The End of the Arabs?

In 2007 I read Peter W. Galbraith’s “The End of Iraq“, which suggests cutting Iraq into three mini-states, and then responded in two parts. The first part criticises Galbraith’s thesis, and the second part criticises the failures of Arabism. Both are merged below. More recently it has been revealed that Galbraith actually stood to gain financially from the dismantlement of Iraq.

explosion at Baghdad's Mutanabi Street book market

Peter W. Galbraith’s book ‘The End of Iraq’ argues the initially persuasive thesis that Iraqis have already divided themselves into three separate countries roughly corresponding to the Ottoman provinces of Basra (the Shii Arab south), Baghdad (the Sunni Arab centre) and Mosul (the Kurdish north), and that American attempts to keep the country unified are bound to fail. I agree wholeheartedly with Galbraith’s call for America to withdraw from Iraq – America is incapable of stopping the civil war, and is in fact exacerbating it. (update: I stick by this. The civil war has to some extent calmed because of internal Iraqi dynamics, not because of the US ’surge’ – the Sunni forces turned on al-Qaida, and also realised that they had lost the battle for Baghdad and national power. Some groups then allied with the US for a variety of reasons to do with self-preservation). The rest of Galbraith’s argument is much more debatable.

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I Refuse to Buy a Poppy

05_11_09-Steve-Bell
Steve Bell

Yesterday five British soldiers were shot dead by an Afghan policeman. Just as they keep promising that they’ve reached ‘decisive turning points’ in their battle with the Afghan resistance, British military officials immediately vowed that the ‘rogue’ policeman would be caught. Today the Taliban reports that the policeman is safe with them, and that he’s been greeted with flowers.

Our glorious patriotic press responds. Amusingly, the Daily Mail headline wrings its hands and squawks, “What kind of war IS this?” Because some people aren’t playing by the rules, you see. Instead of sitting quietly in their villages waiting for the drone attack, or perhaps sending their kids out to accept sweets and modernity from a rosy-cheeked English lad, some barbarians are actually shooting back at the invaders. How very unBritish. (To be fair to the Mail – which has never been fair to anyone – it does seem to be taking an anti-war stance today). Other sections of the media worry about the ‘loyalty’ of Afghan troops, as if love for foreign occupiers is a realistic standard of loyalty. Still others, even more clever, psychoanalyse the policeman, wondering if an argument with his commander pushed him to a moment of madness. But it really isn’t that complicated, as anybody who disabuses themselves of imperialist delusion can see. Very simply, people don’t like foreigners striding around their streets and fields with guns and assumptions of superiority. Afghans will kill British troops as surely as Britons would kill Afghan troops if they occupied this country.

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President Blair

If the Irish vote to ratify the Lisbon Treaty, Tony Blair, former British prime minister and current lecturer on faith, peace, and Palestinian submission, is expected to become the European Union’s first president. I wrote the following hymn to Blair in October 2007, when the unpleasant prospect of his presidency was first raised.

steve bell tony blairI’ve often thought that Abu Hamza al-Masri, the ex-imam of Finsbury Park mosque, must have been designed in a CIA laboratory. Not only did he – before his imprisonment – fulminate in a shower of spittle against various brands of kuffar, he also had an eye patch and a hook for a hand. You can’t imagine a more photogenic Islamist villain.

If my supposition is correct, then Tony Blair may well have been invented by the Iranian secret service, for of all the neo-cons he’s the one who most looks the part. I refer to the physiognomic combination of weakness and fury, the slight chin wobbling beneath that eye with its wild glint of certainty – the staring left eye, fixed on something the rest of us can’t see, something that makes reality irrelevant – and the teeth both fierce and mouselike, and the shininess of both forehead and suit. Most politicians wear suits, but few suits declare ‘hollow salesman’ so much as Blair’s. The voice too – the hurried speech and breathy tones of a public schoolboy approaching orgasm – that repulsive aural mix of complacency, stubbornness and privilege.

Shoe Jihad: A Satire

The time has come, the Walrus said,
To talk of many things:
Of shoes—and ships—and sealing wax—
Of cabbages—and kings…

Lewis Carroll

M. Shahid Alam

These kleptocrats throw themselves at the feet
of Western plutocracies: they spurn

the real source of power – their own people –
seeking clientage under Western boots.

Lesser rogues gravitate to bigger ones:
this is the law of global hegemony.

This tendency emerges again and again
as long as its victims stay hidebound.

These lesser rogues – Zardari, Karzai,
Abdullah, Mubarak, Abbas –

will get their marching orders from DC,
hold down their own people for a fee,

unless the people, every one of them,
pick up their shoes, sandals, chappals

(any old footwear will do),
and point them at these scoundrels,

a shot across the bow of their kleptocracies.
If this does not work (and it might not),

ask the shoe-throwing Iraqi.
He knew better what to do with a shoe.

