The left’s “al-Qaeda problem”

Heavens to Murgatroid! Nuance in the pages of a contemporary left publication! Sasha Abramsky shows in the October issue of The Progressive that it is still, at least, possible. We at WW4 Report do have misgivings about some of what is stated here—for instance, his call for increasing emergency preparedness at nuclear and chemical plants, even with greater public participation, could become just another brick in the fast-consolidating wall of the new security state. But we thoroughly share his sense of alienation from the current self-deluded consensus on the left—while also recognizing the danger of following Christopher Hitchens into the pro-war camp in reaction. This one is worth a read.

Our Al Qaeda Problem
As summer began, I flew to London to stay with my parents. A few days after I arrived, four bombs blew up tube trains and a bus in central London on July 7. It was the second time I had been in a city that was under attack by terrorists. Four years ago, I was living in Brooklyn when Al Qaeda slammed passenger jets into the World Trade Center.

Over these four years, I have spent more time than is entirely healthy obsessing over the new realities. Some of my friends and relatives tell me I’ve changed—that my politics aren’t as “leftwing” as they used to be during the anti-nuclear movement in Britain back in the 1980s. In a way, they are right. My core politics haven’t changed, but it seems to me that the world has changed so dramatically—traditional alliances and reference points have become unreliable, the ground rules of the power game have so shifted—I’d be a fool not to incorporate these changes into my analytical framework.

Unlike my fellow countryman Christopher Hitchens, however, whose break with erstwhile comrades on the left over foreign policy has resulted in a wholesale swing rightward, I still hope that my rethinking of some foreign policy questions can be incorporated into a vibrant progressive movement. Indeed, I’d argue that a strong defense of pluralistic, democratic societies needs to be an essential, perhaps a defining, component of any genuinely progressive politics in today’s world.

Yet reading the voices of much of the self-proclaimed “left” in the London papers in the aftermath of the bombings, I was struck by how ossified many of them have become, how analyses crafted at the height of the Cold War have lingered as paltry interpretive frameworks for political fissures bearing little if anything in common with that “twilight conflict.” While on the one hand, I agreed with their well-reasoned arguments pointing to a certain degree of Western culpability for spawning groups like Al Qaeda, on the other hand, I was saddened by how utterly incapable were those same arguments of generating responses to the fanaticism of our time.

British journalists Robert Fisk, John Pilger, and Tariq Ali, along with British MP George Galloway, and, on this side of the Atlantic, commentators such as Naomi Klein have all essentially blamed Britain and the U.S. for bringing the attacks upon themselves. While being careful to denounce the bombers and their agenda, these advocates uttered variations on the same theme: Get out of Iraq, bring home the troops from all points East, curtail support for Israel, develop a more sensible, non-oil-based energy policy, and our troubles would dissipate in the wind.

“These are Blair’s bombs,” Pilger, famous for helping to bring to light the genocidal actions of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, wrote while the bodies of the July 7 victims were still being identified.

“What we are confronting here is a specific, direct, centralized attack on London as a result of a ‘war on terror’ that Blair has locked us into,” Fisk wrote immediately after the bombings. “Just before the U.S. Presidential elections, bin Laden asked: ‘Why do we not attack Sweden?’ Lucky Sweden. No Osama bin Laden there. And no Tony Blair.” Fisk’s quotation marks around “war on terror” suggested none too subtly that battling terror organizations is mere subterfuge for a more nefarious agenda. And his reference to Sweden misses the point that Al Qaeda’s modus operandi involves attacking nodal points of Western power rather than peripheral regions.

The problem, Klein recently argued in The Nation, is that the West is virulently racist and neo-colonial. “What else can we call the belief—so prevalent that we barely notice it—that American and European lives are worth more than the lives of Arabs and Muslims?” she asked her readers.

Pilger, Fisk, Klein, Galloway, et al. grasp the undeniable fact that shortsighted Western policies and alliances of convenience over the past century have contributed to today’s mass alienation of young Muslims, to a climate in which millennial groups such as Al Qaeda flourish. These advocates understand—in a way the cartoonish “good versus evil” language in which George Bush frames world events certainly cannot—the rage the Iraq War in general has stoked among Muslims, and in particular, how searing are the images of humiliation rituals and torture emanating out of Abu Ghraib. They rightly recoil at the news-in-brief references to “collateral damage” when Iraqi civilians are killed compared with the oceans of ink generated whenever a Western target is hit by terrorism.

