On anti-Americanism

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Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (L) talks with EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton during their meeting at the European Council building in Brussels on January 28, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Yves Logghe)

By: Amer Mohsen

Published Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The late thinker Hadi al-Alawi had a negative view of the essence of the West, that is, he argued that there was something inherently “evil” and belligerent at the core of Western civilization, culture, and historical development. Alawi further described the West as “the sole enemy of humanity, whose bludgeon in its sustained assault on humanity is the United States of America.”

“Our enemy is the West” – Hadi al-Alawi

In other words, Alawi placed the entire human race on one side of the scale and the West on the other, as though the West is the intruder and the source of all brutality in the world. Here, there is something that resembles the “discovery” made by Claude Levi-Strauss’s Tristes Tropiques of the meekness, depth, and diversity of Asian civilization in India and China, contrasted with the closed, hostile, and monotonous Islamic East, as he claimed, which acted as a barrier to a beautiful cross-fertilization between Europe and Asia. Levi-Strauss insists that this would have been possible were it not for the fact that the Europeans had to build their civilization while being surrounded by the crude Muslims (in other words, even the violence and brutality of European colonialism against the Indians and the Chinese can be explained by the proximity of the Islamic civilization to Europe!).

But if we move away from these essentialist views, there is no fundamental and ineluctable reason, at first glance, for the rift between us Arabs and the West. We have no territorial ambitions in their lands and our projects do not include regime change or hegemony in Washington (some still dream of restoring Arab Spain, but let us put these extreme examples aside in this discussion). In theory, it is even possible to forge close ties of cooperation, friendship, and mutual benefit with the major Western powers; after all, we have oil that we need to sell, and they have technology that we are keen to obtain, so why should we be enemies?

In Alain Badiou’s political philosophy, there is an often-repeated concept about pivotal “levers” in politics and central questions, whose importance does not lie only in themselves, but also in their influence on and overlap with other areas. As a result, the choices related to them become crucial in determining the shape of the political community as a whole.

Badiou’s idea resembles – and was indeed inspired by – the Maoist concept of the main contradiction and secondary contradictions. Badiou’s themes include, for example, the choice between equality and class society, or between individual ownership and communism. For Badiou, it suffices to give up the premise of communism to submit, in the philosophical sense, to the market-based economy and parliamentary democracy – i.e. the system of government that embraces capitalism – and to the “default” or inevitable character of the most brutal form of inequality.

Our relationship with the United States may be approached through this theory. Given the state of the international order, and the American penetration in our region, submission to or “adapting” with American hegemony not only affects our relationship with the Western bloc, nor is it only confined to sacrificing a particular aspect of national sovereignty, but it also entails capitulation that applies to all other issues, from foreign policy to the economic system to Palestine, and even in terms of the nature of the elites that rule our countries. The battle with American hegemony is the battle that summarizes all other battles, both internally and externally, while submission would lead us on a comprehensive inescapable path.

The delusion of reconciliation

One can understand why an “educated” Egyptian youth would interrogate the concept of imperialism, and question whether Russia and its strength in the international arena are qualitatively different from the nature of American dominance. Such discussions are needed and understandable, but they become odd, bizarre, and out of place, when the US happens to be the force that had shaped this young man’s political past, imposed the economic system under which he lives, and steered his country and its choices in all areas over the past decades.

Since the Egyptian revolution, a tendency emerged among many Egyptian activists seeking to “avoid” a confrontation with the American role in their country, or even the discussion thereof. Instead, the US role was seen as “normal,” or it was said that a confrontation with it was not possible, or that it was possible to postpone this difficult question and build a new and free political system under the American ceiling and in agreement with Washington. But the definition of revolution and its radicalism ends at such junctures: there are always tough questions and costly confrontations, but these specifically are what gives meaning and significance to revolution, and to the bid to break with the past, its dynamics, and its consequences.