Imperialism Resurgent

In “The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain”, Arun Kundnani writes, “Racisms are no longer domestically driven but take their impetus from the attempt to legitimise a deeply divided global order. They are the necessary products of an empire in denial.”

by Steve Bell
by Steve Bell

Commentators call for immigrants to be schooled in ‘our national story’, which includes hefty chapters on the beneficence of empire. Gordon Brown says, “The days of Britain having to apologise for the British Empire are over. We should celebrate!” Sarkozy urges France to be “proud of its history,” meaning its imperial history.

European empires did sometimes construct railways and drainage systems in the conquered lands. They did build law courts and disseminate a certain kind of cuture. But these questionable achievements must be understood against the larger ugly backdrop. Economies under imperial rule stagnated at best. Huge swathes of Africa were transformed from subsistence agricultural land to cashcrop plantations. When the value of the crop plummetted, or when the crop was grown more cheaply elsewhere, local people were left hungry and unskilled on exhausted soil. Africa has still not recovered from this deliberate underdevelopment. During British misrule, preventable famines killed tens of millions of Indians. Elsewhere in the empire, hundreds of thousands were forced into concentration camps, and torture was institutionalised. There were the genocides of indigenous Australians and Americans, by massacre and land theft as well as by disease. There was the little matter of the transatlantic slave trade.

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Kenyan victims of British brutality

Johann Hari writes that We owe it to do right by the Kenyan victims of British brutality.

In a few weeks, a group of quiet, dignified elderly men and women will arrive in London to explain how the forces of the British state crushed their testicles or breasts with pliers. It was part of a deliberate policy of breaking a civilian population who we regarded as “baboons”, “barbarians” and “terrorists”.

They will come bearing the story of how Britain invaded a country, stole its land, and imprisoned an entire civilian population in detention camps – and they ask only for justice, after all this time.

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Mirrors: Eduardo Galeano speaks

Mirrors by Eduardo Galeano

The great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano joins Democracy Now for an hour to discuss literature, politics and much more. (The rest of the videos are below)

Fresh Off Worldwide Attention for Joining Obama’s Book Collection, Uruguayan Author Eduardo Galeano Returns with “Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone”

We spend the hour with one of Latin America’s most acclaimed writers, Eduardo Galeano. The Uruguayan novelist and journalist recently made headlines around the world when Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gave President Obama a copy of Galeano’s classic work, The Open Veins of Latin America. Eduardo Galeano’s latest book is Mirrors: Stories of Almost Everyone. We speak to Galeano about his reaction to the Chavez-Obama book exchange, media and politics in Latin America, his assessment of Obama, and more.

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Chalmers Johnson – Blowback

chalmers_johnsonBlowback is a 2004 lecture by Chalmers Johnson on the US Empire.  Drawing comparisons with Rome, Johnson describes the end of the Republic through imperialism and militarism.

Blowback (57:00): MP3

The core of Johnson speech is on American militarism but discussing Iraq he explains the influence of the neocons as the main reason for war (although perhaps also overstating the case of oil politics too).

There is ample evidence that within this group [the Neoconservatives], and I’m not in any sense trying to be anti-israeli because I’m in fact quite alarmed by the dangers Israel is in today, but that many of these people have very close ties to the right-wing of the likud party, I mean close ties to Benjamin Netanyahu of which they have written papers for him, they’re personal associates of his, and things of this sort, and much of what they stand for does reflect the particular views of the sharonistas, if you will, that it serves their interests to destroy Iraq even if it has not particularly served ours.

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The Age of Might is over

‘The adventure on the high seas is a blast from the past,’ writes Geoffrey Wheatcroft. ‘The US empire now faces the impotence of conventional force’

For the family of Richard Phillips, the captain of the Maersk Alabama, his rescue by special forces was the best possible Easter present. For Americans it was an exhilarating display of American power, and for Barack Obama it was a gratifying demonstration that he isn’t the wimpish pacifist the Republicans called him.

But to a detached observer, this gung-ho adventure in the Indian Ocean is the rule-proving exception. What we have recently seen far more often is what a New York Times headline on the piracy story said last Thursday: “US power has limit”. We’re dealing, that’s to say, with one of the most important discoveries of our time: the impotence of great might.

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After the Fall

The excellent Nir Rosen reports from Iraq. Where the complicit media finds an increasingly stable democracy, Rosen sees more clearly, and finds a torture state in which sect and political allegiance count for more than mere citizenship.

 Six years to the day since the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled in Baghdad, the war that has dominated American politics for half a decade and upturned an entire regional order is being not-so-gently forced from centre stage. Iraq specialists at the National Security Council in Washington have hung signs on their office doors declaring that theirs is now “the good war”; the Obama administration is eager to declare victory in Iraq and shift its attention to the long-neglected conflict in Afghanistan.

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