COLUMN SEVENTY, APRIL 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
Charles O'Brien used to say that not working was his calling. He has a law degree and now works on a day-to-day basis handling routine court appearances for other lawyers. O'Brien's first published piece was about Graceland and pop politics in an academic journal. Since then he has written pieces for The City Sun, which no longer exists, and for First of the Month, in which the following piece first appeared.
11, the question whether there would be war was, by 0900 hours, settled.
didn't know what was needed right away; and so they hurried to give blood, and
all the city's hospital beds were made ready for the wounded. Given the peculiarities of this first battle, however, the
donors were turned away, and the beds went empty.
And a little later, it turned out that not very many body bags could be
used, since so many of the dead had been vaporized.
Left [the fundamentalist Far-Left] knew immediately what was necessary.
We all needed to have them explain the thing to us.
Unfazed, hardly missing a beat in this time of emergency, they stood
prepared to serve up again the same mess they had served up only a day before
pitch opened with a ringing but quick deploring of the event---ringing, because these gentlemen and ladies of a fancied left habitually
talk in such tones (and because, allow them this, their hands really are
spotless); and quick, because they had some serious self-congratulation on their
minds. It is telling that before
getting to the meat of their arguments, they didn't pause to note a thing that
was clear to most people: that September 11 also witnessed a great deal of heroism,
most obviously the hundreds who sacrificed their lives to save many thousands of
There were to
be no distractions from, in Edward Said's loathsome phrase, 'this community of
conscience and understanding," secure in the consciousness of its own virtue,
snug and smug. And then---God help us all---came the explanations, explanations to
a fare-thee-well; after the fire, the flood. The collective wisdom of the Vichy Left has been a compost of
told-you-so's and chickens come home to roost, root causes and deep breaths.
are assured, have neglected to ask why this happened. But of course, they have done no such thing.
The many justifications (as they undeniably were, let the Vichyites deny
as they will) offered up by the aspiring collaborationists amounted to no more
than the truism that somebody wanted something.
justifications came. Poverty caused
it, even though the perpetrators were all solidly bourgeois, and the Moslem
ultra-right is funded by the largest reserves of unearned wealth in the world.
Desperation caused it, even though the perpetrators imagine themselves to
be on the cusp of victory. It was
American hegemony, even though no one from the Western Hemisphere was involved.
It was American political domination, though no one from a NATO or OAS or
G8 country did it. It was a protest
against American pre-eminence: political
(with no Antilleans involved), military (with no Serbs), economic (with no
Mexicans), cultural (with no Canadians). It was our checkered past:
Wounded Knee (no Native Americans), Dresden (no Germans), Hiroshima (no
Japanese), My Lai (no Vietnamese).
We have been asked to reflect on why they hate us---with the suggestion that they're probably right, and in any event, we'd better throw them a bone or two. Wrong answers, wrong questions. It does not appear that the Moslem ultras have visited anything upon us they would spare each other. An Arab state at peace looks like, say, Syria. An Arab state under stress is, say, Lebanon in the 70's, Iraq in the intifada, Algeria in the 90's, Sudan today. The World Trade
conventional Middle Eastern politics, by somewhat unconventional means. It should be no surprise that most Americans would rather be
dead, or dogs, than Arab subjects.
There is, of
course, no Arab grievance with the United States.
Nonetheless, we should pause to consider the imagined hurts of Araby.
Noam Chomsky, who insists that the Khmer Rouge have been outrageously
maligned and who has branded Vaclav Havel a front man for Central American death
squads, has predictably weighed in. And
he has outstripped his old hero Faurisson by revising history while the smoke
that contained the dead was still overhead.
advises us that "we can do no better than to listen to the words of Robert
Fisk, whose direct knowledge and insight into affairs of the region is unmatched
after many years of distinguished reporting."
Fisk, our very own Brasillach, a frantic coupling of sub-Hugh Sidey
insider knowingness and Karnak the Magnificent ex-oriente-lux posturing, offers
this knowledge-and-insight: we are
to blame 'the lies of T.E. Lawrence? and "our destruction of the Ottoman
It is alleged
that the United States has perpetrated "atrocities? against the Arab world:
clearly, fantastically untrue. It
is alleged that the United States has supported or at least done business with,
undemocratic regimes. That is true,
but who exactly is at fault? It is
not as if American troops are keeping the Middle East from being Scandinavia.
and virulently anti-American regimes there are alike anti-democratic.
