Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Mid-week miscellany

Post of the week

Owen Jones: The left needs to watch its language.

One, two, many Tahrir Squares

So, Tahrir Square has been cleared by the military junta, which has banned strikes. Instead of the constitutional assembly demanded by the revolution, the junta have tasked a technocratic committee (with one Muslim Brotherhood representative) to write something in the next ten days. Is the revolution dead? The working class continue to be defiant, with wave after wave of now illegal strikes, while the middle classes seem to have gone home. While viral protests in Iran and elsewhere have been heartening, I am not optimistic about Egypt.

There was a really depressing photo in this week's Morning Star (no, not my usual reading I know!), depressing for a number of reasons. I don't think it's in the on-line edition, although the letter it illustrated is. The caption said "Joy: Celebrations in Gaza City after Mubarak fell". Rarely have I seen such a joyless photo. It showed a densely packed static crowd of men and teenage boys, bundled up against the cold, looking forwardly grim-faced. (One boy was turned away and smiling at his friend.) Next to them, seperated by a thin strip of space, was a slightly more densely packed crowd of women, all wearing neat white hijabs. I found it depressing to look at, and depressing to think the Morning Star thought it represented joy.

Now for some links. Raven: The women of Tahrir Square. // We're all neocons now! Melanie Phillips quite rightly points out that the left have embraced in the case of Tunisia and Egypt the "regime change" they so bitterly scorned in Iraq. Max Boot makes a similar point. // Yet another state of emergency in Italy: Nando Sigona on using the Tunisian refugees to deflect attention away from Berluscon's political emergency. // The Guardian misreports Hamas' rejection of democracy. // Martin Thomas: The Muslim Brotherhood are a real threat. // Mary Kaldor on the revolutions of civil society 1989/2011.// Richard Littlejohn: The revolution will not be televised on the BBC/Jan Palach and Mohamed Bouazizi. // New Appeal to Reason: Two myths about Egypt. // Partial readings: Emancipation.// Jonathan Tobin: The ugly side of Egyptian political culture. // Jackson Diehl: The upside of the revolution. // Natan Sharansky: Putting our trust in freedom.// David Pollack: What Egyptians think.// Ian Johnson: Washington’s Secret History with the Muslim Brotherhood. // Manar Ammar: Women, Democracy and Change in Egypt

Antisemitism, Ziocentricity, anti-Zionism, denialism and other irrationalities

My latest post at Contested Terrain on antisemitic incicendents in Britain, and on "ziocentrism". // ChomskyWatch: Modernity on the MIT gnome's relationship with Holocaust revisionist Lou Rollins. // 9/11 Truth is denialism. // Who has killed more Americans, al-Qaeda or the 9/11 Truth movement? //  Keith Kahn-Harris: When antisemitism goes hand in hand with philosemitism.

Multiculturalism and its much-vaunted demise

Everybody hates a tourist: Old state multiculturalism in new bottles. // Sunder Katwala: Sorry, but it can't have been multiculturalism that failed in France.// Bruce Bawer: On the Guardian's reportage of the Bradford faith school incident. // Malise Ruthven: Why are the Mohammed cartoons still inciting violence?

Local affairs

Transpontine: Immigration raids in South London. // Depford visions: A New Cross fire memory (sorry - I should have included that here.) // Carnival Against Cuts: In Lewisham this Saturday. // 853: Why is Boris taking money from Tehran to advertise George Galloway?

Israel/Palestine

David Shulman: Israel & Palestine: Breaking the Silence. // Nada Abdelsamad: The lost Jews of Beirut. // Elder of Ziyon: What the Palestine Papers reveal about land ownership in the occupied territories. // Eric Lee: Countdown to general strike in Israel? // TULIP: Workers pact for peace and justice in Is-Pal. // Louise Gold and Rosie Huzzard on The Promise and The Ultra-Zionists.

17 comments:

Waterloo Sunset said...

