July , 2015

JK Alternative Viewpoint

Challenges & Responses to Conflictual Politics

  An Egyptian supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohamed Morsi joins a protest ...
To mark one year since the start of popular protests in Tunisia, Joseph Daher, co-author ...
Tehran - One front page headline reads “Delegation of U.S. oil companies to visit Tehran.” ...
  Frantz Fanon, who dedicated the closing years of his life to the revolution in ...
The West is cynically exploiting Syria's revolution to suit their own military objectives, argue Kahlil ...
From flawed beginning to bloody end, the NATO intervention in Libya made a mockery of ...
TRIPOLI, LIBYA — Libya has emerged from its civil war with more than 300 militias ...
Senior officials in both Beijing and Washington regard the elections in Taiwan this coming Saturday, ...
Palestinian President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad pray in Ramallah last month. (Mohamad Torokman / ...
The 18 million unemployed people in the euro zone must be puzzled by the rising ...

Archive for the ‘Art/Cuture/Cinema/Travels’ Category

Syria’s ongoing autopsy-VIJAY PRASHAD

Posted by admin On June - 28 - 2015 Comments Off


the two books reveal a great deal more about the prevailing mood among Syrians than the news reports that track the minutiae of this battle and that battle in the country.
Four years into the conflict, Syria remains a bare shadow of itself. Morticians have stopped counting the dead, and the United Nations only has estimates of the displaced (about half the population). Life expectancy is said to have dropped by 20 years to a meagre 58. The suffering is acute. It cannot be captured in numbers. One gauge of it is the extreme step taken by Syrian refugees to flee the area, even to risk going to chaotic Libya from which they chance the Mediterranean moat. Walking through Syrian refugee camps provides both a sense of the desolation and the pure relief at human resilience; even the most scarred people try to plant flowers outside their tents.

The war itself is relatively dull, battles here and there threaten human lives and seem to make little progress in the civil war. Over four years none of the players have been overly threatened. The government of Bashar al-Assad, which the West thought would fall on several occasions over this period, remains intact. It continues to control the major population centres. Despite their antipathy to his government, Western journalists and diplomats feel safest in his realm. Areas of the rebels sow fear, whether the slowly depleting zones of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or the various Islamist extremist groups (from the Jabhat al-Nusra, affiliated to Al Qaeda, to the Saudi-backed Jaish al-Islam). Kidnappings for ransom and for spectacular killing are the threat. There are no longer any reliable forces that carry the “moderate” banner for the West. The rebels lean largely towards extremism of one shape or form. In his elegy for the civil war, the journalist Charles Glass notes, “No one, apart from the undertaker, is winning.”

The entrails of this war suggest little hope. No sign of peace is visible. Even exhaustion—which is the mood amongst many fighters—is not a guarantee of a ceasefire. The combatants resemble boxers in the final rounds of their championship bout, blinded by pain and fatigue, groping for a target on the body of the other; except that in this case, there are no rounds, no bells, no going the distance, since the war seems to stretch to infinity. The journalist Reese Erlich’s book does not even bother with an assessment of the way ahead. He closes his learned book with pen portraits of those who prolong the conflict: the United States, Russia, the Gulf Arabs and Iran. Halfway through his book, Erlich writes, “The struggle for a peaceful, secular Syria has been diminished, but not crushed.” Here is hope. It dies on page 121. A hundred pages remain of the book.
The Rebellion

Was Syria fated to join the Arab Spring? Assad did not think so. He was confident that the wave would wash across North Africa and settle before it entered the Arab east. The southern city of Daraa was the epicentre of small-scale protests, a vicious retaliation from the local governor and then escalation outwards across Syria. What provoked the multitudinous uprisings? Erlich and Glass share a narrative here. Both go backwards to the colonial past to suggest that what emerged out of it—the one-state Arab regime—could not be sustained. Too many complex desires and aspirations had been suppressed by these regimes, whether in Egypt or Syria or Iraq. Popular discontent is legion. Each of these regimes had a basic contract with the population—we will provide for your economic, social and cultural needs as long as you leave the politics to us. By the 1990s, the contract frayed. These regimes turned to neoliberal policy frameworks that whittled at welfare schemes and encouraged corruption. The beneficiaries of the new reforms, Glass writes, “were newly privatised bankers, Bashar’s cousins who obtained licences to sell mobile phones, middlemen and brokers with urban educations and customs, not the newly landless trying without money or education to adapt to metropolitan life”.

The frustrations of the newly landless were compounded by the drought that hit the area around the Euphrates river (in September 2010, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, said that as many as three million Syrians had been thrown into extreme poverty by the extreme weather). Dr Bassam Barakat, an adviser to the Assad government, told Erlich of the neoliberal reforms, “The Syrian regime made a big mistake. We had an army of unemployed young people.” These would be the ones who would rise against Assad in 2011.

If the contract to provide the basic needs was withdrawn, the other side of it—political suffocation —was not changed. The vocabulary of violence in the dungeons of Syria is highly developed, from the dulab (to be hung from a suspended tyre and beaten) to the bisat al-rih (the flying carpet, namely to hang the prisoner on a piece of wood and then beat him or apply electric shock treatment). Promises of a political opening came as early as the Damascus Spring of 2001, but Assad dithered. Opponents went to prison or exile. At several points Erlich suggests that Assad should have conducted reforms “in response to popular opinion”. Why Assad did not is clear. Crony capitalism, a condition familiar around the world, prefers less accountability and so less democracy. Those prisons came into use during the West’s War on Terror, when the U.S. government outsourced incarceration and torture to Damascus. In February 2011, a month before the rising, the Syrian Association for Human Rights and the Arab Organisation for Penal Reform published a report on prison overcrowding. Who was in prison? People like the former judge Haitham al-Maleh (age 80), who was convicted by the Emergency laws for “weakening national sentiment”. His crime: calling for civil liberties.

Revolutions, Glass writes, “produce surprising outcomes, and those who start them must be prepared for the unintended consequences of success as much as for failure”. It is the latter that stalks Syria. Both Erlich and Glass show that the early phase of the uprising that began in March 2011 had an ecumenical character, which was evident in the Local Coordinating Committees. Armed by Syria’s geopolitical rivals, extremist groups supplanted these committees by November 2011. “The uprising,” Erlich writes, “was becoming a civil war.”

Both Erlich and Glass detail the tentacles of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey as well as the West in the hapless opposition groups that had their headquarters in Istanbul. On the ground meanwhile, the FSA led by Salim Idris faced blow upon blow not only from the Syrian Army but also from the extremist outfits. Al Qaeda affiliates emerged, as did Saudi-backed extremists. The character of the rebellion changed dramatically into sectarianism. Syria, which has a long history of relative tolerance, heard chilling slogans of extreme violence:

Massihiyeh ala Beirut. Alawiyeh ala Taboot.(Christians to Beirut; Alawis to the coffin.)

Zahran Alloush, backed by Saudi Arabia and considered by the West to be a “moderate”, told his followers near Damascus, “The jehadists will wash the filth of the rafida [an anti-Shia slur] from Greater Syria, they will wash it forever, if Allah wills it.” This is the character of the rebellion. Glass’ assessment of the current impasse is bleak: “The war has reached the stage at which many on both sides no longer regard the others as humans let alone as citizens of a country in which all must coexist.”

Old-style journalists, Erlich and Glass know Syria well. They have spent long periods drifting about, making friends, and enjoying the social worlds that they encounter. Neither feel the lash of a corporate media industry, pushing them to file breaking news and ignoring the density of social life and the passions of the people.

Glass wrote a lyrical book about his journey through Syria in 1987, Tribes With Flags (1990), in which he introduces us to his friends, the Aleppo hotelier Krikor Mazloumian, the people of Yusuf Basha, the Damascenes such as Sehem Turjuman and Hani al Raheb. There is deep love here for the people he encounters and writes about. Glass returns to Syria throughout the civil war, meeting his old contacts and friends. They remain committed to the complexity of Syria, many of them from minority groups who did not always see themselves as minorities but as a part of Syrian culture.

Glass sits with Khalid Khalifa, the Aleppo-born novelist who wrote In Praise of Hatred (Madih al-karahiya, 2006), a novel that considers the conflict between the Syrian state and the Muslim Brotherhood. His most recent novel, No Knives in This City’s Kitchens (La Sakakin fi matabikh hadhini al-madina), is an indictment of the Baath rule.
Khalifa tells Glass, “Stop the war. Stop the blood. The Syrian people are tired now. You can play revolution for some time. But not for a long time.” This is the attitude captured by Erlich and Glass. It reveals a great deal more than the reports that track the minutiae of this battle and that battle.

Neither Erlich nor Glass sees an easy way out. Both are gloomy. The geopolitics does not allow it. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the West remain obdurate with their slogan, “Assad must go”, a recipe for the prolongation of the war. Iran and Russia will not allow the Syrian regime to collapse. No one can win this war.

Syria is ground down beneath these determinations. Omar Abdulaziz Hallaj, a wise and distinguished architect from Aleppo, runs the Syrian Initiative, a group that seeks to build grass-roots linkages inside Syria. He maintains hope.

“Peace in Syria,” he recently wrote, “will need sustainable roots. It must be built from the bottom up; the top down process advocated in the Geneva Communique, can work only if it is supported by transforming the dynamic of the conflict on the ground.”

He is hard at work building trust through local ceasefires. People who live cheek by jowl will have to learn again to rely on each other. It takes people like Hallaj to create the basis for this, although even he is pessimistic. “The longer the war is prolonged,” he writes, “the smaller the window of opportunity may become.”


Triumph of humanism-Shelley Walia

Posted by admin On April - 22 - 2015 Comments Off


The book calls for serious reflection on the demands of notions of community, solidarity and public life. By SHELLEY WALIA

THE philosophy of Hannah Arendt, a person who remained stateless for 18 years after the Gestapo hounded her out of Germany and who was an ardent admirer of Karl Marx, is underpinned by a Hegelian framework that uses dialectical negation for introducing emancipatory politics. Standing between Hegel and Jurgen Habermas, we see the towering figure of a thinker who has always had a deeply problematic relationship with the Left. Hannah Arendt often said: “You know the Left think that I am conservative and the conservatives think I am Left or I am a maverick or God knows what. And I must say that I couldn’t care less. I don’t think the real questions of this century get any kind of illumination by this kind of thing.”

Nevertheless, her philosophy has always had a powerful impact on the New Left and contemporary debates on bureaucratic workings of the nation-state and its inherent paradoxical nature of laying down the rights of its citizens, and yet, on the contrary, taking the extreme step of statelessness, dispossessing a huge section of its public on the basis of race, as visible in mainly three cases: Nazism, Zionism and, on a massive scale, in the Partition of India with implicit cultural and political dilution of liberation and individual consciousness.

Hannah Arendt’s involvement in the cold-blooded uses of power had its beginnings with the suspension of civil liberties and dissent on February 27, 1933, the day the German Reichstag (Lower House) burned down. Integral to her philosophy was the dilemma of the Jewish question and the contradictions in Adolf Hitler’s drive towards finding a solution to the minorities by first dispersing them and then gathering them for extermination. Added to this unsolvable problem were the creation of Israel and the dispossession of the Jews. These forces apparently stand in opposition to the notion of performative dispossession affected by injustice that has sparked uprisings from Zuccatti Park to Puerta del Sol, from north Africa to Turkey and India recently. Dispossession indeed constitutes “a form of suffering for those displaced and colonised” and therefore “could not remain an ambivalent political ideal”.


Though the question of nationalism is legitimate for a stateless people, it is not possible to support Zionism and its implications of illegitimate neocolonial confiscation of land as well as the pillage of the people of Palestine. In such a state of affairs, it is rather impossible to deal with the question of a nation especially because it is not possible to define the boundaries claimed by such nation(less) people. The dispossession of Palestinians must take into consideration the illegitimacy of dispossession as well as the rights of refugees to return to their land. Judith Butler in her book Precarious Life: The Power of Mourning and Violence elaborates on the question of dispossession: “Whether or not we continue to enforce a universal conception of human rights at moments of outrage and incomprehension, precisely when we think that others have taken themselves out of the human community as we know it, is a test of our very humanity.”

Such an early engagement with questions of the human condition and the inhuman use of power led Hannah Arendt to examine human action and judgment with respect to one’s duty and behaviour according to the demands of official work even if it means death for some. To her, the nature of evil was within human grasp, and if it was not, the world would be an inhospitable place to live in. We are, therefore, not naturally flawed as human beings and we could save ourselves if we worked on it.

