many shades and forms. Change, even if sparked by popular uprisings, does not automatically lead to a popular government nor does it have to fundamentally overturn the power of privileged associations such as broad groups of political or military elites.

What I find significant in the transformation taking place in Egypt since the removal of Hosni Mubarak from the presidency is not the purely structural details, outlines, and schema of state and government change: i.e. political offices, which leaders among the elite are in charge, etc.

The vessel of political imagination is undergoing significant change. This is the immaterial body of the imagined community.

It is a matter of re-conceiving the essence of the state, such that the concept of community and nation takes on new meaning, that old names have new significance. This is the transformation to keep one’s eye on. It is a reframing of names and concepts, leading to a new state of governance.

Egypt Revolts / Egypt Revolution

Image of Egypt's revolts from ArteEast magazine's April 2011 issue. Click on it to view the magainze in full.

In their meaning and practice, the names and categories ‘dignity’, ‘national identity’, ‘national interest’, ‘future’, ‘dream’, ‘need’, ‘government’,  and ‘popular’ are undergoing investigation, and adjustment or redefinition.

The new state exists within a situation of power concentrated in the hands of associations of the elite that compose a miniscule fraction of the total population. The significant change is not one of power being shared relatively equally across a mass of people.

 To put it another way, I mean that the state of affairs following the 2011 uprisings in Egypt has not led to a fundamentally emancipatory practice of social and political life. To paraphrase Peter Hallward’s philosophy on collective self-determination, the event has invented new ground but the walk through the “historical, cultural, and socioeconomic terrain” is not being organized by a deliberate assembly of the people even if they must be “conditioned by the specific strategic constraints that structure the particular situation.” (1)

There is certainly a new state of governance that is vigorously attempting to re-contextualize the concept of state and nation, but it is also clearly not a government of the people. The government of Egypt is a house of power compelled to transform itself by the sudden presence of what were established though previously suppressed incoherencies, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the old ‘regime’. This sudden presence of old contradictions appears as a great burden, a mountain of weight on the straining shoulders of Egypt.

It has come to the foreground through mass rebellion and demonstrations. It cannot be missed. It is plainly visible no matter where the gaze is fixed. The incoherencies are raw force, and they have broken the state such as it was. It is now time to grasp onto the event to organize change by transforming cultural, social, and political relationships into a new relation of thought and practice.

The associations that, until now, seem to have most successfully taken this opportunity in hand in order to forge the structure of the future Egypt, those associations that are (re)aligning the elements of the opportunity afforded them into a new state, reside predominantly within the elite, though thrust into motion by the muscle of the people. This new state is, so far, a state of the nation and not a new state of and for the people.

A tendency of privileging national identity has historically been the ease with which it is turned to the very serious zero-sum game of competing national blocs and powers. The national identity also competes with other conceptions of community and can provide “a cement which [bonds] all citizens to their state, a way to bring the nation-state directly to each citizen, and a counterweight to those who [appeal] to other loyalties over state loyalty.” (2). In this fashion, the ‘nationality’ may become “a real network of personal relations rather than a merely imaginary community.” (3) It introduces the possibility of privileging national interest by lauding those who are true defenders (patriots) of the nation tied to its instrumental apparition in the body of the state. This can endanger the effectiveness of critique as well as limit social and political options that are critical in practice.

Here is a glimpse of the tension prior to the uprisings that toppled Hosni Mubarak from nearly 30 years as president (from Amira Mittermaier’s book, Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination):

People can’t afford to buy anymore; the only thing left is window-shopping. We are sipping heavy tea that is bearable only with an excessive amount of sugar. But the tea is not the only thing that is heavy; so is the atmosphere. Like Ahmad, many friends during the course of my visit will explain that economically, morally, and politically, Egypt is going through a crisis. Almost everyone I talk to feels helpless, hopeless, and outraged about the ongoing war in Iraq and about the emergency laws that interdict all expressions of discontent within Egypt itself. ‘We’re living in a nightmare,’ people say when I bring up the topic of dreams.

Here’s what a Cairo taxi driver had to say, as recorded by Khaled Al Khamissi:

Education for everyone, sir, was a wonderful dream and, like many dreams, it’s gone, leaving only the illusion. On paper, education is like water and air, compulsory for everyone, but the reality is that rich people get educated and work and make money, while the poor don’t get educated and don’t get jobs and don’t earn anything. They loaf around, and I can show them to you, they can’t find anything to do, except of course the geniuses. And our boy Albert is definitely not one of those.

But I am trying with him. I pay for private lessons like a dog. What else can I do? I say maybe God will breathe life into him and he’ll turn out like Ahmed Zeweil, who won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. (4)

Another driver has this to say:

I don’t understand what they want from us. There are no jobs, then they tell us to do any job that’s going, but they’re waiting in ambush for us whatever job we do. They plunder and steal and ask for bribes and where it all leads I don’t know. Just as I spend so much a day on petrol, I have to put aside bribe money for the traffic department every day just in case. (5)

In Egypt, the practice of political power must today acknowledge the eruption of the mass response to crisis by addressing, incorporating, co-opting, redirecting, or deflecting it.

The uprisings and the resulting strain on the socio-political order were not an end to be achieved: the event is a point of departure.

The thing to keep in mind is not simply that change is taking place. It is vital to take notice of how change is taking place: what groups are and will be organizing the productions of human conditions in Egypt, and what will these conditions be? (6)

I’ll conclude with a joke as told by a Cairo taxi driver. This joke underscores the trouble with some types of change or transformation as directed by the minority who hold power. “We thank all those who voted yes in the referendum and we give special thanks to Umm Naima because she voted twice.” (7)

Sources

(1) from Hallward’s essay, The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism.