Instead of gaining a real radical meaning, at the heart of which lies the confrontation with the system of subservience to foreign powers, propaganda was peddled to hijack, domesticate, and warp the revolutions, in a way that was no less harmful than the damage done by the counterrevolution. This propaganda promoted the delusion that revolution can proceed in reconciliation with the global status quo, and that reform should be carried out through negotiations with the international order and its representatives.

This “convenient ignorance” does not alter reality and its scales, but what it does is distort awareness and invalidates political action. Entire books have been written about the Arab revolutions and their outcomes in Tunisia, Egypt, and Yemen, where hardly any mention is made of the US role, or at best, there is generalizing and vague talk about “embassies’ and “Western governments,” where the United States and Belgium, for example, become equal actors.

It is this combination of oversimplification and active complicity that has made it easy for the Americans to commandeer the political process in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt from behind the scenes, which is why the local political process in these countries soon became centered around pleasing and concluding deals with Western powers.

Thus Mursi came to power through a deal with the United States, and was deposed through a deal with the United States. Sisi outdid the Muslim Brotherhood in seeking to serve US interests, becoming the latter’s new favorite. Nothing underscores the state of willful ignorance like the fact that many Sisi supporters are convinced their president rules in defiance of America, believing Sisi’s theatrical “stands” against Washington, the most amusing of which is the claim that Sisi will seek armaments from Russia to free Egypt from US domination (with Gulf funding, meaning that Saudi Arabia and the UAE, in the world in which some people choose to inhabit, will actually facilitate deals with Russia meant to break up US hegemony!) But it suffices to hear the opinions of Israeli and American generals on Sisi’s regime, and their constant praise for the unprecedented cooperation shown by the Egyptian government with Israel in repressing the Palestinians, in order to understand the centrality of the Egyptian role to the interests of the US and its allies in the region.

The biggest loser from the “delusion of reconciliation” was without a doubt the Muslim Brotherhood in the region. But the Muslim Brotherhood’s biggest loss was not their political demise, they who until a year and a half ago ruled several Arab countries, or even their decline into a pariah organization on the run. No, the real loss for the Muslim Brotherhood was that their strategy for ruling in agreement with the United States led them to lose both power and their principled stand, when in the past, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt advanced radical claims vis-à-vis the Western powers and Israel, and the existing Egyptian political and social order. Now, they can longer sing this tune, having had consented to the Camp David path, to not challenge American hegemony, and to do business with Israel, all for the sake of power – which they soon lost as a result of a “deal” that the Americans concluded with others factions.

Even today, on the anniversary of the massacre at Rabaa Square, the Muslim Brotherhood refrain from making real and direct criticism of the United States, at least for what it had done to them. They know well that what killed their supporters on the streets, and detained their leaders and activists, was actually US policy rather than Sisi. They are aware that the United States turned against them and against any notion for popular representation in Egypt, and they – unfortunately – still have hopes about not losing U.S. approval and do not want to forestall any new agreement with the US in the future that could bring them back to power.

For those who still fantasize about “using” America and the “convergence of interests” with the US, believing that they are “fooling” the Americans and outsmarting them, all they have to do is analyze the experience and fate of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The real tragedy today in the Islamist arena is that ISIS has become the only Islamist organization in the region that has a radical stance regarding American policy, while most other Islamists have been infiltrated and neutralized, with some entering into deals with U.S. sponsorship, and others fighting at the behest of handlers in Turkey and Jordan who in turn report to the CIA. This reality alone is enough to turn ISIS into the only available channel for Islamist youths that refuse US hegemony (naturally, ISIS’s radicalism against the US is only an extension of its extremism in dealing with nearby and faraway opponents, and will not affect the US as much as it will affect our own countries).

The price of dissent

The issue here is not about the characterization Noam Chomsky made in describing an individual's relationship with the capitalist system, where one small concession drags another, until a person finds herself drowning in the free market system and its mentality, and in an inescapable spiral of dependency on the hierarchy that governs America’s relationship with the rest of the world.