In a bureaucratic world, what matters is the work assigned to you, not the nature of the work, even if it entails death and misery for many. This, according to Hannah Arendt, is the “banality of evil”, a fact intrinsic to the working of overbearing machinery around the world. Legitimation of state policies through individual assignments ensures subservience to state ideology as seen in the case of adherents of Nazism responsible for the genocide of the Jews; the task given to them by the state by virtue of which they stood absolved of all guilt or responsibility for any crime perpetrated in the name of oppressive systems.

In such a system, one confronts two kinds of people: the intellectuals, who have the conviction and the disposition of dissidents, and the others who deem themselves “normal” participants, who value conformism and compliance to the rules of the state. On the human level, the choices we make resolve our destiny and label our ideological stance. Rules are too straight and narrow in scope to cover the paradoxes and ironies of our way of life.


As argued rigorously by Philip Hansen, Hannah Arendt’s philosophy stresses the defence of human dignity in the face of evil. She argues that in each one of us there is the urge for public self-promotion, but our freedom really lies in our “inability to disclose who we are”. This is, paradoxically, a trait that dictates certain invisibility for the purpose of gaining power. Hannah Arendt gains in her relevance to oppositional politics and the radical delegitimising of institutions and established assumptions that begin and end with the design to essentialise public opinion, moulding it in the complexion of the ideology of the ruling class. Individual identity stands in conflict with the state’s ideological engineering that promotes overwhelming subservience. As Hansen argues, “if in the modern age we have seen in totalitarianism an unprecedented threat to human plurality, we have also seen the emergence of a unique expression of the human ability to begin anew, to act in freedom, to create a genuine public realm.” This is the specific “phenomenon of revolution” for Hannah Arendt’s “exercise in political theory”. It is, Hansen explains in the chapter on Hannah Arendt’s book Revolution, “the peculiar modern attempt to reclaim our political inheritance…. Revolution, then, is about acting individuals, spaces of appearances, genuine power, freedom itself. It is, therefore, also about hopes and possibilities, and not just social, political and historical forces, or states, parties and classes.”

Taking her important writings, particularly The Human Condition, The Origins of Totalitarianism, On Revolution and Between Past and Present, Hansen scrutinises history from the perspective of Hannah Arendt’s focus on what it is to think and act politically. As is visible in the dissident movements from the 1848 world revolution to the rise of Bolshevism and the demonstrations against the Vietnam War, from the Occupy Wall Street agitations to the Arab Spring, there arises a need for contemporary “citizen rationality” in the face of threats to a genuine politics of active political freedom within a free public life. Here lies Hannah Arendt’s sense of democratic liberalism, which had been unfortunately overrun by an anti-parliamentarian predatory politics. Her growing significance to the rise of revolutionary movements, to the concept of historical consciousness and totalitarianism, which tries to extinguish any sparks of rebellion smouldering within a bureaucratic world, exhibits her deep-seated interest in political humanism and a free space in the world inhabited by people who are inspired by public principles and an ethics that inherently remains essential to their world view.


Hannah Arendt, in the words of Marx, asserts that “stable societies develop sites of resistance: contradistinctions built in the social systems that ultimately lead to social revolutions and the development of a new society upon the old”. Tension, dialectics and revolutions must continue and conflictual politics emphatically develop into the only solution for countering the state apparatus and its overpowering role. Whatever the polemics, it is clear that her overriding rationale is to elucidate and defend political action in its essential freedom and dignity. Politics is indeed a public activity and the magnitude of political action lies in being “human among humans”. In this lies the gravity of any political action where individual distinction without the element of self-aggrandisement becomes the sine qua non of clean politics.

The question, therefore, arises about the fundamental assumptions of genuine politics in the context of the uncertainty following the end of the Cold War and the rise of neoliberal global politics “under the auspices of transnational capital”. The regional institutions of power and coercion stand under interrogation in a world overtaken by “the national security state, exercising and preserving its sovereignty in a hostile Hobbesian world”. To struggle for control of state power is to either buttress one’s goals for more power, instilling hegemony underpinned by hopes and fears, desires and aspirations for a society that evolves through complete regimentation by the vision and ideology of the ruling class. Intellectuals who are anti-establishment remain at logger heads with the illegitimacy of such systems. However, as Hansen argues, “This dilemma of supposedly anti-statist movement, which remain implicated in the exercise of state power is unavoidable—there can be no withering away of the state nor an autonomous civil society without the supportive structures of state power as critical elements of its very make-up.”

Nevertheless, state power remains a hostile force to any solidarity of the masses or individual autonomy. The book, therefore, calls for a serious reflection on the demands of notions of community, solidarity and public life. The question remains: How far have such intellectual interventions helped in the stemming of powerful forces of social and political control? Probably, as Hannah Arendt saw it, only the “free spectators of action” determine the meaning of action and it is such public meanings that save humans from the void of futile existence.


After eight decades, Arab poet Kahlil Gibran’s writings live on-Joumana Bou Fakhreddine

Posted by admin On April - 10 - 2015 Comments Off


On the 84th anniversary of legendary Arab poet Kahlil Gibran’s death, his verses still resonate in a region mired by political upheaval.

His talent was recognized the world over, with the 28th U.S. President Woodrow Wilson once telling Gibran: You are the first Eastern storm to sweep this country, and what a number of flowers it has brought!”

Just a few years ago, when a U.S. reporter interviewed the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who led the coalition to victory against Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War, the footage showed that Schwarzkopf kept a copy of what is perhaps Khalil Gibran’s most famous work, The Prophet.

“If you love somebody, let them go, for if they return, they were always yours. And if they don’t, they never were.” Kahlil Gibran His writings have even made their way deep into pop culture.

When John Lennon, the lead of top 1960s group The Beatles, sang the lyric: “Half of what I say is meaningless, but I say it just to reach you,” he was quoting Gibran’s famous lines from the aphoristic Sand and Foam: “Half of what I say is meaningless; but I say it so that the other half may reach you.”

Elvis Presley, known even today as the indisputable “King of rock and roll” was also a fan and was known to read verses of “The Prophet” out loud to his mother and even gave copies of the book away.

“The Prophet” has since been adapted into an animated film, with Hollywood stars Liam Neeson and Salma Hayek providing voiceovers.

Small beginnings

Gibran, who was born in 1883 from a poor family, hailed from Bsharri, a picturesque town in northern Lebanon.

The poet’s youth was spent among the rugged cliffs, cascading falls and towering cedar trees that surrounded the town, leading Gibran to later write: “Nature reaches out to us, with welcoming arms and bids us enjoy her beauty.”

“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars. ” Kahlil Gibran His childhood was not, however, idyllic due in part to his father being sent to prison for tax evasion. Eventually, the Ottoman authorities confiscated the family’s property and left them homeless.

On June 25, 1895, Gibran travelled by sea to New York and then settled in Boston in a predominantly Arab district where Arabic was widely spoken and Middle Eastern customs were practiced.

In Boston, Florence Fierce, an art teacher recognized Gibran’s talent and connected him with Fred Holland, a prominent figure in the city.

In the summer of 1898, Gibran returned to his homeland and studies at the Maronite Catholic College, where he learned to speak French and worked on a student magazine called “Al Manara,” or “The Beacon.”

“Only the dumb envy the talkative.” Kahlil Gibran Returning to Boston, Gibran held his first art exhibition in 1904 where he struck up conversation with a wealthy local patron of the arts, Mary Haskell.

‘Life is naked’

“Why do you draw bodies always naked?” Haskell is said to have asked him.

Gibran answered: “because life is naked. A nude body is the truest and the noblest symbol of life. If I draw a mountain as heap of human forms, or paint a waterfall in a shape of tumbling human bodies, it is because I see in the mountain heap if living things and in the water falls a participate current life.”

As his relationship with Haskell edged toward romance, Gibran continued to contribute to local Arab newspapers. The couple never married, perhaps because Haskell’s parents did not approve.

“Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair” Kahlil Gibran In 1912, the gifted Gibran moved to New York which was witnessing a golden era. He continued to showcase his art and gained recognition from American artists of the age, with artist Albert Pinkham Rayder telling him: “Your pictures have imagination and imagination is art.”

In 1920, he formed a literary society called “The Pen League” which increased his profile.

Then in 1923, when “The Prophet” was published, Gibran’s status as a leading philosopher-poet was firmly in place.

Due in part to ongoing sales of “The Prophet,” Gibran is still the third best-selling poet of all time, behind only Shakespeare and Lao Tzu.

Less than 10 years later, in 1931, Gibran died, at the age of only 48. He had suffered from tuberculosis and cirrhosis of the liver. Due to the love of his homeland Lebanon, he had never been an American citizen. A year later, his wishes to be buried near home were fulfilled by Haskell, who purchased a Lebanese monastery which has since become a dedicated museum to his life and work.

“Love… it surrounds every being and extends slowly to embrace all that shall be. ” Kahlil Gibran Written next to his grave are the words:

“A word I want to see written on my grave: I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you.”


The history of the Islamic State:rise of this Sunni terrorist group-STANLY JOHNY

Posted by admin On April - 10 - 2015 Comments Off


The veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn’s latest book traces the history of the Islamic State and identifies the reasons for the rise of this Sunni terrorist group. By STANLY JOHNY

IN the first two years of the Syrian civil war, Western and Arab leaders repeatedly asked President Bashar al-Assad to step down as they seemed to have believed that he would eventually be thrown out of power. In August 2011, United States President Barack Obama asked him “to get out of the way” of democracy. British Prime Minister David Cameron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy had all joined Obama in demanding Assad’s resignation. In November 2011, King Abdullah of Jordan said the chances of Assad surviving were so slim that he had to step down. In December 2012, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation Secretary General, said: “I think the regime in Damascus is approaching collapse.”

With the war entering its fifth year this March, Assad still controls Damascus, the seat of power in Syria, and much of the populated regions along the Mediterranean coast and around the capital city. A substantial chunk of the population remains loyal to him. But the Syrian crisis took a disastrous turn. While the backers of the anti-regime rebels believed (or pretended to believe) that destabilising the regime would expedite the political transformation in Syria, what actually happened was a transformation of parts of the country into a jehadi haven.  It is in this haven that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reinvented his struggling group, Al Qaeda in Iraq, as the world’s deadliest terrorist outfit—the Islamic State (also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS).

Before the Syrian civil war began, there was no ISIS in the region. The Islamists in Syria had never risen after their 1983 rebellion in Hama was brutally suppressed by former President Hafiz al-Assad (Bashar’s father). But the ISIS is now the principal opposition of President Assad in the Syrian conflict and controls territories as big as Great Britain straddling the Iraqi-Syrian border. How did it become so powerful in a matter of a couple of years? Where does it get support from? Can it be beaten? These are intriguing questions for anyone interested in the contemporary history of West Asia. The veteran journalist Patrick Cockburn’s latest book, The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, seeks to answer most of these questions. Cockburn, who has been covering West Asian conflicts for his United Kingdom-based paper, The Independent, for years, traces the history of the ISIS and identifies the reasons that led to the rise of this Sunni terrorist group into notoriety.

The roots


The roots of the ISIS go back to the region’s violent Islamist activism of the 1980s. The U.S. then joined hands with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in training mujahideen against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. The jehad in Afghanistan drew a young Jordanian street thug known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi into the Central Asian country in 1989. The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in the same year. Zarqawi went back home, where he was briefly jailed. Upon his release, he travelled to Afghanistan again to found his own militant group, the Tawhid wal-Jihad.

Zarqawi became known to the world after he established himself as the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, thanks to George W. Bush’s 2003 Iraq war. The war destroyed the Iraqi state and ruptured the country’s social equilibrium. The vacuum created by the destruction of the state was partly filled by Islamist militants. Zarqawi’s group emerged as the deadliest in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq and unleashed a violent sectarian campaign against Iraqis, especially the Shias in 2005-06. He was so brutal and sectarian that even Ayman al-Zawahiri, the current leader of Al Qaeda central, had criticised him for targeting Shias. But with Zarqawi on the one side and a sectarian Shia government on the other, Iraq plunged into a civil war between Shias and Sunnis.

Zarqawi was killed in an American strike in 2006, and his group was contained, partly by the U.S. “surge” and partly by the “Sunni awakening” under which tribes took up arms against Al Qaeda under the guidance of Washington and Baghdad. But this lull in violence did not solve Iraq’s fundamental problems, which would come back to haunt it in a few years.

The civil war

Cockburn identifies the two major problems that plunged Iraq back into crisis: the sectarianism of the Iraqi leadership and the Syrian civil war. In Syria, the crisis started when peaceful demonstrations broke out against the Assad regime in March 2011 in the wake of similar protests in other Arab countries such as Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The Syrian government’s response to the protests was brutal and hundreds of people were killed. The stand-off between the regime and its opponents soon turned into an armed civil strife in which outside powers also started interfering through their proxies, mainly driven by geopolitical reasons.