But, at the end of the day, theirs is a truncated analysis. They assume that groups like Al Qaeda are almost entirely reactive, responding to Western policies and actions, rather than being pro-active creatures with a virulent homegrown agenda, one not just of defense but of conquest, destruction of rivals, and, ultimately and at its most megalomaniacal, absolute subjugation. It misses the central point: that, unlike traditional Third World liberation movements looking for a bit of peace and quiet in which to nurture embryonic states, Al Qaeda is classically imperialist, looking to subvert established social orders and to replace the cultural and institutional infrastructure of its enemies with a (divinely inspired) hierarchical autocracy of its own, looking to craft the next chapter of human history in its own image.

Simply blaming the never quite defined, yet implicitly all powerful “West” for the ills of the world doesn’t explain why Al Qaeda slaughtered thousands of Americans eighteen months before Saddam was overthrown. Nor does it explain the psychopathic joy this death cult takes in mass killings and in ritualistic, snuff-movie-style beheadings. The term “collateral damage” may be inept, but it at least suggests that the killing of civilians in pursuit of a state’s war aims is unintentional, regrettable; there is nothing unintentional, there is no regret, in the targeting of civilians by Al Qaeda’s bombers.

Moreover, many of those who reflexively blame the West do not honestly hold up a mirror to the rest of the world, including the Muslim world, and the racism and sexism and anti-Semitism that is rife in many parts of it. If bigotry were indeed the exclusive preserve of the West, their arguments would have greater moral force. But given the fundamentalist prejudices that are so much a part of bin Ladenism, the cry of Western racism is a long way from being a case-closer.

We should attend to the way bin Laden and his followers invoke “the West.” They do so alternately to describe any expansive and domineering First World economic and political system and, even more ominously, to demarcate a set of ostensibly decadent liberal political, cultural, social, and religious beliefs and practices. Indeed, what Al Qaeda apparently hates most about “the West” are its best points: the pluralism, the rationalism, individual liberty, the emancipation of women, the openness and social dynamism that represent the strongest legacy of the Enlightenment. These values stand in counterpoint to the tyrannical social code idealized by Al Qaeda and by related political groupings such as Afghanistan’s Taliban.

In that sense, “the West” denotes less a geographical space than a mindset: a cultural presence or a sphere of anti-absolutist ideas that the Viennese-born philosopher Karl Popper termed the “Open Society.” In his day, when fascists and Stalinists held vast parts of the globe, the concept of “the West” prevailed over a smaller territory than today. But with the rise of bin Ladenism, the prevalence of this concept again is shrinking.

It is because bin Ladenism is waging war against the liberal ideal that much of the activist Left’s response to September 11 and the London attacks is woefully, catastrophically inadequate. For we, as progressives, need to uphold the values of pluralism, rationalism, skepticism, women’s rights, and individual liberty and oppose ideologies and movements whose foundations rest on theocracy, obscurantism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and nostalgia for a lost empire.

A clear-headed view of Al Qaeda and bin Ladenism doesn’t render the left’s opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq or Israel’s oppression of Palestinians any less urgent. Our respect for international law, morality, and human rights requires this opposition (a point that, with regard to Iraq at least, Christopher Hitchens seems now to entirely miss). But such a view does put Iraq and Israel where they belong when it comes to bin Ladenism: as convenient recruiting posters for suicidal foot soldiers rather than the source of their ideology. Take Iraq and Israel out of the equation and some of the young men currently volunteering for martyrdom, for relatively small-scale revenge killings, would undoubtedly think twice. And, yes, it is indeed possible that those particular four men who bombed London wouldn’t have, as individuals, been “radicalized” absent Iraq. But the ideology of Al Qaedism, and the willingness of significant numbers of other individuals to inflict unendurable casualties intended to shake the foundations of Western societies in pursuit of Al Qaeda’s all-encompassing vision, would remain. Witness the fact that even after the Spanish electorate voted in a Socialist government following the Madrid bombings of March 2004, extremists continued to plot attacks against the Spanish state. The threats to the Open Society would, therefore, still have to be confronted.