Melanie Phillips quite rightly points out that the left have embraced in the case of Tunisia and Egypt the "regime change" they so bitterly scorned in Iraq

Surely you can see the obvious difference between a "regime change" imposed by military action and one that comes from the grassroots?

skidmarx said...

So, I'm not too clear on this:
"Zionism" is an unnecessary contraction of "supporter of the state of Israel".
"Ziocentrism" is a useful coinage to express "placing Israel at the heart of the problems of the Middle East".

Having a go at others for what you are doing yourself seems much like the Dershowitz Maneuver aka the Splinter-Beam Transposition.

sackcloth and ashes said...

I liked Owen Jones' post, but I'd hesitate to call Mark Steel and Jeremy Hardy 'great' comedians. The former would have got nowhere without the BBC and his Indie column, and the latter keeps cracking jokes that got stale when Thatcher left No.10.

WS, the Iraqis did actually try regime change for themselves in 1991. It ended pretty badly.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ S&A

This is largely a matter of taste, but I think Hardy is a pretty decent stand-up. (Steel is ok, but far better as a writer). They're both funnier than Ben Elton, but that's not saying much. As left wing comedians go, I don't think either are as funny as Rob Newman or Mark Thomas, who both understand the importance of a clever punchline.

On Iraq, sure. Nobody said that every grassroots uprising was going to succeed. But I'd still argue that, certainly in the long-term, they have far better chance of achieving real change then imposing regime change from above.

Besides, the 1991 uprising was partly crushed because of the actions of the coalition in Iraq. Specifically, the carpet bombing of Iraqi deserters on the road to Basra (despite those deserters posing absolutely no threat to either allied troops or the stated purpose of 'liberating' Kuwait) killed a large number of troops that were highly likely to join the Southern uprising. That, alone, suggests that genuine revolution was absolutely not what the Western ruling classes wanted in Iraq. Also consider that the allied troops stopped short of Basra, giving the Republican Guard the opportunity to crush the northern uprising. And the fact that, in the ceasefire negotiations, while all fixed-wing aircraft were grounded, the allies agreed that helicopters (which have far more use in counter-insurgence activity than in military conflict) could still be flown by Iraq.

And yet we're expected to believe that the later war on Iraq was done out of benevolent motivations?

There's also the question of why, if the later war was a war of liberation, it didn't inspire any opposition to dictators in the middle east, unlike the Egypt uprising.

kellie said...

WS, your argument seems a little wobbly. The 1991 uprising didn't succeed, and further grassroots uprisings in Iraq might not have succeeded, but you still think they would have had "far better chance of achieving real change then imposing regime change from above." But the invasion, whatever motives one ascribes to it, HAS achieved real change, however imperfect.

So we're still left with a successful though dreadfully under-resourced invasion, versus a failed uprising in the south, with the US and UK culpable due to the limits they put on military action at the time.

Also, we shouldn't forget, a successful armed uprising in the Kurdish north following massive loss of life, and only secure under the protection of US and UK military action.

A Tunisian or Egyptian style revolution in Iraq would obviously have been far better, but it seems very hard to imagine. The Tunisian revolution succeeded because their military was nothing like Iraq's and they refused to take part in internal repression. The Egyptian revolution succeeded because their military and their economy was dependent on the West, again nothing like Iraq.

To imagine what might have happened in Iraq, look to Iran, similar in that it has a military loyal to the regime, and it is not financially or militarily dependent on the West. Consequently it is proving much harder than Tunisia or Egypt.

But the Iranian regime for all its brutality falls far short of Saddam's level of mass slaughter. A civil uprising in Iraq would have been unimaginably harder, and would have faced the same sectarian issues that drove violence after the invasion.

kellie said...