Syria is Iran’s strongest ally in the region. It is a vital link between Tehran and Hizbollah, the Lebanese Shia militia-cum-political movement. Besides, Syria also houses Russia’s only naval facility outside the former Soviet region —at Tartus. So taking Assad out of power would naturally weaken Iran and Russia, and the West and Saudi Arabia would obviously gain from this game. This was the broader geopolitical theme of the Syrian crisis. When the protests slipped into an armed conflict, the Saudis and their Gulf allies started pumping weapons and money into the hands of anti-Assad rebels. Jordan also joined the anti-Assad brigade by letting rebels operate a training camp from its territory. Turkey, which is repositioning itself as a dominant power in the Islamic world under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has kept its 800-kilometre-long border with Syria open to allow the rebels easy cross-border movement. The West also pitched in by imposing sanctions on the Assad regime and sending weapons to the “moderate” rebels.

On the other side, Iran and Russia stayed resolute in their support of the Assad regime. Russia continuously vetoed United Nations Security Council resolutions targeting Syria, while Iran sent money, men and weapons to Syria. Besides, Hizbollah was directly involved in the war, especially on the Syrian-Lebanese border, fighting alongside Assad’s army against the rebels. In effect, the Syrian civil war transformed into a regional war in which no one could claim total victory. Baghdadi found in this an opportunity and sent his men across the border to Syria to fight the government troops. They fought with Jabhat al Nusra, the official Al Qaeda wing in Syria, against the army and other rebels.

The Syrian opposition had hardly been united. The political face of the opposition in the early days of the crisis was the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood. But when the civil war started, the Free Syrian Army, a military group comprising anti-government fighters and Syrian troops that had defected, assumed prominence. Mostly, it was getting support from the West. Then there were Islamist groups that were getting direct help from the Saudis. The ISIS-al-Nusra combine emerged as the strongest force out of the disunited opposition groups, and most of the weapons that countries shipped into Syria for their proxies ended up in their hands. But the ISIS and Jabhat al Nusra also fell out, probably because of Baghdadi’s refusal to accept the Al Qaeda leadership.

As later developments would show, Baghdadi is more ambitious than Al Qaeda. “Al Qaeda is an idea rather than an organisation… whose adherents are self-recruited and can spring up anywhere,” writes Cockburn. But Baghdadi wanted to build a state, which he himself calls the Islamic State. After capturing the eastern Syrian city of Raqqa in 2013, the ISIS started expanding its influence back to Iraq, where the Sunni population was angry at and frustrated by the sectarian Shia government of Nouri al-Maliki.

U.S.’ strategic blunders


“A blind spot for the U.S. … has been their failure to see that by supporting the armed uprising in Syria, they would inevitably destabilise Iraq and provoke a new round of sectarian civil war…. ISIS has been able to exploit the growing sense of alienation and persecution among the Sunni in Iraq,” writes Cockburn. The U.S. war on Iraq had already shaken up its social equilibrium. Saddam’s Sunni-dominated Baath party ruled the Shia majority country for decades under a tight fist. But the post-Saddam elections saw the rise of Shias into political power. The Shia government, which cultivated very strong ties with neighbouring Iran, with whom Saddam’s regime had fought an eight-year war, did nothing to address the concerns of the Sunni community. Worst, the Iraqi government’s sectarian policies had driven Sunnis further away from the socio-political mainstream of the country, opening up space for radicalisation. Baghdadi made good use of this situation.

One of the U.S.’ greatest strategic blunders was the disbanding of Saddam’s Baathist army. Tens of thousands of skilled fighters and a number of generals, who became jobless in the wake of the U.S. invasion, found insurgency a good option to continue doing what they were trained to do—fighting. Some of them joined Al Qaeda-type organisations, while others formed tribal militias or Baathist paramilitary groups. These Sunni paramilitary groups and tribesmen such as “the Baathist Naqshbandi, Ansar al-Islam, and the Mujahideen Army” joined the ISIS in its war in Iraq. Together they won some support of the Sunni populations which were already alienated by the Shia government in Baghdad. It is in this context that the ISIS captured the Iraqi city of Falluja in January 2014. With this, it extended its influence from Raqqa in Syria to western Iraq, effectively erasing the border between the two countries. Falluja became the launch pad for the further attacks of the ISIS in Iraq. In five months, ISIS fighters were in Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city. The fall of Mosul marked the end of a “period starting in 2005 when the Shia tried to dominate Iraq, as the Sunni had done under Saddam Hussein and monarchy”.

Cockburn says the ISIS has established itself as a “terrifying state” which will “not easily disappear”. It has redrawn the map of West Asia and created a regional war theatre where multiple actors are involved. And still, the ISIS’ enemies are unable to find common ground. The divisions among those who fight the ISIS run deeper than those between the terrorist group and its enemies. For example, Saudi Arabia is part of the U.S.-led coalition against the ISIS. Iran is a major backer of the Iraqi government in its war on the ISIS. But the Saudis and the Iranians do not see eye to eye. The intricacies of the conflict are sometimes hard to comprehend not only for analysts but for the actors themselves. It is “a Middle Eastern version of the 30 years of war in Germany of the 17th century. All sides exaggerate their own strength and imagine that temporary success on the battlefield will open the way to total victory,” says Cockburn, putting the present crisis in a historical perspective.


He does not talk about any certain solutions to the crisis. Perhaps, there may not be any convincing solution. But he points out what went wrong, and all those responsible for today’s condition of the region. The interventionist policies of the Atlantic capitals, be it in the name of democracy, human rights or whatever, were disastrous for the region. The U.S.’ war on terror itself was problematic. In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attack in New York, the U.S. did not target the countries that were mostly closely involved, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. While most of the hijackers were Saudis, Pakistan was the sponsor of the Taliban, which was protecting Al Qaeda. Both countries were American allies. The Bush administration sidestepped these facts and went for a “global war on terrorism”, which backfired miserably. The U.S. failed to stabilise post-war Afghanistan, but it still went ahead with its attack on Iraq and pushed the country into anarchy and civil war. But no lessons were learnt. It went to Libya along with European allies to topple the Muammar Qaddafi regime. And then they worked together to destabilise the Assad regime in Syria through their cohorts in that country. And now the Taliban is on the comeback in Afghanistan and the ISIS is spreading from Syria to Iraq to Libya.

“There was always something fantastical about the U.S. and its Western allies teaming up with the theocratic Sunni absolute monarchies of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf to spread democracy and enhance human rights in Syria, Iraq and Libya…. ISIS is the child of war…. It was the U.S., Europe, and their regional allies in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and UAE that created conditions for the rise of ISIS,” writes Cockburn. But does anybody listen? Will the interventionists ever admit their mistake, even after seeing the tragedies they have caused to a people? Will there be a pragmatic common strategy to take on forces such as the ISIS? The contemporary history of West Asia says it is unlikely, given the imperialist ambitions of the big powers in the region and the geopolitical power struggle among regional actors.


Idea of inclusion-Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

Posted by admin On March - 5 - 2015 Comments Off


The book imparts a broad prescription for the drivers of contemporary Indian society and is a valuable tool for practitioners and students of sociology, social anthropology and political science. By VENKITESH RAMAKRISHNAN
Professor T.K. Oommen’s work as an Indian social scientist spans over five decades. He has addressed the Indian social reality in all its diversity. The complex historical processes that have contributed to the development of Indian society, its social and religious pluralism as well as its diverse stratifications based on caste, community, gender and class, along with society’s democratic demands and struggles for social and economic justice have all been reflected in the scores of books, monograms and reports he has authored.

If one were to try and summarise the key theme or concept of this multidimensional intellectual pursuit, it would have to be done by placing Oommen as a modernist and progressive Indian sociologist who has a clear understanding of the concept being Indian and the advancement of sociology, particularly Indian sociology, as a social science. Unlike many of his predecessors and peers, Oommen has sought to situate the idea of Indian sociology within the constitutional framework of the Indian Republic, the vision enshrined in the Constitution about the kind of society and citizenship that it wanted to evolve. In other words, the understanding in terms of the constitutional framework of what India should be and not as a perspective, which perceived India as a mere extension of past traditions and Indian sociology as something that was primarily based on this.

More specifically, he questioned the concept that sociological training in India is grounded in Sanskrit or any such language in which the traditions have been embodied as symbols and the argument that social research in India will be limited and deficient if it did not conform to these parameters. In advancing this distinct approach, Oommen also emphasised the relevance of having perspectives from below to “apprehending social reality in a hierarchical society”. Naturally, his own work encapsulates the varied perspectives from below.

Oommen’s latest book, Social Inclusion in Independent India: Dimensions and Approaches, marks a logical progression of this thematic approach. In fact, he states that the “idea of this book has been in the making for the last three decades”. However, he adds an important qualification in the very beginning of the book. This comes in the form of a categorisation of social inclusion in independent India and its dimensions and approaches and the assertion that its contents need to be perceived differently from other sociology-related treatises. Oommen points out that “Indian sociologists are accused by planners, administrators and even fellow social scientists of their disinclination to pursue research themes which are relevant to social policy” and goes on to add that “this book is conceived as a modest beginning to break this impasse”.

In the next 287 pages, he makes an attempt to “locate the causes of deprivations to which different excluded categories are subjected to” and also suggest and evolve some prescriptions that could be taken for their inclusion.

As in all his works, Oommen goes about his argument methodically, bringing together the micro and macro perspectives with nuanced objectivity. In terms of broad classification, Social Inclusion in Independent India is divided into 11 chapters, each dealing with a specific subject of exclusion or lack of inclusion. Starting with the overall colonial track record, this categorised discourse covers the plight of Dalits, Adivasis, the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), the religious and linguistic minorities, women, migrants (including refugees, outsiders, foreigners) with a special reference to north-eastern India, the poor and persons with disabilities. A wide range of data pertaining to each of these categories is marshalled while discussing each of them. These, along with the thematic projections, add value to the discourse.

Dealing with the specifics of each of these categories, Oommen points out that “inclusion is the buzzword in contemporary societies, and people from all walks of life—politics, business, academia and religion—advocate it, although they do not have a shared understanding of the meaning of inclusion”. The discussion in terms of each of the specific categories highlights these myriad understandings, which from time to time work against each other and against the real processes for inclusion. The importance of the detailed discussions in Social Inclusion in Independent India is that it seeks to address these varied perspectives and related themes in terms of the subject under consideration, the various approaches that are being advanced by various vested interests, and the modus operandi and methodologies they employ to advance their case and cause.

An example of this kind of detailed delineation of the multiple nuances and dimensions relating to inclusion is evident in Oommen’s discourse of gender and Dalit exclusion. The book specifically points out that factors such as patriarchy, heterogeneity and hierarchy cause multiple deprivations for a poor Muslim woman of Dalit background while an upper-caste Hindu woman would only face deprivation relating to patriarchy. Social Inclusion in Independent India underscores the need to carefully identify the parameters of exclusion in order to devise effective inclusion strategies.
It suggests that various forms of discrimination and marginalisation that continue to persist in large parts of contemporary India can be eradicated only by ensuring social, economic and political justice for the socially and educationally backward classes of citizens through the implementation of clearly defined, inclusive, growth policies and plans. Oommen also signifies the continuing relevance of affirmative action or positive discrimination in various sectors.

Beyond the specific India-related factors dictated by stratifications based on caste, community, gender and class, Social Inclusion in Independent India also addresses universal factors that have been decisive in terms of exclusion and inclusion. Oommen says the three moments crucial in this context are European colonialism, the Cold War and globalisation. Issues raised by the current context of globalisation are discussed in relation to each of the categories and also in terms of the solution which Oommen terms “towards a category specific social inclusion policy for India”. The detailing on this policy summation focusses on four points. “One, recognising and nurturing cultural diversity within the national state; two, institutionalising political pluralism; three, abandoning the centre-periphery distinction (both spatial and social); and four, de-legitimising caste hierarchy.”

Indeed, the formulation and the discourse that leads to it do impart a broad prescription to follow for the drivers of contemporary Indian society, particularly its political and administrative classes. But, on account of its methodological approach Social Inclusion in Independent India is also a valuable tool for practitioners and students of sociology, social anthropology and political science. Over and above all this, at the ideological level, the book underscores Oommen’s steady contention that “as a discipline, sociology should endorse, and its practitioners should internalise the value package contained in the Indian Constitution, the differing interpretation of these values notwithstanding”. The importance of a work like this is immense in the current juncture in Indian polity, when the constitutional framework is being challenged from different quarters and by varied vested interests, both within the established power structure and from ideological, political and organisational structures proximate to it.

