vrijdag, oktober 29, 2004

Hitchens' and Hari's allies in the War On Terror™

So Hitchens has, in the pages of The Nation, officially (slightly) endorsed Bush. (And then, confusingly, slightly not, if his statement in the survey of Slate contributors is more accurate)…

Now, in their slanders against the anti-war movement, the pro-war 'left' has maintained that in all other areas, they are as progressive as us 'stoppers', and hence the pro-war position can honestly be legitimately progressive, if minoritarian, position, while we, the unprincipled majority, have sacrificed our traditional defence of the rights of women and gays and lesbians by opposing the war and more latterly by supporting the resistance.

And too often, despite, for example, their attacks on Hugo Chavez, near complete ignorance of the ills of international financial institutions and corporate globalisation [I will excuse Johann Hari here, who has in the last year had a Damascene conversion to the altermondialiste cause], support for Vichy trade unions in Iraq, and a half dozen other reactionary positions, the anti-war left takes them at their word.

But the reality is not that they are left-wing-but-pro-war: They are not left-wing in any sense at all. They are as profoundly unknowing of events as a Ford 4x4 truck-driving Peoria hardware store owner. It is my firm belief that the true division politically is not between right and left, but between ignorance and awareness (with The Ignorant being led by the greedy and the psychotic [and, let's be honest, The Aware being led by millenarian hair-splitters, or, as the French more eloquently put it, 'fly ass-fuckers'*]).

The chickenhawk 'left' are simply a bunch of unaware, unread, unconscious, unlettered, simpleton fat-heads, however baroque their sentence construction.

Iraq's getting a little repetitive for the moment, and I think I've done to death the ping-pong match of 'The resistance are all fascists!'; 'No they're not, or, at least most of them aren't!' So, to prove my point, let's have a look at two other examples of the success of the War On Terror™ of which these 'single-issue' voters and their ilk (wilfully) know nothing: Colombia and Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, Air America's Majority Report had an interview with Nation journalist (and son of basically-okay-but-mildly-Stalinoid letch** Michael Parenti) Christian Parenti, not yet back 24 hours from Afghanistan, where he had been for the last month, covering the recent presidential 'election' there. Parenti Jr. outlined for hosts Garofalo and Seder the wretched state the war against Afghanistan and the subsequent corruption and realpolitik on the part of the US, UK, UN and the rest of the gang has left the country.

Articles covering the election in most of the western press reported everything went as swimmingly and hitchless as the daily Disneyland fireworks display (apart from a few teensy-weensy little problems with ink) and that, while Iraq is plainly a mess, Afghanistan is fast on its way to being something like the Finland of Central Asia.

Parenti, however - who himself managed to get a hold of two Afghan voter registration cards - described a somewhat different reality. The re-elected Karzai controls little outside Kabul, everywhere else is controlled by drug-trafficking warlords, corruption is rampant, and the chicks are still all wearing those natty blue tablecloths that John Simpson is partial to and that Laura Bush told us was why we went to war there.

I've pulled a few quotes from the interview which you can hear in its Garofalo-interrupted entirety here [If there are any errors, they will be due to my semi-deafness and repetitive-strain-injury-inhibited typing].

Parenti describes the place as a 'narco-mafia state', with the economy more dependent on drugs than even Colombia, all overseen by brutal warlords such as that cheeky chappie, General Rashid Dostum, who is fond of tying insubordinates to the tracks of tanks and having them driven over and over until they are turned to pulp.

'The warlords that were funded by Saudi Arabia and the I.S.I. (the Pakistani secret services) and the U.S. against the U.S.S.R. are being put back in power as part of the Karzai government,' said Parenti. 'The U.S. imposed this deal on the mujahedeen, and that is that if there is open factional fighting, they will be bombed and destroyed from the air, but anything short of that is fine.'