In his 1945 book, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper, who had fled to New Zealand to escape the Nazis, argued that a defense of ration-alism, a refusal to kowtow to totalitarian ideologies and belief systems, was a moral imperative. He believed that utopian political visions tended to demand absolute loyalty and submission from their subjects, a submission generally enforced through state-sponsored coercion. By contrast, he argued, in the Open Society flexibility and dissent were the norm, and progressive social change could be brought about incrementally without wholesale violence and oppression. Indeed, he wrote, everything was up for debate in such a society except for the foundational premise that rationalism was the best way for a society to be organized.

Lacking such a bulwark, such an uncompromising starting faith in rationalism, the Open Society risked collapse, Popper feared. “Threatened both from the right and from the left, a rationalist attitude to social and economic questions could hardly resist when historicist prophecy and oracular irrationalism made a frontal attack on it,” he wrote. “That is why the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism has become the most important intellectual, and perhaps even moral, issue of our time.”

The head in the sand response (epitomized by Ward Churchill) that argues, in essence, that because America funded bin Laden in the 1980s we should sit back and take whatever his organization throws at the country, or the world, today, is as flawed as arguments pre-World War Two that because Hitler was a product of the Versailles Treaty and the devastation wrought on Germany during and after World War One, Britain and France should suck up the Nazis’ increasingly brazen outrages and simply hope for better times ahead. Not to put too fine a point on it, it was a dumb argument then, one that thoroughly underestimated the dangers posed by Hitler, and it’s a dumb argument now, providing a cookie-cutter excuse for intellectual and analytical laziness. Once a monster has been created, once its ambitions have been unleashed, the most important question ceases to be, “How and why did this situation develop?” and becomes, “How can we quench these mad fires that threaten to consume all before them?” That doesn’t mean that questions as to the origins of the current crises shouldn’t be asked, and answers sought. But it does mean those questions alone can’t serve as an end-point of the discussion.

If bin Laden is the Trotsky of irredentist Islam, preaching a wacky, bloody notion of a roving, permanent Islamic revolution, how do we, as progressives, respond? How do we propose to preserve political freedoms and pluralism while protecting the fabric of society? How do we safeguard against terror without applying, as do the Patriot Act and similar laws proposed by conservatives in England, a wrecking ball to constitutional rights and legal protections?

These are questions people on the activist left need to tackle just as urgently as people on the right. For once we opt out of this debate, hoping that retrenchment alone will restore the status quo ante-9/11, neoconservatives such as Paul Wolfowitz and William Kristol and old-style hawks such as Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld can frame the terms of the discussion as they see fit. To a large degree, this rightward march has redefined America these past four years, to disastrous effect.

There are progressive alternatives on the table. Recently, for example, the New York Academy of Medicine published a report, “Redefining Readiness,” arguing that encouraging a greater public involvement in preemptively preparing for large-scale terrorist attacks would actually prove more effective than simply relying on opaque instructions handed out by secret government agencies in the event of a civic emergency. Others, like Senator Jon Corzine of New Jersey, have stressed the need to safeguard our chemical and nuclear plants, which Bush has refused to do, lest it cost companies money. And John Kerry dwelled on the importance of rounding up the “loose nukes” in the former Soviet Union, a program Bush has woefully underfunded.

Such an approach acknowledges the realities of terror and takes Fisk’s quotation marks away from the phrase “war on terror,” yet permits progressives to set some of the terms of the debate, rather than continually playing catch-up with conservatives.

In terms of laws to tackle terrorism, instead of activists denouncing any and all special legal powers granted courts and governments in this fight, how about acknowledging that organized terrorism does pose certain tricky legal questions and, from there, attempt to craft responses that, unlike those proposed by the right, don’t result in the creation of legal black holes for terrorism suspects? How about, for example, recognizing that in wartime there might be legitimate grounds for preemptively detaining a person for a prescribed and limited period of time on a suspicion of plotting a major attack, while still denouncing the notion that such a person doesn’t have the right to an attorney or to a speedy trial?

Conservatives have made the war on terror all about military power and homeland security operations, while rarely addressing global economic inequalities and social injustices. The left’s challenge is to not produce an exact mirror image of this; that is too easy. We always denounce economic inequalities and social injustices. And we’re right to do so. But today that’s not enough.