WS, on your point, "there's also the question of why, if the later war was a war of liberation, it didn't inspire any opposition to dictators in the middle east, unlike the Egypt uprising," obviously Tunisia and Egypt offer a clearer model for an unarmed population to follow. It would be hard to follow the example of an armed invasion. Nonetheless, Hitchens has argued that the establishment of democratic politics in Iraq, and the decision by Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Sistani to support secular democratic politics, influenced both religious and secular opposition within Iran. I have no idea if it's so, but even if it were so, it would not be politically wise for Iranian opposition figures to admit being in any way inspired by the US led overthrow of Saddam.

bob said...

Been away and missed the fun.

I wouldn't call any of those comedians "great", but all of them are pretty good, with Rob Newman as my least favourite.

On Mel P, I don't actually agree with her. Well, I think she grossly overstates and oversimplifies her case and misses the crucial difference between regime change from below and regime change from above. Jonathan Freedland skwewered her quite well in Wednesday's Guardian (link to follow).

However, I think she is right that many bien-pensant people were not just against the coalition military action in Iraq, but opposed and deried the whole idea and concept of "regime change". Many (but not most) actually spoke about solidarity with Saddam's regime or saw Saddam as an "anti-imperialist" hero. Many (possibly most) saw Saddam's former allies among the insurgents after the invasion as a heroic part of "the resistance". So, Mel is partly right.

(Continued...)

bob said...

On 1991, I recommend (not to WS, who has undoubtedly read it already) "Ten Days that shook Iraq" http://libcom.org/library/ten-days-shook-iraq-uprising-1990-1991-wildcat

Hitchens argues, and I'm not sure whether I buy it or not, that the Coalition failure in 1991 created a greater moral responsibility to liberate Iraq, rather than meant they were in the wrong.

There is also an argument, and again I am not sure if I buy it, that the 2003 invasion did open up a pro-democracy movement of sorts in the Middle East, in the form of the Cedat Revolution in Lebanon. I can't remember the exact sequence of events, but it was around this time that Condoleezza Rice first protested the imprisonment of Ayman Nour and then went to Cairo and made a very strongly pro-democracy speech. (Bush backed away from Rice and the neocons shortly afterwards, however, partly because of the Hamas election success in Palestine, and partly because of the appalling progress of the coalition in Iraq.)

bob said...

Finally, a question I think that has bothered me since 1991, which I put to WS. Our position then, I think, that America was wrong to stop short of Basra and wrong to allow Saddam's forces to fly helicopters. In other words, we were implicitly arguing that America could and should have effected regime change from above in 1991, in order to allow the movement for regime change from below, both in the marshes of the South and the mountains of the North, to flourish. And if we were implicitly arguing that, how could we then argue the opposite in 2003? What had changed?

kellie said...

Can I add a link relevant to the question of whether a Tunisia/Egypt uprising might have succeeded against Saddam, Iranian blogger Pedestrian on differences between Egypt and Iran.

skidmarx said...

"the 2003 invasion did open up a pro-democracy movement of sorts in the Middle East, in the form of the Cedat Revolution in Lebanon."
Would that be the Cedar "Revolution" against the growing power of Hezbollah, which represents many of the Shia under-represented by Lebanon's confessional constitution? Can't really see the democratic aspect.

kellie said...

That would be the Cedar Revolution against Syrian occupation, Skidmarx. No excuses for Syrian imperialism please!

skidmarx said...

Not a fan of Syria, Kellie, but to claim that precisely those who supported the Caedar "Revolution" and also benfit from the Shias democrtaic deficit, are "democratic, is a mangling of the term too far.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Kellie

But the invasion, whatever motives one ascribes to it, HAS achieved real change, however imperfect.

It's largely achieved changes in terms of the 'liberalisation' of Iraq's markets. Saddam Hussain's trend towards nationalisation was quickly reversed. On the other hand, most of the anti union laws are still on the books. I think that speaks for itself.

