Sunday, February 4, 2007

Amman Massacre

The atrocities in Amman are not only testament to the bankruptcy of the war on terror, but indications of the deep rifts which have grown in the Third World as a result of neoliberal ideologies run amok, writes Azmi Bishara

Three thoughts occurred to me in the wake of the atrocities in Amman.

First, violence perpetrated against civilians on the grounds of some religious or ideological creed that claims a monopoly on truth and that places this truth above the lives and happiness of others knows no moral or logical restraints and no bounds to its savagery and bloodthirstiness. Therefore, humanitarianly-minded people must take a firm and unified stance against it. The people who carried out the Amman bombings were unmoved by the victims they claimed. They were impervious to the dreams and joys of the wedding couples that they would so summarily terminate. They gave no pause to the fact that many of the receptionists, porters and other hotel staff had also been children of refugee camps.

It is as though with every moral boundary they trample they acquire the ability to transgress more. In fact, one could say that extremist creeds neutralise moral restraints. At least the Machiavellian notion that the ends justify the means differentiates between the ends and means. Although the former generally becomes pretext for the immorality of the latter, the moral substance of the ends may sometimes act to inhibit the recourse to immoral means in other situations. The separation of ends and means, thus, is a double-edged sword. However, when the Machiavellian approach is brought to the service of an absolutist ideology, or when the ends are categorical, irrational, metaphysical or even unknown to the perpetrators who are acting on the impulse of vengeance, the means and the ends become one and the means become as absolutist as the ends. If, for example, the end is to spread alarm and terror for the sake of revenge, the means is also to spread alarm and terror, which, in turn, acquire an idealistic sanctity in their own right. The unity of ends and means is symptomatic of a primitive, barbaric condition, and there is no overestimating its pure destructive power in the hands of an absolutist creed that claims a monopoly on truth -- whatever that truth might be, so obscured has it become by thick films of blood.

Perhaps the purpose of dispatching bombers to blow up hotels in Amman was to remind Jordan that it would not prosper on the destruction of Iraq. Perhaps the bombings were meant as a caution to it not to base its policies or its economy on the disasters of others -- not to build its palaces on ashes, so to speak. Perhaps, the aim was to avenge the "steel curtain" operation, as was announced 24 hours before the bombings. Who knows anymore? And who might even care to remember? That's one of the problems with confusing the ends with means: people's horror of the means gets projected onto the ends.

Second, America's "global war against terrorism" has done nothing but encourage the global spread of terrorism and augment the numbers of those ready to blow themselves up as an act of revenge or in order to obstruct the policies of the US and its allies. Realities on the ground have put paid to every Bushism on terrorism. The notion that terrorism can be fought and vanquished like an alien army or held under siege in the Tora Bora mountains has long since fallen by the wayside, as Bush's adventurist folly created new theatres of war in, for example, Indonesia, Jordan, Madrid and London. The Israeli brainchild, wholeheartedly embraced by the neoconservatives and by extension the Bush administration, that this brand of terrorism is fuelled by the existence of certain regimes, which therefore must be changed, has proved an unmitigated disaster. The toppling of regimes that had perpetuated themselves through the imposition of law by despotic force and had held themselves together on basis that the unity of the nation rested upon the unity of the army and security agencies gave rise to unbridled theft, kidnapping and vigilantism, and to a vacuum that was quickly filled precisely by this brand of terrorism. And it has become patently obvious that there is no relationship between democratisation and the spread of electoral processes, on the one hand, and halting terrorism or even reducing the rates of violence against civilians, on the other. Democracy is an aspiration that should be sought in its own right if the aim is to create a more just government, as opposed to "fighting terrorism" as the neoconservatives in Washington would have it. In all events, the existing democracies of Spain and Britain did not safeguard London or Madrid from terrorist attacks from within, and Jordan is not on Washington's list of countries in need of regime change, yet the terrorism that struck it did not come from abroad.