The stakes are too high for progressives to underestimate the threats posed by groups such as Al Qaeda. For bin Laden’s vision leaves no room for secular self-governance, for a society based around the give-and-take of free speech; it has no tolerance for the uncertainties of a pluralistic political system; it has no respect for the rights of women; it has no self-limiting mechanisms that encourage adherents to step back and listen to the views of dissenters. It is, simply, a quintessentially totalitarian vision, one in which individuals—whether as suicide bombers who sacrifice themselves to this dystopian dream or the innocent bystanders whose lives are snuffed out by this terrorism—are useful only as pawns.

In power, a left that fails to grapple with the challenges facing the Open Society risks sapping the will of liberal countries to stand up to totalitarian-think. Such a scenario would, in a very profound sense, embody a betrayal of the central Enlightenment tenets nurtured, in fits and starts, for more than two centuries in one or another citadel of pluralism.

Out of power, a left that ignores the magnitude of these threats risks reducing itself to irrelevance, and, in so doing, ceding power to conservatives who will fight their wars on terror in a deeply destructive, dirty way, who will leap upon the opportunity to clamp down on civil liberties and undermine non military, non security-related government spending, and who will use the fear of terror to reshape societies according to their own illiberal sights.

Neither scenario is pretty. Neither bodes well for the future of the universal values Karl Popper delineated sixty years ago in his Open Society, values that progressives should hold dear.

Sasha Abramsky is a senior fellow for democracy at Demos, a New York City think tank. His book “Conned,” on voting rights in the United States, will be published by the New Press in March 2006.

See our last post on the politics of Islamic extremism.

  1. War on Terror – Continuing Game of Men & Boys
    Patriarchal World Cultures clashing over power and resources, manipulating the masses with promises of heavenly reward if they blindly follow their despotic leaders and henchmen. The megalomaniacal Islamists are feeding off of the discontent of the Arab male youth disenfranchised and disillustioned by the rampant consumerism and laisse faire employment market place they encountered in the West, that many times dismissed and demeaned them. In respond large groups of Western males with reduced employment, no outlets for frustrations and purpose are to be cultured to fight and kill them. Engendered in both world views is inherent sexism and homophobia, male chauvinstic ideology based on a warrior judgemental punishing God.

    That’s why I agree with the essay in that just reducing our presence isn’t going to stop the Al Queda menace. It is a virulent mixture of revolution theology, socialism, justified by a stringent belief/dogma that allows for complete dehumanization of any opposition and romantically supllants all present political/philosophical forms of belief with it’s own as a supposed pure and righteous replacement. This fanatical religious thinking IS NO DIFFERENT than the US religious right’s worship and glorification of the Bible=replace the US Constitution.

    1. “Arab male youth”?
      We share your basic analysis, but feminist reductionism can be just as much a “smelly little orthodoxy” (TM Orwell) as the patriarchical ideologies you rightly diss. Islamic extremism isn’t just for boys anymore, a reality National Geographic recently exploited.

      And we have repeatedly warned that writing in the UPPER CASE is a poor substitute for argument. There are clearly parallels between the Christian fundamentalists here and the Islamic fundamentalists there. But there are also critical differences: the prior exploit the resentment rife in a declining imperial power; the latter that even more rife under neo-colonial client states. Which is why Islamo-fascism (to use an imprecise phrase) assumes an anti-imperialist posture, and why so many leftists get fooled these days…

  2. Abramsky is just nibbling at the edge.
    If you liked this article then you will love Albert Langer’s article “Mayday it’s the festival of the distressed” it’s well worth the effort.

    Lastsuperpower is an invaluable resourse that is well worth delving into. You may not agree with the analysis but you have to be aware of it.

    A clear-headed view of Al Qaeda and bin Ladenism renders the pseudo- left’s opposition to Bush’s war in Iraq stupid. The genuine left is delighted that 60 years of rotten to the core U.S policies in the Middle-East has been dumped and the U.S is now pushing the bourgeois revolution for the whole region. They are not after regime change but region change, and all left democrats revolutionary or not, should welcome this.

