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Wed

18

Apr

2007

How the Iraq Resistance Unmasks the American State and the Promise of Zapatismo
Wednesday, 18 April 2007 08:46
by Dr. Richard Marsden
The state is not the reality which stands behind the mask of political practice. It is itself the mask which prevents our seeing political practice as it is.
(Philip Abrams, "Notes on the Difficulty of Studying the State". Journal of Historical Sociology, vol. 1, no. 1, March 1988) Link


It was once found that couples who survived being held hostage together have an abnormally high incidence of divorce.  The stress of being held hostage, apparently, brought out hidden and unflattering qualities in their partner, which shattered previous illusions and destroyed the marriage. One imagines hitherto stalwart and loving husbands thinking only of their own survival.  The partner who behaved badly, had, as it were, two faces which surfaced at different times. But for the accident of the hijacking, the darker face would never have surfaced and the spouse would have been non the wiser.

The story is recounted by Zygmunt Berman in his book Modernity and the Holocaust. Bauman uses the anecdote to suggest that the Holocaust was an instance of modernity’s "darker" side; always there, awaiting the right conditions in which to emerge.

Leaving the Holocaust to one side, I want to use the analogy to illuminate the effect of the Iraqi Resistance to the United States' invasion and occupation. It has been a barbaric festival of cruelty and humiliation, the function of which, I have argued elsewhere [Link], is to vent America's malice in the wake of the humiliating attacks on the epicenter of global capital on September 11, 2001.

An ugly face of the United States has emerged since 9/11, now staring at us shamelessly in Iraq. Who would have thought, before that day, that the United States would:
  • Wage war against a practically defenseless country on the basis of a farrago of blatant lies.
  • Slaughter close to a million people, mostly women and children, destroy an entire society and have its President say that Iraqis owe the United States a “huge debt of gratitude” for the its “sacrifice”.
  • Claim the right to imprison without trial, to humiliate and to torture in what amounts to a global gulag.
And who knows what other atrocities we have yet to discover.

In truth, the United States has been doing this sort of thing for years, but with clandestine discretion. The resistance to its military occupation of Iraq has forced its modus operandi out into the open and now the entire world knows about it.

Perhaps not two faces, then, but one face and a mask. Well, thanks to the coalition of Iraq Resistance movements, the mask is now off, and, to use Abrams words, we can see American political practice for what it really is.

What Would it Take to get Americans to Riot?

It is common to blame the Iraq debacle on the Bush junta and the legislative coup which brought it to power. But there’s much more to it than that.

The really chilling aspect of the casual slaughter of Iraqis and the rape of their country, is not just the actions of the perpetrators of these atrocities—the soldiers, marines and aircrew—it is the inaction of the mass of Americans who, even if they did not actively support them, let them do it, with barely a murmur.

Given the appalling gravity of what has been done in their name, Americans have been remarkably obliging to the Bush Administration. What, one wonders, would it take to get Americans to riot?

It is not just the immoral behaviour of Americans in Iraq that is the problem, then, it is also the moral indifference of the majority of Americans back home to that immoral behaviour.

In some countries there would surely have been a spontaneous outpouring of anger towards their government had they committed similar atrocities. I’m thinking especially of Latinate countries, where the very language connects the head to the heart and where passion is still capable of mobilizing communities. English is very much a language from the shoulders up.

In Spain, for example, around 2 million took to the streets of Madrid last month to protect the government’s anti-terror policies towards Basque separatists.

In Mexico, last July, hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated to support demands for a recount of the presidential election. Its electoral system is dubious, but popular resistance is in good shape in Mexico.

Significantly, the most vibrant recent demonstrations in the United States were those by Hispanics, in March 2006, protesting legislation cracking down on illegal immigrants.


True, there have been some well planned and executed, though hardly overwhelming, demonstrations against the war and military occupation by some hardy souls in the United States—but that is the point. The spontaneity, tumult and agitation of the street is missing. For that you need social emotions. Even in a crowd, Americans are individuals. Even the urban landscape works against it. Spontaneous demonstrations are difficult when it is almost impossible to walk anywhere, as is the case in most American cities.

Like rabbits mesmerized by a bunch of ferrets, the mass of Americans continues to let the Bush administration get away with murder—in their name.

Why is this?

Much has been made of the lamentable shape of American corporate news media. Fair enough, but there are other sources of information, and you don’t need "news" to know there’s something seriously wrong with America’s actions in Iraq. You just need to know the difference between right and wrong—and to be able to act on it.

The “acting on it” is the problem.

America's Emotional and Moral Malaise

The explanation of Bush’s hold on the United States developed in The Business of Emotions over the past few years, can be summarized thus:

1. Without authentic emotions, the vital connection between thinking and feeling is lost and the ability to act, morally and politically, for oneself and for others, is compromised.

Authentic emotions in the United States are being commercialized out of existence.