'Poppy season is over now in northern Afghanistan and there are literally fields of marijuana as far as the eye can see and the government taxes this. The guy in charge in the province is a warlord who until a month ago was this 'heart of darkness' renegade with a private army who was refusing to disarm, so Karzai just made him governor'

'You have an economy that is basically based on gangsterism and the U.S. is complicit in all of this an allowing all of this. And Karzai is just a kept caged bird in Kabul. He's appointing these people who should be tried for war crimes'

'Hash and opium are taxed by local governors, at 20 per cent. [Many of the people] are unemployed after fighting against the Russian and very depressed and demoralised and live in utter poverty…People have no choice but to engage in large scale smuggling of consumer items, guns and the drug trade and the government is complicit in this in terms of taxes and tributes and extortion and the U.S. doesn't care…The modus operandi is to subcontract to the local warlords.'

'Most of the $4.5bn spent over three years in Afghanistan was on drivers and hotels and that sort of stuff.' Meanwhile some $5bn a month is spent in Iraq.'

Parenti also described massive vote fraud, which was all known by even mainstream journalists, but later edited out by producers and editors: 'Stories covering this are being filed, but edited out…It just seemed like there was a serious and deliberate ideological intervention at the level of producer and editors in London and New York [to remove mention of voting fraud]'

'[The election was] pushed forward by Karzai even though there was not the appropriate infrastructure for an election to happen but was pushed forward by the U.S. ambassador to happen before November 2 because Iraq is melting down and [Bush] needed some symbolic victory.'

'The people in charge of voting were the local cops. There were ballots pre-marked for Karzai and hundreds or thousands of people who don't exist who had voting cards.

'[There was] definitve proof of multiple voting: journalists who went around filming their drivers getting voting cards and like voting four or five times and journalists voting themselves and this then gets translated back into just "problems with ink"'

And as for the great liberation of women that supposedly happened post-Stealth-Bomber:

'The situation for women is that you see women in burkas all the time. To be fair, the Taliban were completely nuts, and in Kabul you see women in burkas, but there are middle class women on the street in certain neighbourhoods not wearing burkas. But once you get out of Kabul, the situation for women has not changed.'

The place is a formalised narco-mafia state, with U.S. bases, run by people like Tony Soprano, given legitimacy by the U.S. occupation…Karzai is a corrupt puppet, and the rest [of the governors] are truly psychotic, like General Dostum.'

Well. That puts my mind at ease. But what about the good work we're doing in Colombia? For much of the U.S. election, there has been no mention of the Western Hemispheric front in the War On Terror/War On Drugs.

Now, I don't want to go into a detailed and bloody history of American involvement in the country. For that, you can visit the Colombia Solidarity Campaign, the Colombia Journal, or the North American Committee on Latin America. But, briefly, for over a decade, as part of the multi-billion-dollar Plan Colombia, the U.S. has funded the militarist Colombian state, colluded with right-wing paramilitary death squads and actually deployed U.S. troops in the country, ostensibly to fight the 'narco-terrorist' FARC and ELN left-wing guerrillas. The reality is that the security forces use the guerrillas as an excuse to execute trade-unionists and other activists on behalf of multi-nationals such as Coca-Cola, giving the country the highest murder rate in the world, with some 78.6 recorded homicides per 100,000 people in 1994. The second highest recorded homicide rate in the world is Jamaica at 29.8 homicides per 100,000 people.† And the bulk of these are trade unionists and other social justice activists, human rights monitors, students, academics, journalists, workers, indigenous people and peasants, killed by the army or paramilitaries.

Some 75 per cent of all trade unionists killed in the world last year were killed in Colombia.

With the help of the U.S. and the U.K., the government is literally liquidating popular opposition to neo-liberalism through its ongoing 'Operation Dragon'.

And while America's largesse to the country (some $3.5bn in military aid since 2000) professedly goes to eliminating drug trafficking, in fact, the Colombian government and U.S. representatives in the country themselves have been repeatedly been proven to be in bed with the drug cartels. Throughout Latin America, the C.I.A. has set up or consolidated intelligence agencies whose connections to other agencies have provided the perfect channel for drug shipments.

From the Winter 2000 edition of the American International Socialist Review:

'The administration of President Ernesto Samper collapsed amid scandal in 1998 after revelations that he had accepted at least $6.1 million in campaign contributions from the notorious Cali cartel. In 1996, the commander of the Colombian armed forces was forced out because of his ties to drug traffickers.