    1. Sorry, we’re not buying that one
      Bush as Napoleon, eh? His Waterloo couldn’t come fast enough for us. Marx and Engels also cheered on the Bonapartist adventure, as well as the gringo annexation of half of Mexico and British colonialism in India, as breaking up old feudal societies and speeding the transition to socialism via “bourgeois revolution.” Ironically, remnant forms of indigenous socialist traditions (e.g. Mexico’s ejidos) were destroyed in the process, and a century-and-a-half on we are no closer to Marxian socialism. Indeed, further than ever. There are some things the Bearded One simply got wrong. And I hate to tell you, but however popular quaint anachronisms like shariah law may be in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, these countries were already thoroughly capitalist before Bush launched his new crusade. In fact, these anachronisms are only gaining popularity in backlash against the US intervention—and are actually being exploited by Bush. Sure, let ’em repeal women’s rights, as long as we can take their oil. Again, sorry.

    2. False premise renders entire analysis completely moot
      First off, name for me one “leftist” who supports Bin Laden or anything he stands for?

      Opposition to the “war on terror” from people on the left typically is this: if it’s wrong for Bin Laden to kill thousands of people in order to achieve some vague (and probably doomed) political goal, then it is wrong for us to do so. I think that’s pretty sound logic, myself. It doesn’t necessarily mean pacifism, it means a measured, practical and rational response — one that is actually likely to succeed, not one that is bound to do more harm than good (i.e., invading and occupying Iraq).

      I, too, have been slightly alarmed at some of George Galloway’s rhetoric, as it sometimes seems to imply that any actions are justified in fighting against a foreign invader/occupier. While technically this is correct under international law, it’s morally bankrupt. But to suggest that Galloway, or anyone else on the left, supports Bin Laden’s twisted version of Jihad, is to radically misinterpret his words and the actual situation — which is that, yes there are some “foreign fighters” coming into Iraq (though, as Galloway points out, the irony of an American or Brit calling them “foreign fighters” is so ludicrously ironic as to be Orwellian), but the vast majority of the insurgents are Iraqis, and the vast majority of them opposed Saddam Hussein and probably oppose Zarqawi, let alone Bin Laden.

      People like Naomi Klein and Tariq Ali are correct to view the resistance in Iraq as first and foremost an anti-colonialist struggle; important, but secondary, is the religious aspect — which is perhaps unfortunate, but inevitable when a White Christian Western country invades an Arab Muslim Middle-Eastern country.

      This is a good essay: <Jihad International, Inc.

      This is the crucial sentence in Abramsky’s article:

      ” . . . such a view does put Iraq and Israel where they belong when it comes to bin Ladenism: as convenient recruiting posters for suicidal foot soldiers rather than the source of their ideology.”

      No one believes that if not for the actions of the Western powers in the region, Bin Laden would cease his Jihad. The problem is, Bin Laden is able to rally support by citing legitimate greivances shared by millions of moderate Muslims and even secular Arabs. It is not “appeasement,” as some have alleged, to address these greivances; to do so would not only be right, but would be an effective foreign policy strategy. Just as Sharon’s pulling out of Gaza might not stop Hamas, but it could very well lessen their support among Palestinians.

      No one is arguing that Saddam was a nice guy, that Al Qaeda is not a threat, or any such thing. No one has ever suggested (to my knowledge) that fundamentalist Islam was in any way “liberal.” As you say, “Al Qaeda is classically imperialist.” I don’t even object to the term “Islamo-Fascists,” (except for the obvious propaganda invovled — the subtext being “Bin Laden = Hitler”).

      But the point is, you (and Langer) are essentially asking us to believe that the Bush administration are some sort of radical leftists on a revolutionary march to liberate the downtrodden, a mission to topple any fascist regimes? That their goal was to “liberate” Afghanistan and Iraq? To bring democracy? Right. If I believed that for a second, I might support the mission. The most secretive administration in U.S. history, led by a religious fundamentalist, seeks “Open Societies” in other countries?

      As Arundhati Roy put it:

      “we’re being asked to believe that the US marines are actually on a feminist mission. (If so, will their next stop be America’s military ally, Saudi Arabia?) Think of it this way: in India there are some pretty reprehensible social practices, against “untouchables”, against Christians and Muslims, against women. Pakistan and Bangladesh have even worse ways of dealing with minority communities and women. Should they be bombed?”