And that is a really significant difference between Egypt and Iraq you haven't picked up on. In Egypt, the economic issues were at the forefront of the revolution (which, in my view, is one of the reasons the Muslim Brotherhood were sidelined). In Iraq, if anybody had tried to take that tack (and some did) they'd have been treated as the enemy of the coalition forces, not allies. There's a reason why the nationalist current was hyped up way beyond its support and other groups were deliberately played down. It's interesting to note that people in Iraq have been inspired by Egypt, but they've been inspired to unleash a wave of new strikes and make new economic demands.

Finally, it's worth noting that, according to all available evidence, most people in Iraq do not support the presence of the troops. (This is the opposite of Afghanistan, a fact which I think too many anti war activists gloss over when talking about Afghanistan). Which suggests that not only are the pro-war left arguing that liberation can come from military invasion, they're arguing that people can be forced to be liberated, against their will.

with the US and UK culpable due to the limits they put on military action at the time.

My argument's more subtle than that. I'm suggesting that you can actually tell what the agenda of the invasion was by looking at both what was and wasn't part of the military action. The bombing of the road to Basra wasn't a 'limit' in any sense, it was a military action. That has no strategic interest directly related to either the safety of coalition forces or Kuwait. It does seem to me the most logical explanation is that it was a decision to make sure that any rebellion stayed within the safe parameters of the nationalists. As the article Bob links to points out (I highly recommend reading it as it's one of my main influences on Iraq) there were actually calls for worker's councils at the time in Iraq, they just weren't supported by the Coalition.

To imagine what might have happened in Iraq, look to Iran, similar in that it has a military loyal to the regime

Iraq didn't have a military loyal to the regime overall- that's one of the main reasons the invasion was relatively easy. There were mass desertions.

Nonetheless, Hitchens has argued that the establishment of democratic politics in Iraq, and the decision by Iraq's Grand Ayatollah Sistani to support secular democratic politics, influenced both religious and secular opposition within Iran.

Have you got a link? I'd like to see Hitchen's evidence for that before commenting.

I have no idea if it's so, but even if it were so, it would not be politically wise for Iranian opposition figures to admit being in any way inspired by the US led overthrow of Saddam.

And why is that? Considering that chants of "death to the Islamic republic" are currently being reported, it really can't be down to worries about how the regime will react. And I think concentrating on "opposition figures" as opposed to the masses of Iraq shows one of the major weaknesses of much of the pro-war left analysis; it's based far to much on the 'great man' approach to history. Egypt was not caused, primarily, by a handful of political figures.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Bob

ur position then, I think, that America was wrong to stop short of Basra and wrong to allow Saddam's forces to fly helicopters. In other words, we were implicitly arguing that America could and should have effected regime change from above in 1991, in order to allow the movement for regime change from below, both in the marshes of the South and the mountains of the North, to flourish. And if we were implicitly arguing that, how could we then argue the opposite in 2003? What had changed?

See my reply to Kellie on that. I'm actually arguing that the issue was one of intention, not accident. And, therefore, in the longterm, the movement for change from below was hindered by the military action, not helped.

Or, to put it more simply, I don't think the ruling class (of any country) can be trusted to work in the class interests of ordinary people.

kellie said...

Here's the Hitchens piece on Iraq and Iran:

http://www.slate.com/id/2222254/

I don't really know enough to argue for or against it.

On economics and Iraq, I would think it's arguable that economic exploitation was central to post-invasion events in Iraq, but expressed by parties to conflict in terms of religious sectarianism. Seeing current street politics move from sectarianism to economics seems a hopeful sign to me.

Where Saddam's nationalising of industry put power and wealth in his own hands, it is hard to mourn its passing. And I would hope that a less centralised economy might now help move things towards a politically healthier future.

In terms of the first Gulf War's agenda, I wouldn't want to try and push any argument about motive too far. The most I hope for in any case is enlightened self interest, and we know in what short supply that is.

kellie said...

More on how non-violence might have fared against Saddam from Bobby Ghosh inTime, via Iraqi American Mojo, with dissent from Mojo's mama.