'More recently, U.S. Customs officials in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, found 1,634.6 pounds of cocaine aboard a Colombian air force plane. Colombian prosecutors claim to have conclusive evidence that the Colombian air force has been infiltrated by the cocaine cartels at the highest levels.

'A number of officials who are themselves directly involved in anti-drug efforts admit that left-wing guerrillas are not the locus of drug production. The head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Donnie Marshall, recently testified before Congress that "[the DEA hasn’t] come close to the conclusion that [the main rebel armies have] been involved as a drug trafficking organization." And President Pastrana said in an interview with the Argentine daily Clarín in July that the rebels "were not narcoguerrillas." "There is no evidence," he said, "that the FARC are drug traffickers."'

Most recently, in August of this year, the U.S. Defense [sic] Intelligence Agency, declassified documents from 1991 that reveal that Columbia's current president, Alvaro Uribe, then a senator, was at the time 'a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar' and was 'dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin [drug] cartel at high government levels.' The report goes on to say that Uribe was involved in narcotics activities in the U.S. as well.

These are the sorts of people - from General Dostum to Alvaro Uribe who are the actual, real allies of Hitchens and company.

And the pro-war 'left' accuse us of a cheap politic of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' in our support for the Iraqi resistance. But for Christopher Hitchens, it is plain that so long as the 'Islamo-fascists' are having new assholes ripped for themselves by Navy S.E.A.L.s, he could give a gibbon's left testicle what happens to Colombian peasants.

Johann Hari in particular likes to say that what makes this war different is that the bad guys from the eighties, like Saddam-handshaking Rumsfeld, have learned their lesson, that this time, the neo-cons are idealistic, and won't employ a murderous realpolitik this time around.

In his recent debate with Robert Fisk, an audience member asked Hari: 'How can you be sure [the U.S./U.K.] won't back a new Iraqi tyrant?'

He responded:

'I'm not. There is, of course, a much greater chance the Americans will back something like a democracy (albeit with undemocratic IMF-style neoliberal economics) than Saddam, that's for sure.

'But your question is a good one. What I hope - and I don't say this with any confidence - is that the US government has learned the lesson of 9/11. 9/11 happened because the US has been supporting, funding and fostering tyranny in the Middle East for fifty years. That was always going to backfire onto the streets of New York one day, killing innocent people. For the first time, US Presidents will pay a domestic price for backing tyranny abroad - because US citizens will pay a terrible price for it, in blood. This murder of US citizens will continue until the Islamic rage is quelled by democracies that can absorb some of that anger internally.

'Some of Bush's speeches suggest he has learned that, and that he knows the culture of tyranny needs to be turned around.'

But it's all bullshit. Rumsfeld and John Negroponte and Otto Reich and the rest are the same satanic baby-eating motherfuckers they were in the eighties, using the same satanic baby-eating mother-fucking realpolitik in Afghanistan and Colombia and Haiti and Uzbekistan today as they did back then.

But I'm sure Hari is well-meaning. It's just that he's as deeply unaware of these things as a ficus plant. Hitchens however, is, I think, more wilfully ignorant, blinded by the pay-checks from the Weekly Standard and The Atlantic Monthly.

*'Enculer les mouches', if you're wondering.

** He was more than a little, ahem, fresh with an anarchist Cuba-solidarity activist (that sounds like a contradiction, and it is, but that's anarchists for you) friend of mine back in Victoria following a public talk she had moderated.

† Figures from the Colombia Solidarity Campaign. The murder rate has likely become much worse in the last ten years.

woensdag, oktober 27, 2004

Belated ESF sham-a-lam-a-ding-dong

Had a tremendous time at the European Social Forum in London.

Been back for a few days now actually, but, well, no excuses for not blogging at all really, other than being rather knackered.

Bit too much of a good time, truth be told. I did attend a few workshops and plenaries, but most of the time when I turned up to a meeting, I would run into old friends I hadn’t seen in years and ended up catching up with them instead of listening to the baritone Ms. German or whoever.