      In other circumstances, I would agree with Abramsky, Hitchens, et. al. I cannot and will not endorse Langer’s statments such as, “For Chomsky, ‘draining the swamps’ apparently didn’t include killing people and blowing things up. Fortunately, Bush is made of sterner stuff”; and, “But Bush also knows that modernity grows out of the barrel of a gun.” However, I can easily see myself having supported even the war in Iraq, if someone else were leading the “revolution.” Rather than, oh, I don’t know, . . . the VERY SAME PEOPLE who supported Saddam and sold him weapons and propped him up, who installed and supported the Shah of Iran, who supported military death squads and terrorist proxy wars in South America, who supported/organized/trained/funded the mujahideen in the first place? . . . . .

      I guess we’re meant to believe they’ve all had a change of heart, and now a radical and penitent change of course — a complete reversal — has occurred. And yet even that epiphany apparently did not awaken them to the fact that Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, or Uzbekistan, which has been known to boil people to death, maybe should not be our ally in the “war on terror.”

      Thus, the “quotation marks.”

      1. It is your premises which are false
        An excellent essay by Eqbal Ahmad you link to, but we can’t say the same for your own post. How much denial can you be in? We have repeatedly pointed out that International ANSWER, a key pillar of the anti-war movement in the US, supports the Iraqi “resistance” without qualification—implicitly including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who apparently takes his marching orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama’s right-hand man. Is that good enough for you? We’ve also pointed out how your beloved Arundhati Roy shares this position, and how Naomi Klein praised Moqtada al-Sadr in the pages of The Nation. C’mon, don’t waste our time!

        If you are only “slightly” alarmed by Galloway’s rhetoric, your alarm-o-meter needs adjustement. International law certainly does not say that serial mass murder of civilian fellow citizens of your own country is “justified in fighting against a foreign invader/occupier.” And so what if the majority of these mass murderers are Iraqi? Talk about non-sequitors!

        So the religious aspect is “secondary”? Is that why they are killing more Shi’ite civilians than US occupation troops? And go tell that to women who are getting acid thrown in their faces for refusing to take the veil by your heroic “resistance.”

        Abramsky never contested that the jihadis exploit “legitimate greivances.” You aren’t contradicting him, you are agreeing with him.

        I actually disagree that al-Qaeda is “imperialist” or “(Islamo-)fascist.” Imperialism and fascism are both distinct evils from Islamism. I don’t believe in muddying the water with sloppy conflations.

        I took issue with Langer’s notion that Bush is sponsoring progressive change or “bourgeois revolution” in the Islamic world. Or didn’t you notice? I said nothing in support of this assertion. (Or were you addressing Patrick?)

        And WW4 REPORT also tends to put “war on terror” in quotes, and has vigorously covered US-backed torture states such as Uzbekistan. I do not for the life of me understand how you can oppose mass-murdering US-backed despots while cheering on mass-murdering jihadis. Or vice versa. Why does nobody get this?

        1. Denial and cheering on mass-murder, part 2 . . .
          First off, thank you for publishing my exceedingly lengthy comment. Secondly, I do agree with a great deal of Abramsky’s article; it’s just the implied premise that the left 1.) do not take the terror threat seriously and 2.) align themselves with Bin Laden, which angered me. Thirdly, I was indeed replying to Patrick’s comment throughout (apparently I clicked on the wrong “reply” link, or else you posted it in the wrong place), and to the specific article (not to you, or your entire site, which I would have thought was understood). Admittedly I am careless at times in terms of who I am addressing, for which I apologize.

          But I do wish to respond to your comments.

          Do The People Of Iraq Have A Right To Resist U.S. Occupation?

          It is difficult to know precisely who the Iraqi resistance is, or how large, or how much popular support they have. There is a great risk of over-generalizing, and of committing “sloppy conflations.” So let me state clearly: I think Zarqawi and Bin Laden should have their heads chopped off. But that does not mean I oppose the entire Iraqis resistance. O.K.? Just as, while I condemn a Palestinian blowing himself up on a bus in Israel, that does not mean I oppose the Palestinian struggle.