Americans are alienated from their feelings by the emotional labour they perform at work, in what is now a predominantly service economy.

Americans now buy their emotions and experience them as they consume the goods and services to which they have been attached by artful emotional and neuro-marketers.

This is hardly a problem unique to the United States, but the commercialization of emotions is most developed there.

Other countries at least have the counterweight of some historical  ballast to keep them in check. The United States, rooted in the topsoil of history, built among the graveyards of the civilization it supplanted, has no such corrective.

The more commercialized the emotions, the weaker the resistance to depravity.
2. People who lack emotional authenticity are incapable of recognizing its absence in others.

We like to think of emotions as private, psychological states, but they are primarily means of social communication.

The ability to read others’ emotions, to distinguish between sincerity and falsehood, good and bad intentions, is basic to all mammals. Their very survival, individually and collectively, depends on that ability.

Bushcheneycloseup3Dogs and horses, for example, are shrewd judges of every human who approaches them, evaluating their intentions.

That Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rove, Rice and the rest of the neo-conservatives are duplicitous crooks and liars, can be ascertained just by watching and listening to them.

Any discerning dog would have rumbled them and curled its lip at the threat. But not the mass of Americans. They were so taken with them, they invited them back into office.

3. People who lack authentic emotions are susceptible to the predations of emotional marketers.

“Operation Iraqi Freedom” is a brand, and it was sold to Americans using the same emotional marketing techniques that sell everything from hamburgers to cars.

The emotions manufactured were fear and anger, whipped up out of the ashes of 9/11 and aimed at Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
4. Thinking without feeling, talking without meaning

There is one more consequence of the commercialization of emotions: the connection between thinking and feeling is eroded and with it comes the ability to talk, endlessly, with little meaning. This is a common trait in U.S. television and radio, but it is particularly evident among America’s politicians and news pundits.

A Chipewyan once told me that her people regard as foolish those who talk too much. It is probably the view of most aboriginal peoples.

How right they are.

These talking heads in Washington would be doing us all a favour if they'd just shut up for a while and learn how listen.

If they stay very still, they may be able to catch the chorus of those extinguished Iraqi souls carried on the wind, the tormented wails of those from whom they were wrenched, and the clenching of fists of those of us who bore witness.

But this is a slim hope.
These emotionally challenged, morally indifferent, Americans have killed close to a million Iraqis, most of them children and women, in the most horrible way, just as surely as the actions of soldiers, marines and aircrew.

Let the rest of us not be indifferent to their moral indifference.

How the Resistance Unmasks the American State

Compare verbose America with the tacit Iraqi Resistance. So quiet is it that the American military feels obliged to tell us what it is doing, why and to what end.


Lesenfantsduparadis1The mute, but mindful, Iraq Resistance is reminiscent of the (corporeal) mime artist Baptiste, a character in Marcel Carné’s Les Enfants du Paradis ("The Children of Paradise").

The film is set in Paris in 1828s, but it was made in Paris between August, 1943 and January 1945, i.e., under Nazi occupation. (The Nazi’s marched into Paris, June 14, 1940).

Indeed the movie is an allegory of occupation and resistance—many of the actors were members of the Resistance.

Baptiste the mime artist symbolizes the French Resistance—perhaps all resistance movements, including that of Iraq.

He is dismissed by those who do not know him. But dismiss him at your cost. Through the gestures and movements of his body, he expresses emotions and thoughts, and, in so doing, makes visible that which is hidden in plain view.

And that is what the Iraq Resistance is doing: it makes visible that which was hidden in plain view. It is unmasking the American State, rendering visible its previously hidden qualities and revealing U.S. political practice for what it really is.

The Resistance watches, it listens, it learns, it waits and it acts. Tellingly, its main weapon is improvised.

The Resistance is a living thing, an amalgam of shifting, often conflicting, coalitions crafted out of kin, clan and tribe. It is bound together by sinuous emotional and social bonds, connecting guerrillas to each other and rooting them to the land.

This Resistance has been much maligned by American apologists for the Occupation, who, absurdly, slap the "terrorist" label on them. In international law people subjected to armed occupation of their country by a foreign power have the legal and moral right to armed resistance. Iraqis are doing what most of us would do in a similar situation.

Anyone at the mercy of the Bush cabal—and that’s a lot of people—has reason to be grateful to the men and women, the living and the dead, of the Iraq Resistance.

But for it, the neo-conservatives would be triumphant, and the Democrats would not now be in control of the House of Representatives and the Senate.

But for it, America would have done to Syrians, Lebanese and Iranians, what it has done to Iraqis.

But for the Resistance, Bush, and those with him, would be unstoppable.

Transforming Sectionalism into Unity

America’s politicians and media pundits now approach how to get out of Iraq in exactly the same way they approached how to get into Iraq—as if Iraqis are passive people, cartoon-like players frozen-in-time during a coach’s time-out.

Well, they are wrong.

While America fantasizes about how to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, the ground beneath its feet is shifting.