In our era, if you do not have a nuclear arsenal, or a country the size of a continent like China or India, your eventual fate will be to join the U.S.-led camp and its global system. There is no relationship in the international order that is not governed by the logic of power. Russia, for example, is discovering today that all international institutions, including money transfer systems, internet servers, and international tribunals, will be used as a weapon against you at the first sign of divergence with US policy (even if the divergence is due to the fact that the European Union and the United States overly encouraged and legitimized a coup against the elected government in Ukraine, in a coup whose main slogan was Russophobia).

For this reason, Russia is attempting today to establish alternative institutions for banking transactions, while China and Iran are building national internet networks that bypass foreign servers and that cannot be easily shut down or manipulated (China has insisted since the beginning of its era of openness to keep foreign financial transactions strictly under government control). These alternatives will not be more efficient than the international systems in place, but they are the only way for these countries to protect themselves against a fate similar to North Korea as soon as Western leaders sign a series of laws and sanctions.

In our world, all options are difficult. There is no sense here in seeking help from loose and facile terms such as anti-imperialism that anyone can subscribe to. In the practical sense, there is nothing called anti-imperialism, as something that has a clear structure or a central planning mind, and one that comprises forces able to challenge the empire. And gone are the days when Arab leaders like Saddam Hussein and Hafez al-Assad would play all sides and exploit the contradictions between international camps to reap benefits from all sides. U.S. hegemony became direct and peremptory, and those who monitor the interaction between the U.S. administration and its lackeys in the region, or those who simply read the WikiLeaks cables, will realize that the relationship is limited to the division of tasks, where the United States gives each “ally” a specific assignment as part of the grander U.S. strategy in its respective region, and all this ally has to do is follow orders.

Some may argue that it is safer to agree to this unequal relationship and avoid the cost of defiance, and to follow in the footsteps of countries like South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan, which have been able to develop and progress in cooperation with the dominant power rather than by antagonizing it. But it is necessary here to be well aware of the conditions of subservience in a region like the Middle East, and whether we are prepared to bear them: Reconciliation with the United States, for example, means that we should forget about Palestine and liberating it, and to submit our economies to the whims of international institutions. We do not have old bourgeois elites – like in Iran and India for instance – that stand to gain from investing in and developing our countries. Nor do we possess (like Japan, Taiwan, and Korea) a legacy of an institutionalized state versed in administration. In other words, capitulating to the U.S.-led system in our region would only mean perpetuating the incompetent ruling elites and segments allied with foreign powers.

The choice is not between full subservience and uncompromising enmity with the United States, as much as it is a choice about the level of concessions acceptable to the US intentions themselves, which may or may not be conciliatory or open to bargaining. In Iran’s case, for example, and this is a point that we must repeatedly state to understand the reality of the Iranian position on international politics, Iran – despite the legacy of the Gulf War – was not in the process of seeking war with the United States. Iranian official statements have continuously called for good relations with the US and other Western nations. Iran has even been willing to make serious concessions in this regard, and there exist in Iran elites and segments that enthusiastically seek to accede to the WTO, expand commercial ties with the West, and outsource the energy sector to Western corporations.

Accordingly, American-Iranian negotiations are nothing odd nor are the attempts for rapprochement between the two governments, except to those who buy into the stereotypical image that the US has promoted about Iran, and those who are ignorant of the reality of Iranian political thinking. All that the Iranians want is for the relationship to be different from the “infiltratory” condescending pattern that governs the relationship between many small countries and America.

In other words, Iran wants the United States to recognize it as a “regional power,” with some degree of independence, and with its own policies in the region and the world, and its right to expand its sphere of influence and ties to neighboring countries (after all that Iran’s neighbors did to it during the Gulf War, we cannot blame the Iranians for being a little paranoid and for seeking to protect themselves against their neighbors).

It was the US that did not accept this formula, and began, unilaterally, imposing sanctions on Iran under Clinton (without a direct cause). The US publicly embarked on a policy of “containment,” until George W. Bush entered the White House, and placed Iran in the so-called Axis of Evil, declaring the Iranian regime illegitimate, and making regime change an official goal for U.S. policy. Thus began the confrontation.