China’s changing working class-Review by Charlie Hore

Posted by admin On February - 3 - 2015 Comments Off


Earlier this year, the South China Morning Post—the Hong Kong equivalent of the New York Times—ran an interview with Geoffrey Crothall of the China Labour Bulletin, which began by asking, “Why are we seeing an increased number of strikes and worker protests in China?”1 His answer is worth quoting at some length:

One of the key reasons is simply that strikes are much more visible. Just about every factory worker, especially in Guangdong, has a cheap smartphone and can post news about their strike and the response of management and the local government to it on social media and have that information circulate within a matter of minutes.

This enhanced visibility has also encouraged more workers to take strike action. They see workers from other factories or workplaces that are in exactly the same position as them taking strike action and they think, “We can do this too.”

And the fact that there are so many strikes means that workers have less to fear by staging protests, there is safety in numbers and in many cases, they have nothing to lose by going out on strike.

Younger workers, especially, have higher expectations and are no longer willing to tolerate the abuse and exploitation their parents had to endure. In the early days of China’s economic growth, workers from the countryside were lining up to get jobs in the cities; today there is a shortage of workers and as such, workers have greater bargaining power and they are better able to utilise that power effectively.


China rising
China’s rise as a major world economic, political, and military power is one of the defining features of the twenty-first century. Already the world’s second-largest economy, economists now argue about exactly when—not if—China will overtake the United States, an argument that would have been unthinkable even twenty years ago.2

One of the key drivers of that rise has been a fundamental transformation and reshaping of the Chinese working class. In the course of a generation, several hundred million former peasants have become urban workers, mostly in cities that grew up overnight, providing a seemingly bottomless well of labor for the exporting factories that have made China the new “workshop of the world.”

The particular nature of the new industries has meant that workforce has been made up of mainly young people, about a third of them women, though because jobs are heavily gendered, in some cities as many as 70 percent of migrants are women. Only about a third of migrant workers actually work in manufacturing, with the rest working mainly in construction, transport, as street traders, and providing “household and other services” (“other services” often being a euphemism for sex work).3 However, as the largest single occupational group, and the most prone to collective action, they are the group most often studied.

The unparalleled growth of the Chinese economy has been accompanied by a similar growth in migrant workers’ combativeness. In recent years, a number of strikes and protests have made headlines around the world—the 30,000 Yue Yuen footwear workers earlier this year,4 the coordinated strikes across the auto industry in 2010,5 and the Foxconn workers’ suicide protests.6 As the article quoted above makes clear, those are the tip of an iceberg.

In fact, since the late 1990s, migrant workers have fought numerous battles against attacks on them and (less often) for higher wages and better conditions, struggles that have been too little recorded outside specialist publications. It is telling that one of the authors reviewed here still felt it necessary to write in 2009 that “the stereotype of Chinese workers as passive victims of capitalist globalization and authoritarian government does not fit the reality of industrial relations in China.”7

However, over the same period, something like eighty million former workers in state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have lost their jobs in a massive restructuring of traditional industries that dwarfs anything seen in the West. Again, this has disproportionately impacted women, with almost two-thirds of the jobs lost being women’s, and women’s average urban wages falling to just 70 percent of men’s in 2000.8

Understanding the very contradictory nature of change and workers’ struggles in China is crucial for socialists, and the aim of this article is to review some of the recent literature on both workers and wider social movements in order to pick out some of the most useful titles to recommend.

The first book that everyone interested in this topic should read is a much older one though. Ching Kwan Lee’s Against the Law (Berkeley: University of California, 2007) is in many ways the foundation stone of modern China labor studies, and several of the books reviewed here see it as a key reference point. The British left academic Perry Anderson said of it, “Nothing like it has appeared since E. P. Thompson’s Making of the English Working Class”—possibly a slight exaggeration, but it gives some sense of the book’s scope.9

Ching wasn’t quite the founder of modern China labor studies—that honor probably belongs to the Australian writer Anita Chan—but Against the Law is the first full-scale study of the Chinese working class as a whole.10 The book contrasted what she described as the “rustbelt” of state-owned industries, mostly in central and northern China, with the “sunbelt” industries growing up in China’s South. But her focus was firmly on workers’ resistance, illustrated by example after example from her very detailed field research.

At the time, this was still mainly expressed as resistance to attacks on living standards, or atrocious working conditions—“defensive” rather than “offensive” struggles, or as she put it, “protests of desperation” and “protests against discrimination.” In showing workers as actors rather than simply victims, she highlighted the important victories that had been won, and brought to light some of the near-insurrectionary battles waged by state-sector workers following mass layoffs. Much has changed since the book was written, but it remains an inspiring and thought-provoking read.

Shenzhen—the heart of China’s “export miracle”
The first three books reviewed here are all academic studies of militancy and organization among migrant manufacturing workers in southern China, though with very distinct approaches. The Challenge of Labour in China is likely the most straightforward, being a study of workers’ experiences and resistance in Shenzhen, and in one factory in particular.

Shenzhen is in many ways an exemplar of the new China, having grown from a population of some 30,000 people to over eight million in under twenty-five years. As early as 1993–94 there was a wave of strikes among migrant workers for wage rises to cover inflation, but militancy thereafter declined as a new labor law gave workers legal remedies against mistreatment.

However, by 2004 the number of strikes surged again as workers discovered that the law gave them little real protection. Numbers are difficult to come by, but the author quotes an NGO worker as saying “at least half the workers she met had experiences of striking.” This increase in militancy coincided with, and may have been partly produced by, a shortage of labor that began in Shenzhen as early as 2003. This was a relative rather than absolute shortage, with growing numbers of peasants either staying in their villages as agricultural rates increased or going further north for better-paying jobs, but it left Shenzhen short of some 300,000 workers.

The response of the local authorities was to increase the minimum wage in 2005, and again in 2006—an increase of almost one-third in two years. A minimum-wage law was introduced in 1994, though Shenzhen’s local government had already introduced it the previous year. The theory is that the minimum wage reduces competition between employers for labor and slows down turnover as workers can’t leave for higher-paid jobs elsewhere. To what extent this works is unknown, but what is certain is that workers are very aware of minimum-wage rates.

Just how aware workers are was shown in July 2007, when the local government followed the provincial government in not increasing the minimum wage for that year. This was met by a new round of strikes, which forced the local government to backtrack and raise the minimum rates in October. Small wonder a businessman interviewed felt that “China is different from other countries. In the West, it is the rich people who influence politics and the government fears the rich. Now, in China, it is the rich who fear the government and the government fears the poor. The poor have a high potential to threaten social stability and social order.”

The following year, of course, the world economic crash hit, with some twenty to thirty million migrant workers in China losing their jobs as plants closed, and workers losing the advantages they had enjoyed over previous years.11 Chan’s research stops before the economic crash, so his picture is one of a working class growing in militancy and confidence, with the ability to coordinate stoppages in different plants of the same company.

However, this view is balanced by his finding that strikes left no lasting organization behind, and that strike leaders often lost their jobs following their return to work. High turnover and the effects of the hukou system (household registration that denies migrant workers the right to settle permanently in the cities) also contributed to the loss of momentum following strikes.

Chan’s account of the factory he studied is fascinating, fully alive to the contradictions of workers’ experience. He is clear-sighted about gender divisions, the role of supervisors and the minority of skilled workers in organizing strikes and protests, and the contradictory nature of place-of-origin association. These organizations of workers from the same village, county, or province are often how workers get jobs in the first instance, and they provide everyday support in workplaces and communities where workers speak various dialects or languages, have many customs, and eat very different foods.

But they can also turn into criminal gangs, as anyone who has seen “The Godfather” knows, and Chan shows both the negative effect they have in migrant workers’ communities and how they work with lower management inside the factory. But he rightly sees all of these as obstacles to the formation of class consciousness that can be overcome, and his account of the strike is inspiring: “For those participating in the protest, the overriding sensation was that it had been fun. ‘It was fantastic. Everyone came together for fun. Wow, all of us felt great!’ Xiao Lin said. The workers were especially thrilled when they heard a rumour that the mayor had gone to the control station to take command of the police in person.”

The ACFTU—fit for purpose?
In the first years of this century, workers gradually pushed back the limits of what was possible. Although there is still no legal right to strike in China, in practice strikes will be tolerated if they stay within acceptable limits—demands on the employer over wages or conditions. Any attempt to raise wider political questions, or to talk about independent unions, will attract repression.

And yet the frequency of strikes necessarily raises the question of permanent organization if workers are to defend the gains that they win during a strike. It is thus not surprising that groups of workers try to get around this by taking over or introducing the state-run union—the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). Both Tim Pringle’s Trade Unions in China and Eli Friedman’s Insurgency Trap look at whether this is a feasible strategy, though from quite different perspectives.

Trade Unions in China opens with two chapters on workplace organization and workplace militancy from the Maoist era until the early 2000s, including an account of the battles around redundancy terms and agreements among workers in state-owned enterprises, from a perspective quite close to that of this journal. In those battles the ACFTU was at best irrelevant and at worst part of the problem.

The ACFTU was, from 1949, an integral part of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatus of government and control, with no particular attempt to disguise this. For instance, from 1949 to 1951, CCP veteran Li Lisan was both minister of labor and chair of the ACFTU until he was fired from the union job for “economism.” Inside the individual workplace, the ACFTU was essentially a welfare organization, which worked together with the CCP and factory management as a transmission belt for the CCP’s key policies. But with the growth of private and foreign-owned or foreign-invested industry through the 1990s, ever greater numbers of workers fell outside this mechanism of control. The mass sackings in state-owned industry further weakened it, with membership dropping by sixteen million in just four years in the late 1990s.

The next chapter is an excellent (if too short) overview of migrant workers’ militancy, which extends past 2008 and so integrates the effects of the world economic crisis. Like Chan, Pringle demonstrates how the growing militancy was a conscious choice made by increasingly confident workers:

Whereas in the past a collective strike was, generally speaking, a last resort to be used only after other forms of redress had been exhausted, it is increasingly the case that workers take strike action as a more efficient alternative to formal and crowded dispute resolution procedures. In other words, they have become more militant.

At the center of the book are three very detailed examinations of particular initiatives by local ACFTU sections to make themselves more relevant to migrant workers. The most interesting one comes from the city of Yiwu in Zhejiang province, where the ACFTU set up a workers’ rights center that, on the evidence here, worked well at enforcing workers’ legal rights against recalcitrant employers. He concludes that “the YFTU [Yiwu Federation of Trade Unions] was able to make use of its status as essentially a government agency in order to exercise political and administrative leverage to persuade employers to back down.” The problem, of course, is that it was doing so on behalf of workers, but without doing anything to build workers’ confidence within the factories.

Pringle’s analysis is very even-handed, and both partisans and opponents of working with the ACFTU will find ammunition for their arguments. His conclusion, however, seems to suggest that in the short term workers have little alternative:

The general level of worker organisation is not at the stage of presenting an organised challenge to ACFTU’s monopoly on representation. Indeed militant workers are usually very keen to avoid such a dangerous challenge in favour of calling for the open election of worker representatives. As the case studies show, the ACFTU is capable of responding to militancy at the local level, where the challenge has been most acute, by developing structures and practices that by no means overcome the limitations of state-sponsored trade unions, but which provide building blocks for the future.

In the immediate, this is undeniable. The problem, of course, is precisely the future. If organization is to be sustained, at some point it has to go beyond sections in individual factories to linking up inside the same employer or same industry—at which point the ACFTU’s structures will necessarily be a block. The auto strikers of 2010, for instance, could not have used the ACFTU to make links among various plants. But for all we might disagree with some of the conclusions, this is an extremely well-researched and well-argued contribution to the literature, which assesses the ACFTU in terms of how well it can serve as a vehicle for worker militancy. Even if we don’t like all of the answers, this book asks the right questions.

China in revolt?
Eli Friedman is probably the best known of the authors reviewed here, from his 2012 article in Jacobin magazine, “China in Revolt,” in which he argued that “More than thirty years into the Communist Party’s project of market reform, China is undeniably the epicenter of global labor unrest.”12 Unfortunately, the book doesn’t fully deliver on what the article promised, essentially because of a shift of focus: he describes his primary aim as “not to describe the dynamics of worker resistance but rather to provide an analysis of how the state, through the auspices of the unions, is responding to this conflict.”

