Tariq Ali on the Arab Revolutions

Over at Not George Sabra, Malik Little criticises Tariq Ali’s orientalist take on the Arab revolutions.

“What is a revolution?” asks Marxist Tariq Ali in a recent article. He answers, “a transfer of power from one social class (or even a layer) to another that leads to fundamental change.”

Ali never gets around to defining what exactly constitutes “fundamental change,” but he knows for sure that whatever “fundamental change” is, there has been none of it in the Arab world since 2011.

Does the end of the Ben Ali dictatorship in Tunisia and the destruction of its secret police count as “fundamental change? For Ali, no. After decades of a life of comfort and privilege in West, it seems Ali has forgotten what it is like to live under the thumb of a police state and murderous military rule. He has forgotten what a “fundamental change it is to be ruled by elected institutions and politicians rather than tyrants and generalissimos.

Since Ben Ali was ousted, there have been two general strikes called by the main union federation.

For Ali, this is no big deal. How do we know? He never mentions Tunisia or its people even once in his half-assed self-serving overview of the Arab Spring’s non-revolutionaryness, a double oversight since Tunisia is why the Arab Spring happened in the first place.

Instead, Ali goes on to ‘analyze’ events in Egypt where the counter-revolution has triumphed. He uses this triumph to deny that a revolution ever happened. Woe to V.I. Lenin who continued to write about the Russian revolution of 1905 even after it was smashed by the Tsar and Karl Marx who continually referred to the lessons he learned in the abortive German revolution of 1848-1849 for failing to match the insightful wisdom of Tariq Ali, a man who knows a revolution is only a revolution when it succeeds!

The next stop on Ali’s “nothing to see here” tour is Libya:

“In Libya, the old state was destroyed by NATO after a six-month bombing spree and armed tribal gangs of one sort or another still roam the country, demanding their share of the loot. Hardly a revolution according to any criteria.”

No mention of course of the General National Congress election of 2012 that went off without a hitch to the immense jubilation of the long-suffering Libyan people. Mentioning inconvenient facts like this might make Westerners sympathetic to the their difficult struggle to build institutions out of the ashes of 42 years of one-man rule by a deranged tyrant. No discussion of what class rules Libya today is necessary. Better to talk up “armed tribal gangs” in true Orientalist fashion. Who better than a brown man to play on the fears peddled by the white man to convince Westerners that there’s no revolution in Libya for them to solidarize with? Ali knows that if there’s anything Westerners love to hate, it’s Muslims.

In tribes.

With guns.

Throwing up gang signs.

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Blanket Thinkers

Yarmouk camp demonstrates

One of my infantile leftist ex-friends recently referred to the Free Syrian Army as a ‘sectarian gang’. The phrase may well come from Asa’ad Abu Khalil, who seems to have a depressingly large audience, but it could come from any of a large number of blanket thinkers in the ranks of the Western left. I admit that I sometimes indulged in such blanket thinking in the past. For instance, I used to refer to Qatar and Saudi Arabia as ‘US client states’, as if this was all to be said about them. I did so in angry response to the mainstream Western media which referred to pro-Western Arab tyrannies as ‘moderate’; but of course Qatar and Saudi Arabia have their own, competing agendas, and do not always behave as the Americans want them to. This is more true now, in a multipolar world and in the midst of a crippling economic crisis in the West, than it was ten years ago. Chinese workers undertaking oil and engineering projects in the Gulf are one visible sign of this shifting order.

(My talk of ‘infantile leftists’ does not include the entire left of course. Simon Assaf of the Socialist Workers, for instance, understands what’s happening. So does Max Blumenthal. And many others.)

The problem with blanket thinkers is that they are unable to adapt to a rapidly shifting reality. Instead of evidence, principles and analytical tools, they are armed only with ideological blinkers. Many of the current crop became politicised by Palestine and the invasion of Iraq, two cases in which the imperialist baddy is very obviously American. As a result, they read every other situation through the US-imperialist lens.