          As far as Naomi Klein voicing support for Moqtada al-Sadr, I’m glad you brought it up, because it goes to the essence of my point: the resistance is not a homogenous group, and the Al Qaeda faction (while almost certainly responsible for some of the most horrendous atrocities in Iraq) is but a tiny part, whose actions only harm the legitimacy of the resistance movement. It is worth recalling that al-Sadr is a Shia cleric, whose father and uncle were both executed by Saddam. Yet if you listened to the news at the time of the Mahdi Army’s uprising, you’d swear he must be a “former Ba’athist,” a “remnant of the old regime,” or a “Wahabiist” or something. Is he a prince among men? Surely not. But that doesn’t mean he’s an “Islamo-Fascist” or “imperialist” who seeks the return of the caliphate, or any such thing. Nor, to my knowledge, is al-Sistani. It’s also worth noting that al-Sadr’s army united with the avowedly secular police force of Nasiriya, and with the popular protestors in Najaf. Etc.

          The enemies of the Shiites are not their Sunni brothers, he insists. The adversaries of Iraq are not fellow Arab countries.

          “I am addressing my call to the honest Iraqi people who stand against the occupation, who reject the occupation and who demand freedom,” he shouts. “The enemy is one enemy, and that enemy is the occupier.”

          The crowd erupts, fists in the air: “No to the occupier! No to terrorism! No to the devil!”

          “Wherever America is present, then there is terrorism,” says Saadi. “When they ask the terrorists why they’re here, they say we came to fight America. If America leaves, there would be no terrorism. Terrorism would leave with it.” — Nasser Saadi, cleric alliled with al-Sadr

          It’s also entirely possible that the U.S. is trying to divide and conquer, by deliberately dividing the country along ethnic lines. (And the fact that the British had to attack a prison to rescue two of their special forces ops, who it appears may have been carrying out terrorist bombings, raises a lot of important questions.)

          As far as international law goes:

          An overwhelming majority of international lawyers and legal experts agree that the war on Iraq was illegal, not only because it was not conducted in self-defence and without the authorisation of the U.N. Security Council, but also because Iraq had no WMD since 1992. Hence the sanctions were illegal and the war on Iraq is an “act of aggression” in gross violation of the U.N. Charter. Some pro-war apologists argued that the U.N. Resolution 1441, which was adopted for the inspection regime, justify war against Iraq. This is a flawed argument. Resolution 1441 is specified to act “under Chapter VII, of the Charter of the United Nations”.

          All U.N. Security Council resolutions are specific. For example, U.N. Resolution 2649 adopted by the General Assembly on November 3, 1970, “affirms the legitimacy of the struggle of people under colonial and alien domination recognised as being entitled to the right of self-determination to restore the themselves that right by any means at their disposal”. In other words, the Iraqi people have legitimate rights, under international law, to resist the U.S. military Occupation of their country in order to preserve the state of Iraq and to achieve national independence, and are legally entitled to receive support.
          In gross violations of international law and the Geneva Conventions, U.S. forces attacked and completely destroyed the city of Fallujah. The U.S. used banned forms of napalm bombs (MK-77 Mod 5), which ignite on impact, to attack the civilian population. According to the Red Cross, more than 6,000 innocent civilians (men, women and children) have been killed while the rest of the population has been displaced and are now refugees. The attack on Falluja, which was a war crime termed “collective punishment”, was designed to instil fear and to terrorise the entire population of Iraq.
          . . . . . . . .
          That atrocity was repeated in cities like Ramadi, Qaim and Hillah, where hospitals, schools and homes have been destroyed and civilians massacred in total violation of International Law and U.N. Conventions
          . . . . . . . .
          “International law grants a people fighting an illegal occupation the right to use ‘all necessary means at their disposal’ to end their occupation and the occupied “are entitled to seek and receive support’

          1. False premises, Pt. 2
            Your pals like Jack Smith and Naomi Klein and the rest apparently cannot distinguish between legitimate national liberation struggle and serial mass murder of perceived ethno-religious enemies. If you press them, they will say (as you do) that they don’t mean that “resistance.” But they never make that distinction in their rhetoric, and for all their outrage at US atrocities in Iraq they have none for those of an apparently sizeable element of the “resistance.” So who’s kidding who?

            So what if the US is playing ethno-religious groups off against each other in Iraq (which is obvious)? Does that let the factions that play into this strategy off the hook?

            As for your quotes about international law, you are just changing the subject. We all agree the attack on Iraq was illegal. The question is whether mass murder of civilians by the “resistance” is legally “justified”—which it isn’t.