Similarly, the “insurgency trap” of the title refers not to workers being unable to go beyond revolt to workplace organization, but rather the state being unable to reach its goals because it won’t allow workplace organization. And the analysis is caught within a larger framework that sees one of the key problems as the “commodification” of labor—the fact that workers now simply receive wages, whereas under Mao the labor market disappeared, and workers’ needs were met through direct provision: “Wage labor was greatly reduced or eliminated, and markets, to provide for most human needs, disappeared or were tightly constrained. Although there was ongoing abject poverty during this period, to the extent that people’s needs were met, this occurred through nonmarketised mechanisms.”

This is conceptually problematic, to say the least, but it’s also factually wrong. While it is true that under Mao state-owned enterprises paid a substantial “social wage” in subsidized food and housing, as well as free education and health care, these were not enjoyed by all urban residents. And even state-owned enterprise workers were still paid money wages, which they mostly spent on food (when it was available).13 There were massive waves of strikes for higher wages in 1956–57, 1974, and 1986.14

We should pause for a minute on the phrase “to the extent that people’s needs were met.” Urban incomes doubled between 1978 and 1985, and again between 1992 and 1995.15 Although the rate of increase has slowed down since then, and the share of total output going to consumption has dropped since the 1990s, it is still the case that almost everyone in China has a much higher standard of living than they had in the mid-1970s.

I have started with what seems to me the essential weakness of Insurgency Trap, but there is much here that is useful: in particular, an extended account of one of the Honda strikes of 2010, and some remarks (more would have been useful) on the “dispatch” system of temporary labor introduced in 2008 and how this has affected workers’ ability to fight.

But much of what is useful comes when the evidence contradicts Friedman’s thesis. For instance, he spends six pages outlining the evolution of a collective agreement between the local ACFTU and eyeglass manufacturers in Rui’an city in Zhejiang province. “Faced with instability in employment relations, the union, government, and employers came together and through negotiation and compromise, reached an agreement on wage-level standards for the entire sector,” writes Friedman. “It was a true win-win-win for workers, the state and employers.” He then throws in a caveat that completely undermines this conclusion: “But on spending a bit more time in the field, I discovered there was just one problem: the contract was not being enforced.”

In several other cases, he details very innovative-sounding arrangements between union bureaucrats and either local government or employers, before speaking to workers who said they had never heard of them. He is also very good on the threat by employers that they will relocate inland in China, away from the militant coastal areas, pointing out that this will simply mean migrants being able to go home, but also positing: “It then becomes possible to imagine how workplace struggles could be linked up to community-based (reproductive) struggles over public education, social services, and usage of public space.”

If you already know something of the politics of migrant labor in China, this book will be very useful, but it does seem something of a missed opportunity. The Challenge of Labour in China and Trade Unions in China are excellent resources, which any socialist can learn from, and which I think would work particularly well read together. Insurgency Trap is more a book for specialists, the worthwhile research unfortunately tangled up in a very flawed conceptual framework.

Scattered sand
However good an academic book may be, authors are always under a certain pressure to make political judgements in forms acceptable to the academy. As the late Peter Sedgwick once famously noted:

This arises because the considerable time and energy spent in writing them may have to be justified to departmental colleagues or seniors, and their names may well be included in a list of published works submitted in application for a research grant or a job. (How do I know? Guess.) Titles like Smashing Capitalism or Sukarno: The Last Betrayal are therefore out. (In view of current vogues, however, such variants as Smashing Capitalism: Towards a Conspectus of the Consensus or Bargaining and Betrayal in Elite Formation: Some Indonesian Instances might well be considered.)16

Hsiao-hung Pai, the author of Scattered Sand, is under no such constraint. A socialist journalist, she is an activist writing for activists, and aiming to give readers a sense of the contradictory lives of migrant workers. When I interviewed her on her book’s publication, she told me how she came up with the title: “I used these words because I heard a lot of migrant workers using them, talking about their own movement into the cities—a spontaneous and unorganised movement. They say we’re like the scattered sands: disunited.”17

She has a chapter on factory workers in Guangdong that echoes the other books reviewed above in discussing the growing militancy and spread of strikes, with accounts of the Honda strikes and several others. And she makes the important point that the labor shortages that employers are experiencing are not just demographic: “This labor shortage certainly partly reflects the growth of labor militancy as well. Many second-generation migrant workers have become increasingly reluctant to take up the lowest-paid jobs. Although workers’ gains are a small drop in the ocean of China’s low wages and poor working conditions, they have undoubtedly set a precedent for fighting those abuses.”

In widening her focus beyond Guangdong, though, she gives some sense of the depth and breadth of that ocean. We meet—all too briefly—miners working in illegal private mines in Shanxi, workers in brick kilns on the outskirts of Tianjin, and earthquake refugees in a Sichuan labor market. All are angry at what’s being done to them, even if they don’t know how to fight back. One old man in the Sichuan labor market launches into an impassioned tirade:

Rulers in China know about the poser of those from the countryside . . . China’s history is all about how the peasantry has been burdened and oppressed, and how each time they rose up to overthrow those in power. . . . We peasants brought the Party into power. Without the power of the peasantry, China wouldn’t have defeated the imperialists and the corrupt Kuomindang. . . . But once they came into power, we became burdened and exploited again!

His speech is unusual in that it indirectly attacks the central government, when the anger of most migrants is centered on local officials. Pai shows how they are closely tied to the “illegal” industrial operations, and gives example after example of them demanding bribes and illegal fees.

She also takes stock of migration outside China, both legal and undocumented. One company alone has sent more than four million workers abroad, but many more have travelled illegally. In one of the most moving chapters, she recounts a migrant’s attempts to reach first the United States and then Britain, a man whom she met researching her first book Chinese Whispers—the True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labour.18

Chinese Whispers was inspired by and centered on one of Britain’s worst industrial tragedies for decades—the drowning of twenty-three Chinese cockle-pickers in Morecambe Bay in 2004. Cockle-pickers walk miles out onto exposed sands at low tides to gather the shellfish, and it’s an extremely dangerous job if you know the land and the tides. For a group of Chinese migrant workers, who were left to work without supervision at a time when most other companies had withdrawn their workers because the conditions were too dangerous, it was a death trap. One body was never recovered, and one woman, believed to be from Shandong province, was never identified.

That international dimension is a very useful addition to her picture of the migrant experience, as are her accounts of the connections between racism and migration in Western China. Xinjiang province, where the book ends, has a majority Muslim population that is being shut out from the current economic boom:

Peasants have been recruited from all over China, in particular from neighboring provinces, to work in the coal mines and oil fields, which are estimated to be twice as large as those in Saudi Arabia. . . . But Xinjiang’s oil industry is completely run by Han Chinese: the China national Petroleum Company recruited most of its workers from outside the province . . . and brought in Han Chinese migrant workers to construct a $14 billion pipeline that links the region’s natural gas fields to Shanghai.

It’s a sombre conclusion to an enthralling book, which shows both the possibilities of migrants organizing collectively to fight for better conditions and also the huge constraints that face them. That downbeat message is shared by all of the books reviewed here; though they have quite different views about how China’s migrant working class is likely to develop, none disagree with the conclusion drawn by Ching Kwan Lee in her pioneering study: “To date, however, workers’ insurgent consciousness exceeds their insurgent capacity. That is, their insurgent identities seem to project a universalistic and inclusive group boundary, yet labor mobilization remains mostly cellular, localized, and fragmented.”19

It’s thus hardly surprising that most of the authors reviewed should focus on the question of organization, and on the ACFTU, because going beyond that fragmentation requires some form of collective organization, and the ACFTU is the only form that the CCP will allow. The big question is of course whether the ACFTU can, at any level, be made fit for that purpose.

For the moment, both workers and the government seem caught in the ‘insurgency trap’—workers can win concessions by striking and demonstrating, but then see those eroded; while the government can neither suppress workers’ insurgency nor offer a secure enough future that it will die away. But it is important to see this dynamically rather than statically: for the last twenty years, it is workers who have taken the initiative in changing their lives, and the government that has had to respond to changing expectations. The end of the “bottomless well” of fresh migrants has given workers an additional edge in winning concessions from employers, and the wildfire spread of social media means that this generation has a far greater understanding of the world around them than their parents did.

Most importantly, the rise in workers’ activity is part of a wider increase in protest across Chinese society as a whole. The different local actions and movements do not automatically align, or even sympathize with each other, but taken together they represent a real constraint on what the Chinese government can do. Twenty-first-century capitalism is in large part defined by the fact that the most dynamic economic power on the planet is also the one that fears its own population most. The books reviewed here—Against the Law and Scattered Sand in particular—are necessary reading for anyone who wants to understand how we got here and make sense of whatever comes next.

Patrick Boehler, “Q&A: Strikes Peak in China with New Generation of Interconnected Blue-Collar Workers,” South China Morning Post, August 13, 2014.
See for instance Michael Schuman, “China Could Overtake the U.S. as the World’s No. 1 Economy This Year,” Time, April 30, 2014.
The China Labour Bulletin has a useful set of figures here: “Migrant Workers and Their Children,” June 27, 2014, http://www.clb.org.hk/en/content/migrant-workers-and-their-children. Yan Hairong, New Masters, New Servants: Migration, Development, and Women Workers in China (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008) is a detailed study of domestic workers in China, and Tiantian Zheng, Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009) uses research among karaoke bar workers in north China to reveal how the sex industry works.
William Hurst, “Chinese Factory Strike Portends Global Workplace Change,” Al-Jazeera America, April 28, 2014.
“Auto Industry Strikes in China,” Auto Industry Notes, October 28, 2010, http://insurgentnotes.com/2010/10/auto-industry-strikes-in-china/.
David Barboza, “Foxconn Resolves a Dispute with Some Workers in China,” New York Times, January 12, 2012.
Pringle, Trade Unions in China, 8.
Au Loong Yu, China’s Rise: Strength and Fragility (London: Merlin Press, 2013), 145.
Perry Anderson, “Sinomania,” London Review of Books 32, no. 2 (January 28, 2010).
See for instance China’s Workers Under Assault—the Exploitation of Labor in a Globalizing Economy (Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 2001).
Pringle, Trade Unions in China, 93 gives a figure of “up to 26 million.”
Eli Friedman, “China in Revolt,” Jacobin, no. 7–8, https://www.jacobinmag.com/2012/08/china….
One detailed study estimated that in 1983 the average “social wage” was 1,000 yuan, compared to the average cash wage of 865 yuan, so even taking the most rigorous definition of “subsidy,” cash wages amounted to 45 percent of the total wage. Nicholas Lardy, “Consumption and Living Standards in China, 1978–83,” China Quarterly no. 100 (December 1984). Thanks to Bill Crane for supplying a copy.
The strikes are covered in detail in Jackie Sheehan, Chinese Workers: A New History (London: Routledge, 1998).
Elizabeth Croll, China’s New Consumers: Social Development and Domestic Demand (London: Routledge, 2006), 33.
Peter Sedgwick, “Thoughts in a Dry Season,” International Socialism (1st series), no. 31 (Winter 1967–68): https://www.marxists.org/archive/sedgwick/1967/xx/thoughts.htm.
Sally Kincaid, Charlie Hore, and Hsiao-Hung Pai, “China’s Scattered Migrants,” Socialist Review, December 2012.
Hsiao-Hung Pai, Chinese Whispers—the True Story Behind Britain’s Hidden Army of Labour ([CITY]: Penguin Books, 2008).
Lee, Against the Law, 239.


Islamic Philosophy I:Past and Present Conditions for Existence and Difference -Mohammed Hashas

Posted by admin On October - 10 - 2014 Comments Off


Classical Islamic philosophy has broadly been a philosophy of reconciliation between reason and revelation. It has tried to differentiate itself from Greek – and now Western philosophy – but it does not seem to have established some other norm than reason as the key to philosophy. Even what is called rational theology, theosophy, and Sufism have all used reason to empower revelation. Yet, some voices of contemporary Islamic philosophy – very few in fact – are trying to re-ground philosophy and its practice, by making ethics, and not reason, the essence of man and philosophy.
These reflections were in mind before three questions were raised recently by two scholars in Columbia University in the US. The Iranian-American international scholar Hamid Dabashi formed a question as follows: “Can non-Europeans think?” (15 January 2013, here). This was a reply, and not only so, to an earlier praise about the renowned Slavoj Zizek, in which Santiago Zabala, a research professor of philosophy at the University of Barcelona, cites philosophers from the West, China, and Brazil, and none from the broad Arab-Islamic world (here). On 12 June 2014, Hasan Azad, a young Columbia University scholar, referred to the article in his “Why are there no Muslim philosophers?” (here). In the piece he borrowed the terms “house Muslims” and “field Muslims” from Malcom X, which created an academic discussion on such a borrowing of the terms and their relevance, in Sociology of Islam Portland University mailing list. In this article, the author leaves the question open, after having claimed that “the Islamic intellectual tradition has had a long history of reading things against the grain,” by stating “I submit this is a question that will trouble some of the best minds for many years to come.” Already here, then, one notices that he implies that there “are” Muslim philosophers. But what kind of philosophers are they? This he clarifies in a follow-up question that came out on 29 June 2014 as “What is philosophy? Or is all of life but a metaphor?” (here). At the end, the author includes mysticism as a philosophical tradition, hence giving space for a large part of Islamic intellectual productions known worldwide as philosophic.  