(2) Eric Hobsbawm, 1989. The Age of Empire, p. 149. Vintage Books.

(3) Ibid. pp. 153-154.

(4) From chapter 29 of the book, Taxi.

(5) From chapter 33 of the book, Taxi.

(6) Here, I’m adapting Peter Hallward’s some thoughts in the essay, Jacques Ranciere and the Subversion of Mastery.

(7) From chapter 33 of the book, Taxi.

Brzezinski in Canada, or how to keep the US number one in the world

Zbigniew Brzezinski is a long time foreign policy expert and advisor to the US government, former National Security Advisor to US president Jimmy Carter, and much listened to on the subject of maintaining the US as the leading global power, specifically by way of being the dominant player in key geographies of Asia and Europe.

He gave a talk on foreign policy in April. The talk was held in Canada, and touched on the subject of US geopolitical preeminence in the emerging multi-polar world.

In his famous book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives, Brzezinski writes that “Unlike earlier empires, this vast and complex global system is not a hierarchical pyramid. Rather, America stands at the center of an interlocking universe, one in which power is exercised through continuous bargaining, dialogue, diffusion, and quest for formal consensus, even though that power originates ultimately from a single source, namely, Washington, D.C. And that is where the power game has to be played, and played according to America’s domestic rules.”

Also from the same book: “[…] how America ‘manages’ Eurasia is critical. Eurasia is the globe’s largest continent and is geopolitically axial. A power that dominates Eurasia would control two of the world’s three most advanced  and economically productive regions[…] Eurasia is thus the chessboard on which the struggle for global primacy continues to be played.”

The video is made available by the Canadian International Council.

In his 30 minute April talk, Brzezinski discusses how the US can try to maintain global dominance in a changing power dynamic, and focuses on Israel and Palestine, Iran, and Afghanistan and Pakistan as pivotal issues.

Brzezinski says that a solution to the conflict between Palestine and Israel is critically important to the US if it wants to keep stable relations with its Middle Eastern allies and not have those same leaders become destabilized by domestic opposition to the continuing crisis that affects the entire region. He insists that it is urgent to establish the two-state solution, or there is a threat that, and here he paraphrases Israel’s existing defence minister Ehud Barak, the result will be one state, and it will be an apartheid state.

On Iran, Brzezinski promotes long term diplomacy with the possible use of sanctions. He says that threats will only make things worse. I assume by threats, he does not oppose economic ones such as sanctions, but rather military threats or threats of regime change. It is evident that he wishes to integrate Iran into the US centered international system, and believes that given real diplomacy there is a good chance of this integration taking place, something along the lines of Turkey perhaps.

Brzezinski states that Pakistan must me assured, by the US, that Afghanistan will remain under Pakistan’s zone of influence in order for it to have ‘strategic depth’ in relation to India. Otherwise, Brzezinski believes Pakistan’s support, which is crucial, will not be guaranteed during the US-NATO war in Afghanistan.

Europe is mentioned as a vital player, a key junior partner of the US necessary to present a multinational face aligned behind the US as world power becomes more dynamic and multi-polar.

The talk also touches on Russia, mentioning that the US (with the help of Europe, as detailed in some of his writings) must work to bring Russia into the West. He notes that Russia will not enter into the alliance of the West if it perceives itself as a potential empire which could then stand apart from and in contrast to the US imperial project. For this reason, he thinks it is imperative that Ukraine be encouraged to maximize its independence from Russia.

Lastly, he notes that China has become the clear dominant power on the Asian mainland. However, it has achieved this not in opposition to the existing international systems but rather from within them. This has created a great degree of interdependency between the US and China. Critically, we can see that China has not at this point directly contested the global system which has the US as its centre of power and base for operation.

Though he speaks in Canada, Brzezinski, only mentions the country in passing maybe twice. It seems assumed that Canada is a fully integrated entity and an extension of the US system of global operation.

In this vision of world power, a handful of the most powerful are detailed as key players, citizens of the global system if you will, and huge parts of the rest of the world designated as the “global Balkans”, a region where world leaders conduct their power plays and proxy wars.

Atrocity and survival: Robert Jay Lifton on history and psychology in war and trauma

Robert Jay Lifton, a psychiatrist and thinker has given a lecture on war and political violence going over the danger of apocalyptic movements and visions as destructive forces that seek to heal the world by destroying most of it. He is one of the first to have studied the psychological impact of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. An excerpt of his talk below:

Lifton points out that the wielding of nuclear weapons by superpowers generates a psychological and political climate that promotes proliferation of nuclear weapons. He has also pointed out that the existence of nuclear weapons, as weapons that can for the first time in human history end our very existence as a species, has had a deep impact on our symbols of human continuity and immortality. Where we might invest a sort of symbolic immortality of ourselves into our children, cultural and creative works, or social-political accomplishments. These powerful symbols of our continued presence reaching beyond our mortal lives have for the first time come under serious threat.

Lifton claims that the existence of nuclear weapons combined with increasingly rapid historical and technological changes in more recent human generations, and the increasing bombardment of images from contemporary media, help to erode central visions of a long-lasting truth as well as undermine our claims to symbolic immortality, since, after all, it is now conceivable that the human species might be wiped out in a nuclear war.

Lifton also discusses psychological concepts that might permit survivors of atrocities to deal with the gross excess of trauma they were faced with, and briefly explores the mind of perpetrators of mass violence. This discussion is available in an hour long interview, below:

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