I should say first off that the whole dog and pony show was a lot less SWPificated and Ken-tabulous than I had expected. (But then, that's what depending on the Weekly Worker for one's objective coverage of the organising process will do for you) Indeed, the paper-selling swarms for the most part (with one humpty, true-believing exception) took a polite distance and in fact, by the end of it, I wondered exactly what the mayor had got out of the whole thing, however domineering his Socialist Action minions have been throughout.

To be honest, I thought it went off rather well.

Cards on the table. I come from an unusual perspective. I have been a member of the International Socialist Tendency (nine years with the International Socialists in Canada, on and off with the Socialist Workers' Party in the UK when I was living there and seven months with the Internationale Socialisten in the Netherlands when I was living in an Amsterdam bedsit) since 1993, and, as is common amongst those of us who have been in this Trotskyist happy-fun-time gang for that sort of time, I have a laundry list of complaints about the organisation. I think there is a manifest need for greater transparency, pluralism and democracy internally, as well as a lot less of: 'Why weren't you at the paper sale last week?!' 'Uh, uh, I'm sorry. I was in labour with triplets.' 'You call that an excuse? Revolutionary discipline, comrade!' However, as my criticisms over the last few years have intensified, I have also been moving about a fair bit geographically due to my career, and for the last year have found myself in Belgium, where the IST hasn't existed for some while. So any critique I have had has developed outside of being an especially active member, which does not open one to a receptive hearing if one were to raise doubts, and, to some extent, fair enough.

Because Eugene Debs said 'There is no such thing as an independent socialist', and because the IST is fairly close to the Fourth International - which does have a Belgian presence - I have thrown my lot in with them for the time being. And I've found it remarkably liberating. Despite their fishy 'bureaucratic workers' state' opinions (which have only caused one uncomfortable pause in the conversation so far) their internal regime is a democratic breath of fresh air.

In the lead up to the ESF I heard a stream of criticism from my local comrades about the way the SWP was behaving in the organising meetings that often corroborated much of what was being reported in the Weekly Worker. At the same time, when I arrived in London, many of the same comrades, as well as others in the League Communiste Revolutionaire, from France, told me they found the extant ESF to have surpassed their low expectations, and were particularly enthusiastic about the confidence of the anti-war arguments they had come across in London concerning solidarity with the Iraqi resistance, which they felt was lacking on the continent.

Inversely, I hope that the Swoppies and the rest of the UK far left feel similarly about the continentals, and have been sufficiently enthused by them to take on agitating against the neo-liberal European constitution in the UK.

After almost a year of this Brussels business, I have come to the conclusion that the continentals far too often tend to adhere to some semi-patriotic blind adherence to 'laicïsme' that leads them to defend laws against the wearing of the hijab and that blinds many of them to the racism projected at the Muslim minority in Europe, which in turn hampers the maintenance of a strong anti-war movement, while the British left, while having largely overcome its allergic reaction to people of faith, and thus being able to build a more robust anti-war movement - often ends up mirroring the xenophobic, anti-European stance of much of the British press and political establishment in its repeated refusal to engage with European political developments.

It is my hope that there has been some level of cross-fertilisation between the UK and continental European left at the ESF, with the limeys taking on some European arguments about agitating against the constitution from a progressive perspective, and the perfidious French taking on the idea that something can be simultaneously its apparent opposite - what should normally be a simple perspective for Marxists: that the hijab can be both oppressive to women and a willingly-worn symbol of resistance against racism and imperialism at the same time.


The best talk I went to over the weekend was the first one I attended, on the Friday, with Mike Marqusee, the sports writer and former leading activist with the Stop the War Coaliltion in the UK. Apart from the self-loving chair of the meeting, who drove me to distraction, and distracted others enough to leave prematurely, what was said was of such import, it's a shame the points raised were not more broadly considered in London.