This piece is not a direct reply to these questions but further reflections on them, with insights from the socio-intellectual history of the Islamic tradition as I understand it at this point of time and space. The point to be presented here is that philosophical questions are historical and contextual, though they appear highly abstract to be so. Various conditions impact the little details that raise questions into abstraction. By implication this means that the essence of philosophy is difference, and not agreement, categorized imagination and rationalized intuition, and not mere reason. Someone says that when two philosophers agree, one of them is not a philosopher!

Classical Islamic philosophy has broadly been a philosophy of reconciliation between reason and revelation. It has tried to differentiate itself from Greek – and now Western philosophy – but it does not seem to have established some other norm than reason as the key to philosophy. Even what is called rational theology, theosophy, and Sufism have all used reason to empower revelation. Yet, some voices of contemporary Islamic philosophy – very few in fact -  are trying to re-ground philosophy and its practice, by making ethics, and not reason, the essence of man and philosophy. This view will be presented gradually into three complementary pieces and steps (Islamic Philosophy I, II, III).

The various questions raised above are not new, but their relevance remains so. Historians of ideas and scholars of Islam, be they Muslim or not, have long debated whether Islamic theology (‘ilm al kalam), for example, is part of the philosophical tradition or not. Some call it “rational theology” to avoid calling it “philosophy,” so as to find space for theologians-philosophers like al-Ghazali or Ibn Taymiyya, who used Aristotelian logic and tried to overcome it in their theological-philosophical arguments. Some use the title philosophers only for figures that were substantially influenced by Greek philosophy, like al-Kindi, al-Farabi, and Ibn Roshd. Other figures like Ibn Arabi, al-Rumi, and al-Shahrawardi are often called “theosophists” because they are troublesome figures. As to Ibn Hazm, Ibn Tufayl and Ibn Bajja, they are considered the pioneering rationalists of the Maghreb and Muslim Spain, the efforts of which culminated in the work of Ibn Roshd, considered by some the most rationalist of all (as the contemporary Mohamed Abed Aljabri positions him), and by others the most mimetic of Aritotle of all (as the medievalist Ibn Sab‘in and the contemporary Taha Abderrahmane position him). Ibn Khaldun, considered the last Muslim philosopher of medieval Islam, is, for some, difficult to position because he worked as a judge, developed historiography and sociology disciplines, and ended in being an isolated Sufi.

Classical Muslim scholars were encyclopedic, or polymath. Most of them saw continuity and complementarity among the sciences and this-and-other worlds. One of them could be a physician, a mathematician, a Sufi, a linguist, and also a judge at the same time. Their understanding of sharia and its prescriptions, and life and its objectives, were not antagonistic entities. This coincided with a time when the Islamic Empires were world-dominant, which meant a strong army, and a strong economy – at least for some periods of time, to avoid essentializing and reducing Islamic history as if it were ideal and uniformist. Such socio-political conditions influenced the intellectual one. There was then no need to enter a differentiation or separation paradigm (like ulema vs. state, or reason vs. science). Even the most rationalist scholars of the Mu’tazila who might have developed such a differentiation paradigm in the Islamic worldview did not manage because the socio-political conditions were against them; they failed terribly; the fact that they were rationalist did not make them democrats or liberal in our modern understanding; however, if they dominated socio-politically, they could have become so with time – as “non-Muslim” scholars of Islam like Montgomery Watt and George Hourani observe.

The classical figures cited above, and many others, practiced philosophy according to their understanding of their tradition, at the center of which stood the religion of Islam. So, why should they not be considered philosophers? Should they reject theology – which in the Islamic tradition deals also with mundane issues like justice and ethics and not only with the divine attributes of God as is the case with Christian theology? Putting theological as well as mystic productions outside the orbit of classical Islamic philosophy is mutilating it, and depriving it of two major characteristics: its originality and its difference.

To theology and mysticism has to be added a very important science in the Islamic tradition: ‘ilm usul al fiqh, or the science of the sources of fiqh, which is not law but theories of law and jurisprudence. This science is among the most rationalist and abstract of the various sciences the Islamic tradition developed. Similar observations apply to Arabic language canonization, which was very much influenced by the Islamic worldview and the study of usul al fiqh.  Similar notes apply to the science of Quran interpretation (‘ilm tafsir al Qur’an), and the science of Hadith (‘ilm al hadith).

These sciences were impacted by sharia worldview; each developed its own rational method; and they did not need to break away with the divine to be rational. If rational methods are enough to call a tradition philosophic, I see no reason why not doing so! Should rational methods be identical to be called so? Would not that (mimicry) imply that maybe they are mimetic of each other, or that one dominates the other? Where is difference in philosophy in all this? Is not difference the way to search for Sophia and Truth? Or has philosophy become nationalized, racialized, appropriated and centrist? Only nationalist, racist, and centrist philosophers can make it so with the type of questions they raise.

As to the modern (since 1789) and contemporary (since 1960s) Muslim scholars, they have a different challenge. If their ancestors (al qudama or assalaf) enjoyed socio-economic and political conditions that broadly allowed their intellectual growth in particular and limited periods of time, the modern and contemporary Muslim scholars (al muhdathun or al khalaf) are deprived of these enjoys or conditions. Their societies have degraded into illiterate and little cultured ones for the last one thousand years; worse of all, they have fallen under European colonial powers for the last two centuries, and experienced dictatorial regimes for the last fifty years or so. Their current status quo (or the disappointing “Arab Spring”) does not augur well for the near future, unless it is looked at optimistically as a process, a labour period for socio-cultural and political “clarifications,” for a better future!

Philosophy reflects the context of the philosopher, however abstract s/he may be.  When space (geography) is colonized either by foreign powers or tyrant locals, and the time is neither traditional nor modern, scholarship cannot be but an expression of such a condition. Succinctly, contemporary Muslim scholars face three major sovereignties that block their intellectual energies: 1) the local dictatorial regimes, 2) the local traditional religious scholarship that refuses change and cultural renewal, and 3) the outside hegemonic powers that benefit from such a condition economically and culturally. This actually makes these scholars the true saviors of the dilapidated Islamic world, because they know the tradition, its strength and its weaknesses, and know the dominant West, its strength and its weaknesses. They are the philosophers of their people and their time, before they are mere philosophers. Mere philosophy is nonsense or simply non-existent; thinking for the sake of thinking is useless, especially at a globalized age when the powerful further weakens the weak, the rich further impoverishes the poor, and the cultured dominates the ignorant. Philosophy raises big questions to reach up to the small problems. Existential questions are still very relevant, but they no longer start at the global level, because the global is tainted, appropriated by the powerful; so, philosophy has to start now locally, to empower the local so that they can be able to exist and raise existential questions. Maybe there was no time in which philosophy was needed more than today, the modern globalized world. It is now that local cultures and philosophies are needed to save man and philosophy as well.  “Different philosophy” – to call it so, not to mean necessarily “resistant philosophy” – seems a must for a serious understanding of what man wants, how he should want this, and for what reason(s) or why!

Islamic societies now still live in the modern world with hybrid lenses that think through the past to catch up with the present, a present it has not contributed to, a fact which confuses its original worldview as experienced in the classical medieval (enlightened) period. They are resisting. They might be the societies that have resisted most Western modernity, at least culturally, and less so economically and politically. A culture of resistance has grown up to replace both the classical sharia model, with its diversity, and the modern model of the West. The three sovereign “blockers” of change – the three powers mentioned above – have brought about such a culture of resistance. I think that only contemporary scholars that have developed various and rich projects since the 1960s are able to unknot this dilemma and end such a culture of resistance with a culture of opening, solidarity and contribution, and not only resistance. The Islamic Left of Hassan Hanafi and Islamic liberation theology of Farid Essack may be inspiring, with updates and revisions.

Overall, what this means is that philosophies differ. They are meant to differ. They reflect the socio-political conditions of philosophers. Their abstraction aims at problematizing the small issues they start grappling with; their abstraction aims at capturing the past and the future, henceforth their aspiration for universality, which they capture minimally or maximally. It is nonsense to expect, for example, scholars in the Arab world to debate exactly similar issues as those debated by scholars in the Euro-American world; the historical periods they deal with are different; borrowing and exchange can help in mutual understanding and share the search for solutions for global issues, but that does not require them to be based on the same grounds.

There is Islamic philosophy and there are Muslim philosophers. Until now, there is no escape from the label “Islamic” in Islamic philosophy; the current historical period still requires it, and both philosophers and their people do not want to, or are unable to, avoid it for now. It is their title of difference, existence and resistance; and they have that right. Some of these philosophers have more prominence in the West than others; some of them are not known at all, or hardly known, even in Islamic studies departments; some of them are read only as scholars, reformists, progressists, or as theologians; and are not labeled philosophers. Some of them are specialized in Western philosophy, but they are hardly read or quoted by Western scholars working on the same philosophy. Some of them have developed clear and modern methodologies of reading the Islamic tradition or have developed critiques of Western modernity, but they are often read only by scholars of Islam in Islamic studies departments or Asian studies departments, and alike departments, and are hardly studied in modern philosophy departments. This is no wonder since only few works are available, for example, of the contemporary philosophers. Even scholars that are over-consumed, like Mohamed Abed Aljabri, Mohamed Arkoun, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd or Hassan Hanafi, are only minimally translated in English. Added to this, the new methodologies developed by these scholars are hardly translated into methods of research in the social sciences. Sociological and anthropological scholars of Islam writing in English or French, for instance, still use frameworks of Western scholars in the field in their study of Muslim societies and minorities; they are unable to develop sociological apparatuses based on contemporary Muslim reformists, basically because they do not have access to their full works in the languages they command, or simply because they is no intellectual will to take that step. As to classical Islamic philosophy, the works devoted to it can be listed, and mostly include the interesting endeavours of Henry Corbin, Montgommery Watt, Majid Fakhry, Seyyed Hussein Nasr, Hamid Dabashi, Oliver Leaman, besides some others like Jon McGinnis and David Reisman, Peter Adamson and Richard C. Taylor, and Roy Jackson.   

To say the least here, Islamic philosophy should neither be considered identical to nor alien to Greek or modern Western philosophy, since such presuppositions deprive it of the right to exist and the right to difference, if it opts for difference. First, it has established itself as an independent tradition for fifteen centuries, despite the controversies about what is and what is not philosophic in it. It has contributed to philosophy debates in both cases. Second, the socio-political and intellectual conditions that contributed to the flourishing of early Islamic philosophy are different from the current ones. It is erroneous to essentialize it or expect it to either abide by norms of a different (and dominant) philosophy. It is not philosophic to expect such a thing. The classical search for truth, and now the modern search for liberty and justice should be the norms, and not mere “intellectual judo.” Re-grounding philosophy seems a must for all traditions, for common survival, and for diversity.


Image: the philosopher Ibn Rushd
–by Mohammed Hashas, LUISS University of Rome

Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2014 Comments Off


National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 484
Posted September 16, 2014

For more information contact:
202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu
Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution
By Richard Whittle
(Henry Holt and Company, September 16, 2014)
Buy Now


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Praise for Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution by Richard Whittle:
“Endlessly interesting and full of implication… There’s plenty of geekery befitting a Tom Clancy novel to keep readers entertained… Whittle’s account comes to a pointed conclusion: drone technology has already changed how we die, but what remains to be seen is how it ‘may change the way people live.’”

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Engrossing… [An] impressively researched, thought-provoking history.”

—Publishers Weekly
“Fascinating both as military history and as a look inside a hot contemporary social issue.”

“A brilliant and detailed account of the growing pains of the weapons system of the future. Whittle fully captures the political struggle that almost downed the nascent Predator program.”

—Richard A. Clarke, former National Security Council counter-terrorism director and author of Against All Enemies
“Richard Whittle has delivered what will surely be the definitive history of how the United States came to arm its drones. Both deeply reported and very well written, Predator joins a very short list of books about the future of warfare that will engage any audience, from the specialist to the general reader.”