Third, the conjunction of the growing prevalence of an economic neoliberal and consumerist value-oriented outlook among the upper classes and, with considerable intensity among the groups advocating reform, with a conservative, non- democratic and anti-modernist political culture has virtually split Third World societies, and Arab societies in particular, into two socially and culturally distinct classes or peoples. One was struck by the similarity between the Amman bombings and the bombing by a hostile power of civilian targets on the adversary's side in times of war. In both cases, there is no identifiable strategic gain to be had, and in both there is a smug indifference to the fate of human beings "on the other side", since the point is essentially to blow up whatever is in reach regardless of who is there. Of course, the Americans claim that war has rules and that they abide by these rules whereas suicide bombers and those that recruit them do not. The history of American warfare from Hiroshima to Iraq is testimony to the fact that when fighting escalated, military objective took firm precedence over the rules. No, the similarity we are speaking of has nothing to do with not playing by the "rules" and everything to do with the distorted socio-economic situation in countries in which American policies have become so internalised at certain levels as to create two diametrically opposed cultures that are virtually in a state of war.

For how else is it possible to explain why revenge for the America's brutal "steel curtain" operation in northwestern Iraq was meted out against Jordanian hotels which, albeit, have Americans among their guests but also host wedding receptions for people from the same country as the perpetrators and have among their staff individuals who may well come from the same alleyway in the same impoverished neighbourhood as the bombers. It is pointless to ask why this hotel was bombed and not that; the point was to get any hotel at all. Two forces are confronting each other across political and cultural divides that have a single society rift in two. One side regards the other as America's ally, and its lifestyle as corrupt and even heretic, calling to mind the war of Islamist extremists in Algeria against Algerian society. On the other side is a Francophone or Anglophone culture that looks askance at the other half of their society whom they perceive as backwards denizens of squalid ghettos, envious of their wealth and a threat to a lifestyle that is difficult to universalise. Or, at best, that other half represents political and economic causes to espouse, not people to live with, let alone socialise with. Our societies are in the grips of a socio-political crisis that cannot be resolved by warfare or by military planning. No Iraqi can escape this grim reality by pointing out that the people who are setting off bombs in their country are Saudis or Jordanians, and no one in Jordan can sidestep this matter by suggesting that the suicide bombers were inspired by the tragedy in Iraq or elsewhere. The ghettos of poverty, ignorance and fanaticism are still there in all countries of the Third World.

The middle class which bridges the upper and lower classes of society is not only insufficiently large but also weak, fragile and divided in its affiliations to the two other classes. Here you will find the bourgeoisie of middlemen associated with foreign capital, the state bureaucracy and the rentier economy, on the one hand, and with the poverty belts and the urban quarters filled with people who have fled the villages but not yet been absorbed into the cities. Because this middle class has no calling of its own it has become a battlefield for the opposing ideologies and lifestyles of the two other classes. The middle class did not inherit the pan- Arab project, let alone the quest to democratise that project in a manner that would safeguard the unity of the pan-Arab entity. There are many reasons for this, some historical, others related to the nature of the rentier state and yet others to the transformation of pan-Arabism into an ideological weapon between competing regimes. The fact remains, however, that US-European intervention in the domestic conflict has worked to render the struggle against the US a component of the domestic conflict and to aggravate domestic tensions to the point of civil war. Once again, direct colonialist meddling has wreaked its destructive havoc on nationalist projects before the middle class even had the chance to coalesce around such a project and get it off the ground.

What do the neoconservatives have to say about the catastrophe in Jordan? Undoubtedly they would take it as corroboration of their view that the war against terrorism has to be expanded yet further. Are they happy at this prospect of engulfing new countries in this war? I will not venture an answer as I am no expert in their psychological makeup. What is certain, however, is that if the US does not stop making itself a domestic political issue in Arab countries it will be impossible even to begin thinking about making a natural transition away from the ghettos of poverty and ideology that produce suicide bombers. As long as the US remains a major determinant of domestic affairs in our countries it will be impossible for people to take an objective position for or against any idea on the basis of what is or is not good for the development of their society and its institutions, because they will always have foremost in their mind whether Washington is for or against that idea.