Conclusion

In the past two decades, the hegemony exercised its influence, and waged its wars and invasions under universal legal and humanitarian pretenses, which always portrayed its actions as the embodiment of international legitimacy, justice, and public interest. Naturally, many elites in the Third World reproduced these concepts about “international legitimacy” and “international community,” bought into them, and incorporated them into their own cultures and worldviews. However, with the decline of Western power, these “principles” and norms have started to unravel, in parallel with the decline of the dominant power.

The late Hadi al-Alawi assumed that the demise of Western hegemony was enough, per se, to change the course of human civilization, and open new possibilities for human life that are less materialistic and more liberal. But in line with our aversion to essentialism, we will assume that people are similar everywhere, and that there is no guarantee the new world being formed today would be better and more moral than the old world. Indeed, at some level, dealing with countries like Russia and China is not radically different from the relationship with the Western powers. The Russian, Chinese, Iranians, and others are not ultimately that different from the West in their pragmatism and quest to fulfill their interests, and in their ability to assault and do harm. But when they do so, at least, they will most probably not impose it on us in the name of justice, legitimacy, and civilization.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

The grotesque surreality of the present times, inaugurated on the heels of one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history and betokening no Republican, let alone Neoconservative, mandate seem, like the self-selected "grand chancellor" Cheney, to have everything to do with control and very little to do with chance. The surreality forecast during the election night itself flowered into an immense cinematic explosion engulfing the entire world and from which it has yet to emerge, indeed, its flames of late not only have acquired a renewed vigor not seen since the early days of the "War on Terror," they now, because of Ukraine, more convincingly recall and foreshadow the mushroom cloud of Condoleezan fable and fame. Primitive cinematic iterations of "shock and awe" were tried and seen during Bush father's Iraq War I, in what were, to be sure, more mediatically restricted and limited days. The second iteration of "shock & awe," coinciding perfectly with the discovery of infinite cybernetic space mean as well sempiternal propaganda and, let us be frank, an incontinence of lies as could never have been dreamed of by the Lord of Lies himself. The entire civilizational arc of Islam, from North Africa to Iraq to Pakistan and beyond has become a potential and actual field of sterile chaos and not a domain of organic and dynamic social and economic revolution--and this is because in the wake of Communism's demise no new authentically liberatory force has awakened to take its place. Real communism, notwithstanding all its faults, was a matter of true concern and reformist change of the heretofore brutally racist and colonialist capitalist order, causing it to impose on itself the temperance and moderation of the truly fightened because truly decadent, cynical, and unjust. Islamic terrorism of the jihadist variety is seemingly designed to poison the well of genuine revolutionary change in the Middle East and beyond through its invisible inorganic dependence on statal-plutocratic patronage and quite visible nihilistic and psychopathic image. One imagines that such a force is not to be feared, ideologically sterile and unattractive as it is to the vast majority of sane people, as much as it is to be exploited and controlled by state and plutocratic forces of reaction for whom the true menace and causes of fear are their economically and politically dispossessed youthful majorities and pluralities, and this is the case wherever one looks, from economically depressed Europe and America; to desovereignized and therefore de-democratized Mexico and Central America; to the medievally-governed Arab states, sustained not only by a sea of oil but by a base of wage slaves from overseas. The world plutocracy, specifically of those countries subordinately aligned with the U.S., run rampant in their cynical iniquities, unfettered by the moderating spector of a standing and expanding world communist force, their only genuine concern: how to monitor, control, and above all prevent the rise of a new, equally strong socialistic movement and spirit, of a "never again," of a "never return" to a world of real democratic promise and real populist and egalitarian power.

"...But when they do so, at least, they will most probably not impose it on us in the name of justice, legitimacy, and civilization."

If you really believe that, I strongly suggest you demand a refund from Berkeley.

No, given the rhetoric of Russia and China, they'll be far more blunt about what they're after. See: China in Africa.

brilliant analysis

wonderful analysis

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