            Anybody who said al-Sadr is a “Wahhabist” is an ignoramus who does not even warrant response. But is he any better than a Wahhabist? Ask the women his thugs have killed or maimed for refusing to take the veil. Ask the residents of the Gypsy village that was “cleansed” (Bosnia-style) by his Mahdi Army for engaing in such un-Islamic activities as music and dance.

            ANSWER absolutely does support the Iraqi “resistance” “without qualification.” And Pilger, as usual, is being dishonest. Yes, the overwhelming majority of causalties have been at the hands of the “coalition”—but not lately. The “coalition” racked up impressive body counts during the aerial campaign of March-May 2003. The glorious “resistance” is killing far more civilians at the present moment. And in the same essay you quote, your beloved Arundhati Roy also writes: “The Iraqi resistance is fighting on the frontlines of the battle against Empire. And therefore that battle is our battle…” Oh? The battle against Shi’ism, Sufism, pluralism, secularism, feminism? Count me out, Arundhati.

            And after all this, you favorably cite Camus on Algeria! He was certainly expressing sentiments antithetical to those of Arundhati Roy and the rest when he wrote:

            It seems as if metropolitan France was unable to think of any policies other than those which consisted in saying to the French in Algeria: “Go ahead and die; that’s what you deserve” or else “Kill them; that’s what they deserve.” That makes two different policies and a single abdication, for the question is not how to die separately but rather how to live together.

            You are probably aware that Camus and Sartre had a bitter falling-out over Algeria. Camus ultimately came out in favor of the continuance of French rule there, appalled by the murderous tactics of the independence forces and convinced that a pull-out would be a betrayal of les colons. Sartre, in turn, became unhelpfully dogmatic in his support of the Algerian movement (and Castro’s Cuba, etc.). I’d like to think that we have learned enough over the two generations since then to avoid such stark dichotomies. Maybe not.

            That would be the same William Blum who is a prominent member of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic? What a great exemplar of morality!

            For a principled leftist perspective on these questions, see “Resistance or retrogression? The battle of ideas over Iraq” by Peter Hudis.

          2. defenseless?
            “But sorry if I’m not quick enough to condemn the tactics of a defenseless people trying to fight the most massive military machine in the history of mankind.”

            The “resistance” you stick up for is anything but “defenseless.” This is sentimental nonsense, also trotted out by Galloway. Defenseless people do not tie up the U.S. military for years. The bombers are highly organized and sophisticated and they have access to very lethal weaponry. What’s more, they use it to slaughter anyone in their path, not just U.S. forces. Galloway’s notion of “ragged people, in their sandals” is fraudulent and patronizing. If you truly cared for the welfare of the Iraqi people, you wouldn’t view condemning terrorism as an inconvenience or a distraction. And you certainly wouldn’t quote tripe from William Blum.

            1. Yes, defenseless
              I stand by my statements.

              The situation in Iraq has, of course, transformed almost completely from an anti-colonial war into a civil war — and attrocities on both sides have reached the point where I don’t think any sane person can support either the insurgents or the installed government. (The death squads operating with the complicity of the government easily rival the Sunni “terrorists” in sheer brutality.)

              As far as the vast military might of the Iraqis, with their “sophistication,” “organization,” and “very lethal weaponry” (IEDs and rusty kalashnikovs), . . . sorry, it’s laughable on its face.

              It’s true, they’ve managed to take a stand — against all odds. And of course it’s sickening and sad and tragic and horrific how many Iraqis are ending up dead at the hands of their brothers.

              But if you’re suggesting that Iraq is on an equal par with the United States or that it’s an even battle, you’re simply delusional, and there’s no point in having this discussion with an insane person.

              If you’re suggesting, instead, that when you invade and occupy a country, the citizens of that country will ultimately (inevitably) resort to extremely brutal tactics to drive out the foreign invader/occupier, then we agree. (i.e. Vietnam)

              Every American who calls himself/herself a “patriot” needs to read William Blum (as well as Noam Chomsky), and I will NOT apologize for quoting him.

              “A terrorist is someone who has a bomb but does not have an Air Force.” — William Blum

              1. Somebody isn’t paying attention
                That would be the same William Blum who is a prominent member of the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic? What a great exemplar of morality!