—Peter Bergen, author of Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden from 9/11 to Abbottabad
“Predator is a must-read. Love it or hate it, the armed drone represented a transformation in military technology. Like every revolution, this one had a colorful cast of characters, and Whittle tells their story with the insight and authority of a veteran military journalist, drawing on inside sources in the Air Force, the CIA and defense industry. This book should be on the shelf of anyone who wants to understand military power in the 21st century.”

—David Ignatius, columnist for The Washington Post and author of The Director
“All future attempts to understand the how and why of the drone era’s beginnings, and the crucial personalities, disagreements, and decisions that shaped this technology, will be built on Richard Whittle’s authoritative and original account. Predator tells the story of the real people whose insights, biases, and experience changed the realities of modern warfare.”

—James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly and author of National Defense
Washington, DC, September 16, 2014 – The Predator drone, though best known as the CIA’s primary weapon in the war against Al Qaeda, was merely an unarmed, remote-control intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft when the Defense Department first bought it in 1994. As detailed in Richard Whittle’s Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution (Henry Holt and Company, September 16, 2014), the Predator’s configuration was derived from drones developed in the 1980s by former Israeli aeronautical engineer Abraham Karem. Documents obtained by Whittle and posted today by the National Security Archive at George Washington University, www.nsarchive.org, confirm key facts about the Predator’s transformation by the Air Force into the first armed drone used to stalk and kill individual enemies by remote control at intercontinental range.


This Air Force demonstration video includes a variety of views of Predators taking off and landing, a glimpse inside a ground control station, and scenes from actual combat Hellfire shots, though where they were taken is unidentified.


Document 1: Defense Department, Memorandum from John M. Deutch, “Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), July 12, 1993

Source: DOD response to FOIA request by Richard Whittle

In early 1993, President Bill Clinton complained that neither the U.S. military nor the intelligence community could find Serb artillery being used to bombard Bosnian civilians in Sarajevo. CIA Director James Woolsey decided his agency should acquire a reconnaissance drone to solve the problem and the CIA soon bought two Gnat 750 unmanned aerial vehicles from San Diego-area company General Atomics. After consulting with Woolsey, Undersecretary of Defense John M. Deutch took a similar step on July 12, 1993, creating a program to develop a drone for the military in the same class as the Gnat 750 but with greater capabilities. Deutch stipulated that this Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle must be able to fly 500 miles from its launch point, stay over a target area at least 24 hours at altitudes of 15,000 to 25,000 feet, carry 400-500 pounds of sensors, and transmit imagery while being flown via satellite. What became known as the “Deutch Memo” outlines in detail why Deutch believed such a drone was needed and how urgently he wanted the aircraft delivered.
A photo taken September 12, 2001, shows the double wide trailer on the CIA campus in Langley, Va., from where the Air Force team piloted the Predator over Afghanistan. (Photo: Google Earth)Document 2: Office of the Secretary of Defense, Memorandum from William J. Perry, “Assignment of Service Lead for Operation of the Predator Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV),” April 9, 1996

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by a Predator program participant

Many pilots in the Air Force disdained unmanned aerial vehicles, but the fighter pilot who was that service’s chief of staff from 1994-97, General Ronald Fogleman, set out to wrest control of the Predator away from the Army and Navy and secure it for the Air Force. Fogleman saw a worrisome gap looming in the nation’s ability to conduct airborne reconnaissance — using aircraft, as opposed to satellites, to gather intelligence from above. Fogleman thought the Army was the wrong service to fly and manage UAVs. He also remembered the abysmal history of an artillery-spotting drone called Aquila, which Congress cancelled in 1988 after the Army had spent 14 years and $1.2 billion on the project without making the Aquila fly properly. Fogleman scored his first bureaucratic victory when Defense Secretary William J. Perry signed a memo making the Air Force the lead service for the Predator.


Document 3: Office of the Air Force Chief of Staff, Memorandum from Col. James G. Clark, “Predator,” April 28, 1997

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret) James G. Clark

On September 2, 1996, the Air Force’s 11th Reconnaissance Squadron took over Predator operations from the Army, which had been flying the drone over Bosnia by remote control from Taszar, Hungary, since March 14 of that year. One day short of a month after the Air Force assumed control, one of the three Air Force pilots at Taszar crashed one of the three Predators based there. Over the next three months, Fogleman received a stream of complaints about the Predator from Army leaders in charge of enforcing the Dayton Accords that ended the war in Bosnia. On January 29, 1997, the vice chief of staff of the Army, General Ronald Griffith, even sent a “message to the field” saying Predator support to the 1st Armored Division was “less than satisfactory” in Bosnia. Army commanders said the Predator wasn’t in the air often enough to do them much good. The Air Force’s Air Combat Command claimed weather was the problem and recommended the Predator unit simply be brought home for the winter and sent back in summer. Others suggested that the pilots the Air Force had assigned to fly the Predator just weren’t very good. Fogleman sent a team of officers to investigate under Colonel James G. “Snake” Clark, whose April 28, 1997, report said the Army might be trying to regain control of the Predator from the Air Force.


Document 4: Office of the Air Force Chief of Staff, Talking Points, “Talking Paper on Predator,” April 28, 1997

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret.) James G. Clark

This attachment to Clark’s report to Fogleman (Document 3) summarizes key points of discussion regarding problems with the Predator program and offers recommendations.

Inspired by the advent of GPS and his desire to help NATO deter a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, Neal Blue decided General Atomics should develop a kamikaze drone. Displayed at a 1988 air show before the company abandoned it and hired bankrupt Abe Karem, this “poor man’s cruise missile” was the first Predator. (Photo courtesy of William Sadler)Document 5: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Memorandum from Jacques S. Gansler, “Initiation of the Transfer of the Predator Program Office from the Navy to the Air Force,” April 15, 1997

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by a program participant

Fogleman’s campaign to win total control of the Predator for the Air Force succeeded later in 1997, when Congress directed in the Fiscal 1998 Defense Authorization Act that Navy authority to manage the drone be transferred to the Air Force. Separately, House Intelligence Committee report language accompanying the Fiscal 1998 Intelligence Authorization Act directed the Air Force to designate the 645th Aeronautical Systems Group, an obscure rapid procurement unit known as “Big Safari,” as the Predator’s System Program Office. The report language, inserted by Representative Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.), said the House committee “has been keenly interested in the rapid, flexible, and innovative acquisition approaches that hallmark Big Safari.” On April 15, 1998, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, Jacques S. Gansler, officially directed the transfer of the Predator program from the Navy to Big Safari.


Document 6: Headquarters USAFE, Special Order GD-09, [Creating the 32nd Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron], January 16, 2001

Source: Public record obtained by Richard Whittle

In September 2000, an Air Force unit began flying an unarmed Predator over Afghanistan for the CIA in an attempt to locate Osama bin Laden, who had been in hiding since August 7, 1998, when Al Qaeda suicide bombers attacked the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The ad hoc Air Force unit — officially the 32nd Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron — controlled the Predator by satellite from a ground control station parked at Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany, headquarters of United States Air Forces Europe (USAFE). Commanded by USAFE’s intelligence director, Colonel Edward J. Boyle, and under the operational direction of Major Mark A. Cooter, the unit spotted and videotaped bin Laden at least twice. To preserve secrecy, the squadron was formed by verbal rather than written orders, which were issued retroactively.


Document 7: Headquarters Air Combat Command, Cable, “RQ-1, Predator, Program Direction,” May 1, 2000

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Air Force Col. Sean Frisbee

Contrary to reports that the CIA armed the Predator and the Air Force followed, the decision to put Hellfire missiles on the drone was made by Air Force General John P. Jumper, commander of Air Combat Command. Jumper announced his decision to arm the Predator on May 1, 2000, nearly two months before CIA Director George Tenet agreed to a plan to fly an unarmed Predator over Afghanistan in search of Osama bin Laden. Initially, Jumper’s plan to arm the Predator had nothing to do with the CIA or the U.S. shadow war with Al Qaeda that was going on at the time. Frustrated by difficulties Allied pilots had in finding and hitting mobile targets during the 1999 NATO air war in Kosovo, Jumper simply wanted to provide a weapon to attack “fleeting targets.” The Predator had been used to find targets in Kosovo; Jumper said arming the drone was simply “the next logical step.”

Special operations helicopter pilot and lifelong computer geek Captain Scott Swanson became Big Safari’s first Predator pilot. Swanson was at the drone’s controls when the Predator’s cameras spotted Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in September 2000. (Photo courtesy of Scott Swanson)Document 8: Department of the Air Force, E-mails, “Predator Weaponization and INF Treaty,” September 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

Jumper’s project to arm the Predator with Hellfire missiles ran into two early roadblocks. The first, obtaining congressional approval for a “new start” program not previously approved in defense appropriations, was easily overcome. The second, a State Department general counsel’s opinion that an armed Predator would constitute a ground-launched cruise missile banned by the U.S.-Soviet Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty of 1987, generated alarm within the Air Force. On Sept. 8, 2000, Col. James G. “Snake” Clark, whose 1997 report (Document 3) on Predator operations had helped the Air Force win total control of the program, forwarded to Lt. Gen. William Begert, assistant vice chief of staff, an e-mail from another officer warning that, if allowed to prevail, the State Department ruling would be a “serious setback” for the future of the Predator and Air Force plans to develop a UCAV, or unmanned combat aerial vehicle. “Sir we need help!” Clark told Begert, advising that the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff would have to get involved to reverse the State Department’s treaty concern. These documents, redacted by Air Force Public Affairs to withhold the name of the lower-ranking officer who sent the initial message, is an e-mail chain Clark forwarded to his deputy, Lt. Col. Kenneth Johns.


Document 9: Department of the Air Force, E-mails, “Predator Weaponization,” September 21-26, 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

An email chain that begins Sept. 21, 2000, includes a message from General Jumper to the Air Force chief of staff, General Mike Ryan, arguing that the State Department opinion that arming the Predator would violate the INF Treaty should not be allowed “to stand or to ripen.” Ryan agrees and thanks Jumper for volunteering to be “Your Junk Yard Dog” on the issue.


Document 10: Office of the Under Secretary of Defense, Memorandum from Jacques S. Gansler, “Compliance Certification of Predator Tests and the DARPA/USAF X-45A,” December 21, 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

On December 21, 2000, Undersecretary of Defense Jacques Gansler notified the secretary of the Air Force and the director of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) that both the Air Force project to arm the Predator and a joint Air Force-DARPA project to demonstrate the technologies needed to develop an armed unmanned combat aerial vehicle, the X-45A, had been deemed permissible under the INF Treaty and other arms limitations pacts. Written justifications for the decisions remain classified. Whittle reports in Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution, that the decision was reached after Richard Clarke of the National Security Council staff intervened. Clarke, who had been deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence when the INF treaty was negotiated and served as assistant secretary of state for politico-military affairs before going to the NSC, pointed out that, by definition, a cruise missile had a warhead and the Predator didn’t. The Predator was merely a platform, an unmanned aerial vehicle that had landing gear and was designed to return to base after a mission. The X-45A, the first U.S. drone designed from its beginnings to be armed, flew in tests as a technology demonstrator between 2002-2005 and was then retired.

Predator 3034 was initially painted white and bore the marking “WA” — the two-letter base code for Nellis Air Force Base, where the first Hellfire tests were conducted. When 3034 launched the first-ever lethal drone strike, in Afghanistan, the aircraft was painted air superiority grey and bore no markings at all. (Air Force photo)Document 11: Department of the Air Force, Letters Updating Congress on Predator Weaponization, July 11, 2000

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

On July 11, 2001, Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley sent a memo, cited in the 9/11 Commission Report, telling CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Air Force General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, that the White House wanted to deploy Predators “capable of being armed” to Afghanistan by September 1. That same day, the Air Force legislative liaison office sent ten key members of Congress letters reporting that $2.275 million was being transferred from other programs in order “to complete the Hellfire demonstration.” The money would be used, the letters said, “to modify two more Predator aircraft to develop useable tactics, techniques and procedures for weapons delivery from UAVs.” The real purpose of the reprogramming was to provide armed Predators for a potential mission to kill Osama bin Laden.


Document 12: Department of the Air Force, Memorandum from Lt. Gen. Stephen B. Plummer, “Request for HELLFIRE II Missiles and Launders …,” July 12, 2001

Source: Released to Richard Whittle by Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs

On July 12, 2001, Lt. Gen. Stephen Plummer, principal assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, sent a memo to the Army asking for ten Hellfire II missiles and three M299 launchers “to support the expansion of the Predator/HELLFIRE weaponization quick reaction project.” Plummer’s memo added that the missiles and launchers were needed a mere eight days later — a reflection of how urgently Big Safari was trying to finish testing the newly armed Predator for possible use against bin Laden.