When Edward Said claims, risibly, that the United States is unwilling to
have dealings with 'secular? regimes, we should recall that the United
States is itself such a regime, that every member of NATO is such a regime, that
Saddam added some pious scribble to the flag of Iraq precisely in order to
combat America, that in Iran, acts of war against the United States and the
consolidation of theocracy were a single cause.
In sum, other peoples have freed themselves, and these have not.
three very specific "wrongs? urged against us:
the presence of
It would not.
And second, we are assured that the resolution of these issues is
something that should be done. The
trouble here is that in the present time, after September 11, with ongoing
biological warfare, with the certainty of future atrocities, very possibly
including one or more nuclear devices, what is proposed is not morality but
military personnel have been stationed in Saudi Arabia since the early 1940's.
They have never been used, never contemplated to be used, to suppress the
national democratic stirrings of the domestic population. Their numbers
increased at the time of Desert Shield, and today there are a few thousand left.
These troops were sent, initially to protect Saudi Arabia from Iraqi
invasion, then as a base for the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait, and
today as a safeguard against a more remote, but still real threat of military
conquest by Iraq. The offense
offered by the presence of America troops is one neither to the Saudi state,
which it preserves against foreign invasion, nor to its disaffected subjects.
The objection raised by the aggressors of September 11 has been not to
the actions of American soldiers in Saudi Arabia, but their very presence in
that putative "holy? land. The crime of the non-Moslem is to exist.
It is not
happenstance that September 11 was a predominantly Saudi operation.
Saudi Arabia is the most viciously apartheid state in the world, and it
is only natural that its politics projected militarily into the world is openly
genocidal. Then, too, we are assured that we have behaved deplorably in Iraq.
True, but only in not taking Baghdad ten years ago and not executing
justice on its rulers. The derisory
bombing conducted there is in response to clear cease-fire violations and is,
plainly, not enough. It is claimed
that we have murdered a million (1,000,000) Iraqi children.
The number, of course, corresponds to no reality, but it is true that
there has been suffering. But sanctions do that.
The very real
suffering of the French people was a commonplace of Petainist propaganda; what
was unreal was the placing blame on de Gaulle and the British and the Americans
and the whitewashing of the Nazis and their native collaborators.
Iraq is awash in money, freely spent on luxury items for those in power
and for military expenditures. Hunger
and shortages of medical supplies in Iraq are only weapons of war used by the
Iraqi state against its subject population.
But the main justification offered for September 11---not by its perpetrators, to be sure, but by the extortionists nearer to hand who see the date as Christmas come early---has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is a real
Palestinian Arabs alone
grievance, but the Palestinian issue is fraudulent.
The XX Century saw many millions dispossessed and slaughtered, made
stateless and homeless. Maps of the
world don't stay current long.
In 1947, for
instance, only a year before the nakba of the Palestinian Arabs, around
one million people were killed in the course of the creation of a Moslem
separatist state in Pakistan. The
remark attributed to Hitler---?Who now remembers the Armenians??---has lost
none of its force. The rest of
humanity may be swept aside.
Arabs alone have enduring rights, and any atrocity, if claimed to further the
redress of those rights, will be claimed to be justified. Palestinians are being
"killed," we are constantly being told.
But guns are being fired on both sides, and even in grossly unequal
contests (e.g. the Warsaw ghetto in 1943, The Warsaw uprising in 1944, Budapest
in 1956) that's called fighting.
Palestinians can be killed because their humanity alone will be acknowledged.
To be told that 79 per cent of Egyptians---with no rights, no food, no
health, no future---regard Palestine as their most pressing
problem---Palestine!---is to understand that a decent respect for the opinions
of mankind will have the good sense to disregard Egyptian "public opinion?
entirely. We certainly did
not---and would not---celebrate the massacres at Deir Yassin or Sabra or Shatila,
three centerpieces of the permanent Palestinian atrocity exhibition (rendered a
little secondary after September 11).
with their most ardent sympathizers, applauded our misfortune. By all means, we should acknowledge injustice, and hope for
its righting, but more immediately, having seen what we have seen, we should
cast a cold eye.
actions and specific alliances? have nothing to do with September 11.
It is not what we did, but what they did.
And what they did was initiate, unambiguously, war.
September 11 was genocidal means to genocidal ends. There has been a
perception, among the enemy, that such measures work, that one must be willing
to accept some casualties oneself, but that we will give up once our dead begin
to mount. Think of Algeria. The FLN, even with a great deal of foreign support, never
came close to defeating France militarily, yet it prevailed.