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Bernard-Henri Lévy, a friend to Israel

The following is an excerpt from the brilliant new take-down of famed French “philosopher” Bernard Henri-Lévy by Jade Lindgaard and Xavier de la Porte. Titled The Impostor: BHL in Wonderland, the book is part of the recently inaugurated Verso Counterblasts series. The excerpt was published at Al Jazeera.

On June 5, 2011, nearly three months into the war against the Gaddafi regime, the Libyan rebel forces issued a corrective communiqué referring to Bernard-Henri Lévy. It said that the National Transitional Council (NTC), the political body representing the insurgents fighting the Tripoli regime, “vehemently rejects what has been reported in some media as Mr Bernard Lévy’s comments on the future relationship between Libya and the Israelis”. The communiqué continued: “The NTC is surprised by Mr Lévy’s comments,” and – an intriguing detail – “Mr Lévy was received as a special envoy from the president of France, and relations with Israel were never discussed.”

What was going on? The event had passed unnoticed at first, but three days earlier, Agence France Presse (AFP) had come up with a considerable scoop if turned out to be authentic. A real breakthrough in the history of relations between Israel and the Arab countries: the NTC was apparently prepared to recognise the state of Israel and maintain “normal relations” with it. That was the “verbal message” that Bernard-Henri Lévy had come to deliver to the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, on behalf of the Libyan Council.

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Torture in Libya

It is a shame that Libya’s new rulers have failed so miserably to distinguish themselves from their predecessor.

The UN Human Rights chief Navi Pillay has raised concerns about Libya’s armed brigades and the treatment of more than 8,500 detainees, majority of whom are from sub-Saharan Africa.

Addressing the UN Security Council on the situation in Libya, Pillay warned that, “lack of oversight by the central authorities creates an environment conducive to torture and ill treatment.” She urged the Libyan ministry of justice and the prosecutor’s office to take over the detention centres.

Benghazi: The Uprising

Some very silly ‘information sheets’ have been doing the rounds on Facebook  and elsewhere. They purport to show how wonderful Libya was under dictatorship, how generous Qaddafi was in building a limited welfare state. The people who produce such propaganda are infantile leftists (that wonderfully apt phrase was first used by Lenin) – that’s why they don’t produce similar propaganda on behalf of the royal dictators in the Gulf, although the Gulf dictatorships have also built welfare states, much better ones, in fact, than Qaddafi’s. Libya is a vast lake of high quality oil. Libyans should be as rich as Emiratis or Kuwaitis. The reality is that much of Libya is poor, and that if a Libyan needed a major operation he had to travel to Tunisia, a much poorer country. And the oil wealth is a gift of God or nature, not of Qaddafi. The only thing Qaddafi gifted to the Libyan people was death.

It’s wise to be suspicious of Britain, France and Qatar and to resist the ‘humanitarian intervention’ propaganda. Every state acts according to perceived interests, not according to moral principles. But there’s nothing wise or intelligent in opposing a revolution and insulting a revolutionary people because they choose to accept help from outside rather than die. The more repulsive armchair revolutionaries (almost all of them Western) are calling the heroic Libyan people ‘quislings’ and ‘traitors’ and imagining an alternative reality in which the revolution was begun by Western agents provocateurs. The film below is a timely reminder of how the revolution started in Benghazi – with the blood of martyrs. (I wish the Iran regime-controlled Press TV was also capable of broadcasting sensible documentaries on Syria).

Blind Orthodoxies

It’s always dangerous to declare generalised love for a movement or school of thought – including Sufism, because Sufism can be subdivided into spirit and tradition, into various orders and popular customs, into the sober and the drunk, the vocal and the silent, the revolutionary and the tame. Still, I’ll say I love it for its symbolic, illogical, individualist challenge to literalism and the obsession with rules, and because it smiles, and for its openness and tolerance, and its music and poetry; because, as Adonis says: “Sufism has laid the foundations for a form of writing that is based upon subjective experience in a culture that is generally based on established religious knowledge.”

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