Document 13: Headquarters Air Combat Command, Special Orders GB-52 and GB-73, September 18, 2001 and May 29, 2002

Source: Public records obtained by Richard Whittle

As Al Qaeda terrorists launched their attacks on New York and Washington the morning of September 11, 2001, an Air Force team whose core cadre and leadership were the same as the unit that had found Osama bin Laden using an unarmed Predator the year before was reassembling at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. Official orders forming Detachment 1, Air Combat Command, Pentagon, were issued on September 18, 2001, with no explanation of the unit’s mission. Also known as the Air Combat Command Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, the unit was based in a double wide mobile home hidden by trees on the CIA campus and flew armed Predators over Afghanistan and elsewhere from first one and later two ground control stations parked next to the trailer. As the second document here shows, Detachment 1, Air Combat Command, Pentagon, was officially inactivated on May 29, 2002, and replaced by Detachment 1, 17 th Reconnaissance Squadron, a Predator unit headquartered at Indian Springs Air Force Auxiliary Field, Nevada. In 2005, Indian Springs was renamed Creech Air Force Base.

CIA Director George Tenet, with the NSC’s Richard Clarke sitting behind him, watched President Bush address the nation on the evening of September 11, 2001, from the White House bunker. Before that day, Tenet and Clarke were at odds about whether to use the armed Predator to try to kill Osama bin Laden. Afterward, Tenet became a Predator disciple. (Official White House photo)Document 14: Department of the Air Force, Appointment Order, October 19, 2001, and Meritorious Service Medal Citation for Col. Edward J. Boyle, September 18, 2006

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret.) Edward J. Boyle, USAF

Colonel Edward J. Boyle commanded both the 32nd Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, whose unarmed Predator found Osama bin Laden in September 2000, and Detachment 1, Air Combat Command, Pentagon, the unit that flew armed Predators for CIA from September 2001 through May 2002. Following his retirement in October 2002, Boyle received a Meritorious Service Medal (Third Oak Leaf Cluster) for the latter command. Documents at this link include the order naming Boyle commander of the armed Predator unit and his award citation, which calls the unit the “Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, Air Combat Command at a classified location” and in broad strokes describes how the Air Force team conducted “a revolution in warfare.”


Document 15: Director of Central Intelligence, Meritorious Unit Citation to Expeditionary Air Intelligence Squadron, December 12, 2002

Source: Provided to Richard Whittle by Col. (ret) Mark A. Cooter, USAF

On December 12, 2002, CIA Director George Tenet awarded the first Air Force Predator unit that flew missions for his agency a National Intelligence Meritorious Unit Citation.


The End of American World Order- SHELLEY WALIA

Posted by admin On October - 3 - 2014 Comments Off


he book argues that the unipolar moment is at its end, with Asian economies daring to confront the supremacy of the West. By SHELLEY WALIA
ANTI-AMERICANISM continues to blow across the globe. United States President Barack Obama has made little difference to the unnecessary war initiated by the George Bush-Tony Blair era. Instead of sending in troops, he has been solely responsible for using the ruthless and unethical drone warfare in Afghanistan and Pakistan and more recently in Iraq. The U.S.’ unrivalled military vigour, its corporations and popular culture merge into a “hyperpower” that influences indigenous cultures across the world.

Amitav Acharya, in his new book, The End of American World Order, examines the American experience and its worldwide impact through its far-reaching political and foreign policy, military action, cultural production and consumption, an appallingly prejudiced diet of unawareness and misrepresentation spun out by the media; you name it and it is perceptibly present in the farthest corners of the world. The handling of the rest of the world at the United Nations and its directing of global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is indicative of its hegemony. This is the world order that the author argues is now reaching its end.

Power without informed democratic control is central to the complex relationship of the U.S. to the rest of the world. It claims to export democratic values and yet remains a threat to sovereign nations around the world. One American life lost in Iraq provokes a disproportionate response from the Pentagon. Collateral damage to civilians is of no consequence. The rule of international law is flouted across the board and client regimes are set up wherever the need arises. Whether Iraq or Afghanistan, democracies cannot be affected at will; the multifaceted history of a nation cannot be overlooked. And it cannot be denied that democratic cultures always evolve from within. The false and hypocritical discourse of fighting for democratic institutions and justice stands corroborated by the U.S.’ interventionist and self-promoting foreign policy over many decades.

A country that depends on its global supremacy for marketing itself cannot escape the wave of anti-Americanism. Disparities of wealth, power, freedom and opportunity have given rise to anti-globalisation protests and numerous other movements for justice and peace. The era of undemocratic control of the world economy and the free flow of capital and labour are now at an end. The arrogant denial of the freedom of others clashes with the potential of the present to create alternatives to the U.S. order. In the post-9/11 decade, there is clearly the emergence of the average American who refuses to be lied to. The arrogance of President George W. Bush, the ruthless bombardment of Palestinian civilians, the number of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)-engineered coups around the world are more than sufficient to provoke worldwide acrimony. The unipolar moment, Amitav Acharya argues, is now at its end with the rise of the Asian economies, which daringly confront the supremacy of the West.

With these visible signs of decline, the author argues, the world gradually becomes “multiplex” instead of being “mulitpolar, polycentric, non-polar, neo-polar, post-American, G-zero”. “There may be one film running in different theatres in the same complex, but more often there are different films in different theatres in the complex. In a multiplex world, we have different producers and actors staging their own shows concurrently,” he writes. This metaphor underscores the international hegemony of the U.S. that is slowly being replaced by a more decentred world, with regional powers gaining in political and economic strength. There is more confidence in regional and local solutions than in global market forces. The outcome, encouragingly, is interdependence, which is inherently counter to U.S. foreign policy that has little respect for regionalism. The hegemony of the U.S. stands replaced by a viable cooperation between nations, a kind of scenario where “regionalism is less polarising, and more open… and multidimensional”.

“To a large extent, [the role of the emerging powers] lies in preventing or frustrating the continuation of American World Order rather than providing an alternative form of global governance on their own initiative. The lack of unity, vision, and resources makes an alternative construction of global order by the emerging powers unlikely. Hence, cooperation between the established and the emerging powers is critical to the future of global governance. The emerging powers by themselves neither represent nor exhaust the possibility of an alternative, or post-hegemonic, global governance structure. Moreover, while the liberal hegemonic order narrative tends to downplay regional forces or present them as a threat, the emerging power hype ignores the fact that securing regional legitimacy is a major prerequisite for their global ambitions.”

Multipolar world

The view that the U.S. dominance goes hand in hand with its role as a global policeman falls apart in the face of the ensuing idea of mutipolarity that propels notions of justice and development within systems that are underpinned by healthier and more efficient procedures of governance. Today’s global order under the U.S. cultural and political dominance is slowly being replaced by the fast-growing multipolar order. Regional organisations such as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) or the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) are gearing to a mutual understanding of respect for justice, human rights, ecology and democracy, and ensuring that any infringement of justice or international law would lead to the penalising of member states.

As the author argues, the intergovernmental institutions will “introduce a healthy diversity and leadership into the emerging world order instead of the singular dominance of American power or the EU’s [European Union] legalistic and centralised model of cooperation”. Amitav Acharya perceptively analyses the contemporary scenario, which has all the signs of movement towards an intergovernmental control over regions, thereby bringing to an end the eras of hegemonic global powers. The thesis becomes all the more interesting as Amitav Acharya does not go with the conventional view that the corollary to the demise of the U.S. hegemony would be global instability. Rejecting this widely held opinion, he takes a dig at the indispensability of the U.S. world order by giving more credence to the case for interdependability in transnational relations. Indeed, “the unipolar moment in international relations is over, and we are now entering a multiplex world”. This is apparent in the crisis swallowing up Ukraine, which is indicative of the fast-changing scenario of world politics wherein powerful single states now have no control or check on international issues. It would be a fallacy to blame the U.S. leadership for this transformation. The outcome is the result of a “transformed international environment” where it is a foregone conclusion that the ascendancy of the U.S. is being challenged by China or India.

Decline of the U.S. world order

The centre of global economic power is fast shifting with the growth of economic and security interdependence. Though many still disagree with Amitav Acharya’s thesis, the rise of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) economies upholds the inherent argument of the abrupt decline of the U.S. Making a distinction between the U.S. decline and the decline of the U.S. world order, Amitav Acharya holds the view that this development has taken place irrespective of the decline of the American nation.

The U.S.-led hegemonic order is dependent on the notion of superiority, hierarchy and universal presence. What is clear is the end of the empire though the U.S. undoubtedly plays a “central role” in the world: “But the idea that the hitherto ‘American led liberal-hegemonic order’ or American World Order will persist, even in a ‘reconstituted’ form, is questionable. This is because a key problem in debating the persistence of the American World Order … is that we can genuinely disagree about what might persist, and what its form might be. Myths about the old order abound.”

Questioning the reality of the existence of a U.S.-led liberal hegemonic order, he raises doubts about the authenticity of those who really benefited from it: “Some of the claims about what that order actually represented, how far it extended, and the benefits it produced, while not unfounded, are selective and exaggerated.”

While the past of this order remains a questionable issue, its future is also replete with problems. However, “any reconstituted American hegemony has to change a lot, and accommodate, rather than co-opt, other forces and drivers, including the emerging powers and regional groups. It has to adapt to a new multilateralism that is less beholden to American power and purpose.”

Pax Britannica or Pax Americana are concepts of the “single power” global hegemony experienced in the past. And one does not have to go along with the alarmist view that the decline of the U.S. power is a harbinger of some global catastrophe or a bleak future. As succinctly and optimistically argued by Amitav Acharya, this decline, indeed, could very well be an unsurpassed saviour for both the U.S. and the rest of the world.


Like Joyce, García Márquez gave us a light to follow into the unknown-Peter Carey

Posted by admin On April - 19 - 2014 Comments Off

Gabriel García Márquez

Gabriel García Márquez greets journalists and neighbours outside his house in Mexico City earlier this year. Photograph: Edgard Garrido/Reuters
The greatest writer of our time showed us that a large and generous heart is no impediment to genius, says Peter Carey
Sometime in the very early 1970s two Australian friends returned from Colombia and asked me to ghostwrite the story of their adventures, which included a conversation with an unknown writer named Gabriel García Márquez. In an effort to overcome my reluctance they lent me an English edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude. None of us understood that they had thereby changed my life.

I tried, and failed, to help them memorialise their adventure. Worse, I “forgot” to return the book. Worse still, I arrogantly decided that this novel by this unknown writer would be of far more use to me than it could ever be to them.

I was, at the time I became a thief, stumbling to find a way to escape what Patrick White had called “the dun-coloured realism” of my own country’s literature, to make the windswept paddocks on the Geelong Road, say, become luminous and new. The stories worked well enough, but I still wasn’t up to the bigger challenge. The absence of placenames in the stories is a good indication of what I was avoiding, a sign that I was still too young (and damaged) to see that Myrniong was a beautiful strange name and that Wonthaggi was a poem unto itself.

It would take 10 years (some 20 stories and a novel) to free myself of this colonial bind, but the first step, without a doubt, was when I opened One Hundred Years of Solitude and read: “At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

Thus Márquez threw open the door I had been so feebly scratching on.

In truth he had done it before that: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

And he would keep on doing it line after line after line. And I was drunk on Márquez. And of course I had no idea what I was reading. I knew nothing of Colombia, let alone Macado. Thus, like the foreign reader of an Australian saga, I was left free to believe that the novelist has personally invented the koala and the platypus.

Even 10 years later, when this lightning strike began to show its effects in my own work, when I could finally celebrate names like Myrniong and Wonthaggi and the attendant miracles and cruelties of my native land, I still did not have a clue about how Márquez’s art grew from his own soil. I was like my friend the Australian painter Colin Lancely who loved Miró and finally, in Catalonia, those “original” Miró symbols on every corner.

So, like many of my generation, in a swirl of admiration, I learned from Márquez and was even nourished by my misunderstandings.

It is, of course, unseemly to talk about myself when the greatest writer of our time has died. If I persist it is to make a larger point, that while a writer’s greatness can be marked in many ways, it can be objectively measured, across the barriers of translation and oceans, by his or her influence on succeeding generations.

Like Joyce and Eliot, Márquez gave a light to follow into the unknown. He made us braver, he returned us to the path of story and he showed us, thank you Sir, that a large and generous heart is no impediment to genius.

Peter Carey has won the Booker prize twice, for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang

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