Iraqis are overcoming the Occupation’s attempts to divide and rule and, surely and painfully, they are coming together.

See An "Open Letter" to the Iraqi Resistance; Call for "Joint Action"

73843149_101. The relatives of close to a million Iraqis killed by the “coalition”— everyone someone’s child, brother, sister, father, mother—are coming together. Out of that sort of pain, comes fury.

2. Angry boys are growing into angry men and they are galvanizing the Mahdi Army, returning it to armed struggle. It is in response to this pressure from below that Muqtada al-Sadr has implored Iraq’s army and police to join them in defeating their common "archenemy'.

3. Having seen through and weathered attempts, over the past year, to incite civil war by those Anglo-America backed agent provocateurs (Link), elements of the Shi’ite Resistance are merging with elements of the Sunni Resistance.

4. A week ago, a million Iraqis, from all over Iraq, from different sects, Shi'ite and Sunni, thronged the road between Najaf and Kufa. Among them were large numbers of uniformed police and soldiers, (which suggests they are responding to al-Sadr’s entreaties). In another gesture of unity over sectionalism, these demonstrators carried the Iraq flag, not posters of their clerics.

5. The British are in the process of handing over responsibility for Basra to Iraqi forces and mercenaries. It is they, primarily mercenaries, who will guard the Americans all-important convoys of water, food, ammunition and fuel from Kuwait.

6. Meanwhile, Shi’ite tribes around Basra have joined the armed Resistance and the south is breaking out in open revolt against the occupying forces.

Some conflicts can be resolved only by winning them. The war in Iraq is one of them.

For every living creature "shocked and awed" out of existence.

For every woman raped, widowed or made a prisoner in her home.

For the once living children of Haditha, Ishaqu and Hibhib and the tens of thousands killed in the safety of their homes, anonymously, and oh so bravely, from the sky.

For the children left behind, malnourished, crippled, traumatized, and orphaned.

For the parents driven to distraction by the murder of their children.

For those left to endure living in "the hell that is Iraq".

For every child around the world who has grown up believing this—lying and killing and calling it "freedom"—is the way "civilized" people behave.
For these reasons, and many more, it is imperative that the Iraqi Resistance soundly defeat this evil Occupying power and send it packing with a stake through its heart. It is a precondition of holding the perpetrators of the monstrous crime that is Iraq to account.

This is not quite as fanciful an idea as it might sound. Given the growing resistance in southern Iraq, it is not inconceivable that these supply lines will be broken and the Americans will be trapped, with no supplies and no way out.

Does thinking-without-feeling America have the sense to be afraid of what it has forged on that desert anvil?

The Other Occupation and the Promise of Zapatismo

The unmasking of the American State by the Iraq Resistance makes plain those illusory common interests mouthed by Bush and his kind.

The world can see the real nature of the United States—that it too is an occupied land.

Within this context, one final observation.

On the very day Iraqis were taking to the streets in their millions to protest the Occupation, as chance would have it, a tiny delegation of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation was arriving at the Mexico-United States border.

Subcomandante Marcos and 10 Mayan Comandantes were in Cucapah to support indigenous fishing rights.[Link] It was one stop on the second leg of The Other Campaign, a listening tour, the aim of which is to build a national infrastructure for organizing dissent and social action in Mexico.

The Zapatistas learned to listen, and to use the weapon of silence. The Mayan peoples, their backbone, taught them.

Zapatistas015Q How do we know the Zapatistas?

A Because they wear masks.

Q Why do they wear masks?

A To render them visible.

Before the mask, people would look through them as if they weren't there, like poor and dispossessed people everywhere.

Just like in New Orleans, but for the interlude of the hurricane's visit. Just like in every city in the United States, all the time.

Marcos urged aboriginal peoples in the United States [he would, no doubt, also urge those in Canada] to join with the Zapatistas to carry out their destiny and mission as Guardians of the Earth.

Unmasking the American State—making visible the poor and dispossessed.

This is a destiny and mission with much potential.

"For us, nothing; for everyone, everything" may yet find purchase north of the border.
 
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a guest said:

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...wonderful article, but I do not agree with "An ugly face of the United States has emerged since 9/11". The ugly face has emerged since more than 100 years now, but it was obfuscated by Hollywood, the "media" (pretty much the same thing like Hollywood), other ways of colonialism ("World-Bank", IMF) and the same chronic mass-indifference described in your article. But today, with Internet, books and time (=affordable know-why), with all the US government documents disclosed under the wonderful freedom of information act, all the books written based on these documents, you can go back and find the same and bigger monstrosities, in every decade, like the current occupation of Iraq. So, the "ugly face" of the US was always there, but this also applies to Israel, South Africa and of course, to the former EU colonial powers as well.
 
April 18, 2007
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a guest said:

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Excellent article
Truly appreciate this. Very enlightening!
 
April 22, 2007 | url
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