It did so by killing thousands of civilians, the overwhelming majority of
them Moslems, and in victory, it drove out the non-Moslem population and
expropriated their property, and it conducted a general massacre of the harkis
(along with their families).
to Lebanon to secure the safety of the local Palestinians were killed by a truck
bomb, and the American military were withdrawn. In Somalia, 29 Pakistanis and 18 Americans were killed by
local allies of al Qa'eda, and the Americans withdrew. The World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, and not a single
member of al Qa'eda answered for it with his life. The same is true of the 1998 Embassy bombings and of bombings
of military targets in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
But soft targets---civilians---are preferred.
(?Hiroshima," as its perpetrators giddily call it) is linked so often with
the Palestinian Arab cause because there is a commonality of means.
Attacks on international civil aviation have been a Palestinian specialty
for over thirty years, and it was entirely in character that when the Achille
Lauro was hijacked, the one person selected to be shot, out of the hundreds
aboard, was an old man in a wheelchair. And
'the heroic struggle of the Palestinian people? today takes the form of
suicide bombings of public spaces and random shootings on the roads.
What do our attackers want, and what do their multitudinous sympathizers want? It matters only that, understanding them, we may better frustrate their purposes. But finally, it doesn't matter at all. Political viruses have raged through that part of the world since the 1920's: pro-Hitlerism, Nasserite national socialism, anti-Zionism, the Palestinian cause, "anti-imperialism," Third-Worldism, Third Internationalism, alliances with the USSR (in the
Ba'thism, Shi'ite triumphalism, Sunni triumphalism, this latest thing.
All begin in failure and end in failure.
Heikel, the pre-eminent Arab journalist of the second half of the XXth Century
is a representative figure. For
many years, he served as Nasser's spokesman, then in the late '70s, he could be
heard gushing over Ruhollah Khomeini, in the 80's he was publishing book-length
eulogies of the Egyptian jihad. What
intellectual integrity is to be found here, going from National Socialism to one
fundamentalism to another?
such a man believes, what does he even want?
The answer is: September 11. And
the wider context for September 11 is not policy changes that will work to
everybody's benefit, but further atrocity:
more bombings, more torture of captives, more human shields, more, and
more effective, biological and chemical weapons, and as logistics allow, nuclear
attacks here. A war of genocide has
been proposed. It ends when one
that war be? As is usually the
case, we don't now know. However much the Civil War was rooted in the question
of chattel slavery, the United States did not begin to fight under the banner of
emancipation, but the war's end was Lincoln being carried through the streets of
Richmond on emancipated shoulders. The
Paris Commune, which began with public demolition of the guillotine, ended up
driven to shoot hostages. Between
September 1, 1939 and V-E Day, both Italy and the USSR, initially Hitler's
allies, ended up allied against him.
In the Second
World War, the United States, reaching accommodations with Franco's Spain,
nevertheless fought to the end a war against fascism. The land of Jim Crow and
Nisei internment nevertheless fought a war against racism.
The allies of Stalin nevertheless fought for democracy. The
destroyers of Japan's and Germany's cities nevertheless fought a war against
genocide. We live in contradiction,
and to say so is neither an admission nor a recommendation of inaction.
The "war on
terrorism? will not end 'terrorism," nor even define it successfully.
We will be employing against our enemies assassination, 'surgical?
bombing, sabotage, seizures of bank assets, clandestine operations, and general
eschewing of judicial process, ending states:
in other words the repertoire of the XIXth Century's most militant
working class practice. What an
earlier time vapidly denounced as terrorism, we can now recognize as the purest
democracy in action brought to bear on democracy's most fervent enemies.
This war will
not achieve infinite justice nor, on its own, enduring freedom.
And since not even Mr. Bush's favorite Political Philosopher ever
promised to root out evil from the world, we should not presume to try.
We must merely, in all our imperfection, overcome the nothingness offered
by our enemies.
It is the
duty of the left in this time not only to be a party of war, but to be the
maximalist party of war. Hostilities
must extend not only to Iraq, Sudan, etc. but to the supposed friendlies, the
darlings of many on the domestic right: Saudi-Arabia,
the UAE, and Pakistan. We can do no
better, to use Chomsky's phrase, than, first, to disregard Chomsky utterly
(along with such organs of disinformation as Z and Counterpunch as
well as the more genteel Harpers, LRB, and The Nation).
But more important, we can do no better than to emulate revolutionary
France, which, with audacity, without indulgence, summoning up the people,
carried the war across whosever borders, to the enemies of the republic.
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