Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Apocalypse Now

The global war on terror and its principal players is but a scene from the historical development of globalisation the West has championed, writes Azmi Bishara

The twin towers of the World Trade Centre may have once cropped up in the minds of America's enemies, but thinking about something and acting on an idea are two entirely different things. To imagine hijacking a plane is one thing; to actually hijack one is something else. Worlds apart from this is to plan for years and to take flying lessons so that one day you can pilot a commercial airline and steer it, full of passengers, straight into a skyscraper, and, moreover, do this in perfect synchronisation with four other groups of hijackers aiming for other targets elsewhere. This was the nature of the operation carried out against the only country in history to have dropped nuclear bombs on people in cities. It was intended as a strike against the heart of imperialism. But had any rational person contemplated the possible consequences, he would never have brought himself to do it. This is not just because of the immense destructive power unleashed as the planes hit the buildings, but also because it gave the US opportunity to divide the world as it saw fit, turning sophisticated imperialist theories into self- fulfilling prophecies regarding the confrontation of civilisations.

I doubt the people who carried out 9/11 realised that they would render an entire Arab generation hostage to psychopathic aggressiveness amid the ultimate metaphysical struggle of good and evil. But if you are among those inclined to believe that those who carried out the appalling hijack attacks, not far from the UN headquarters, are themselves one of the products and many faces of globalisation, then you realise how tragically laden the world is with symbols and symbolism. While 9/11 and the "war on terror" was soon globalised, divisions proliferated also. Perhaps one of the most dangerous consequences of 11 September is that the polarisation between opposing fundamentalisms has shunted aside the thoughtful and constructive quest for the welfare and happiness of all human societies, and of human beings as individuals and as exponents of diverse cultures that are not in adversarial relationships or hierarchically juxtaposed on the basis of some notion of good or bad.

The events of 9/11 coincided with an American administration inspired and shaped by three ideological sources. The first is conservative Republican pragmatists who have characterised Republican administrations since Nixon and Reagan. Anti-liberal at home and hawkish and interventionist abroad, their erstwhile enemy was communism, but after this faded away in the time of Bush Sr and Clinton, 9/11 came along to substitute for Reagan's "Evil Empire".

The neoconservatives form the current administration's second mainstay. A product of the post-Cold War era, they are not conservative but radical, in the sense that they ground and carry out their conservative beliefs in revolutionary theory and practice. They advocate the export of democracy and values they regard as universal, but in reality use these as tools to attain global dominion. They call for liberation from the "status quo", under which America had propped up non-democratic governments in order to bolster the capitalist camp against the socialist one, on the grounds that this policy is no longer justified. They also hold that America should shed its inhibitions against acting as an empire. It has the might to perform its duty as the world's policeman and, therefore, should do so with confidence. They further oppose cultural relativism, which both democrats and conservative pragmatists subscribe to, if for different reasons, except when it comes to politics and culture in the Arab and Islamic world.

The third ideological pillar of this administration is the fundamentalist evangelical church, the bulwark of what they regard as America's protestant identity and values against the encroachment of liberalism and the degenerate culture of the western and eastern seaboards. An increasingly influential trend in the evangelical church is the Christian Zionists, especially with regards to shaping American foreign policy. They have forged a political theology in accordance with which America's mission abroad is to promote the fulfilment of literalist interpretations of apocalyptic scripture, a mission that they have wed to a Jewish Zionist colonialist theology founded upon different readings of the Old Testament as far as the promised land, a new Jerusalem and the coming of the messiah are concerned. Because of the centrality of Israel to the "second coming" and their concept of salvation, Christian Zionists are more fanatically pro-Israeli than Israelis. And in the fervour of their conviction, they regard Israel's opponents as their mortal enemies, and, therefore, demonise Islam and the Prophet and openly incite hatred against Arabs and Muslims.

The "war against terrorism," "Those who aren't with us are against us," and other such headings for the post-9/11 political climate are the product of the interaction between the three ideological sources above. In fact, they are about the only basis for the convergence between trends that would otherwise have very little in common. After all, nothing would bring the neoconservatives -- most of whom are secular liberals when it comes to the separation between church and state and many of whom are Jews -- together with extremist fundamentalist Christians apart from their hostility to Islam and their advocacy of the "war on terror" as a means to lash out against Islamic countries and organisations that they regard as hostile to Israel. Nor would a conservative pragmatist feel any great enthusiasm for a war against organisations like Al-Qaeda if that war were not ultimately aimed at eliminating regimes that stood in the way of America's political hegemony over the region and its control over the world's major oil resources.

Anybody with half a mind knows that conventional military means will not succeed against youths who are prepared to sacrifice their lives anywhere in the world as long as their death acquires meaning by causing harm to America. Aircraft carriers, missile bombardment, landing forces, and occupying troops don't stand a chance against this phenomenon. There is no place to take this youth on, no battle theatre where standing armies can clash, nor even that more nebulous arena of guerrilla warfare. But the Americans were bent on engaging this enemy in combat, as a result of which they ended up fighting countries that had no relationship with terrorism and may have themselves even been victims of terrorism before the US. The Americans found themselves pursuing old agendas under new headings, in the course of which they only succeeded in weakening national governments and causing the very phenomenon they were supposedly fighting to proliferate and take root in areas it had never existed before.

They also succeeded in promoting the fulfilment of those self-fulfilling prophecies by turning culture, religion and identity politics into the theatre of confrontation. In the 1970s, the Arab world saw the rise of new militant Islamist movements, some of which had even begun to condemn their own governments and societies as heretic. Yet although these movements regarded holy war as a fundamental religious duty -- rejecting national boundaries and allegiances as secularist and hence pagan -- they were very much the product of their local environments. The phenomenon played out in New York, London, Madrid and Bali, on the other hand, is of a completely different order. This universalised holy war could only have emerged in the context of and as part of the process of globalisation.

In the case of globalised violence against the US and the West, the Al-Qaeda "brand" is the other face of McDonalds, Coca Cola and other franchises for the distribution of consumerist democracy and Hollywood culture. It would have been impossible to conceive of internationalised organisations setting themselves quixotic global missions against the West and latter-day crusaders in the absence of cultural globalisation. The globalisation of culture precedes universal globalised nihilistic terrorism, which avails itself of the very material means of globalisation: the Internet, live broadcasting, the mass production, distribution and export of political/religious items (in the form of images and ideas, etc). All this is part and parcel of a process of globalisation that spreads consumer needs but not the means to pay for them; that spreads the values of democracy, freedom and justice but not the means to realise them; that spreads mass culture but not the sciences, the discoveries and the historical experiences of the cultures that came before it.

Little wonder, therefore, that America couldn't find what it was supposed to be fighting, since it was but a contorted mirror image of its own self.