Marqusee noted that despite the notable successes of the UK and European anti-war movement prior to the war's opening salvoes last year, since then there has been something of a collective failure in maintaining the movement. He did recognise that the building of anti-war demonstrations in the lead-up to an imminent and avoidable war would be easier than the maintenance of an anti-war movement over the longer term, which is correct, but also said that we had plainly failed in turning that early, successful movement into sustained activity against the occupation. I would agree with him here. We have, in the UK, the US and continental Europe, had a (necessary) turn towards electoralism while the extra-parliamentary movement has atrophied.

There were two other, related points he raised, which are worth taking on board. The first, related to the first argument, is that somehow there has been set up, especially in the UK, a false dichotomy between 'mass action' and 'direct action'. He rightly said, 'any movement worth its salt uses both tactics as necessary'. He is absolutely correct.

We need demos, and elected representatives, but we also, very desperately and especially in the UK and US, need blockades, occupations and other direct action by activists against companies profiting from the occupation, against arms dealers, etc., and by soldiers and their families and communities against the war in a much more immediate way. The latter is beginning to happen, and, quite obviously, is direct and not mass action, but yet is supported by those who argue only for mass action. This is such a silly dichotomy, but one that in effect is hampering efforts to move forward.

(Above all, we need mutinies and strikes, which are plainly mass actions, but we are still some distance from such activities being a reality)

The last point he made is that the Iraqi resistance, at least sections of which deserve our support and solidarity, is 'fluid and changing and does not conform to anyone's pre-formed ideas'.

This is an especially important point. Currently there are those on the right wing of the anti-war movement and amongst the chickenhawk 'left' who refuse to recognise that there is even a resistance and continue, despite extensive evidence to the contrary, to describe everyone who is fighting the occupation as a terrorist, and then there are others (like my roommate), with whom I have more sympathy, frankly, but who are still wrong, who say that whatever methods anyone takes to fight the occupation are legitimate, including kidnappings, beheadings and the suicide bombing of civilians.

Both perspectives come from taking pre-packaged analyses off the shelf without looking at what is actually happening on the ground.

I am of the opinion that while no resistance is pretty - and that those, like Hitchens, who look back on the FLN in Algeria or the Vietnamese Viet Cong, or the IRA or even the French Maquis or the ANC as having been exquisitely pristine in their avoidance of civilian casualties, are being wilfully forgetful at best - the western left still has room to support the democratic anti-occupation forces over the fundamentalist anti-occupation forces, just as we favoured the Communists over de Gaulle in occupied France and the POUM over the Communists in the Spanish Civil War.

Tomorrow: my two-euro-centimes-worth about the sham-a-lam-a-ding-dongs of the anarchists, Workers' Power and others at a couple of the meetings; as well as the so-called - a-wooga! a-wooga! - split in the anti-war movement in Britain.

dinsdag, oktober 26, 2004

Teenage kicks right through the night.

John Peel 1939-2004.

Thanks for keeping me sane via the BBC World Service while I was living in Amsterdam, and thanks for the scruffy Billy Bragg Peel Sessions EP I found downstairs in the teen section of the West Vancouver Memorial Public Library when I was sixteen that I took out over and over.

Can't think what to say, really. Just feeling a little sad.

donderdag, oktober 14, 2004

You forgot Poland!

Another quickie: nice little collection of Photoshopped takes on Junior's zinger of a rejoinder to Kerry in the second debate.

Here's my fave.

No idea who does it, but they got T-shirts!


Bit of an odd duck, that Prince.

The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince has just released his latest single, 'Cinnamon Girl', and the video, which begins its rotation on MTV next week but can be seen online already, tells the story of a young girl of Middle Eastern background who is the subject of racist taunts at school and imagines becoming a suicide bomber and blowing up an airport.

It's a cracking tune, up there with 'When Doves Cry', 'Raspberry Beret' and 'I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man' as far as I'm concerned, and the video's great in the sense that it explores what makes a young person decide to choose such a path without endorsing the act itself - similar to Steve Earle's provocative 'John Walker's Blues' about American Taliban John Walker Lyndh.

But in 2002, he became a Jehovah's Witness, and started going door to door with copies of The Watchtower, freaking out suburbanites confused as to why this man

was asking them if they believed in blood transfusions.

To the dismay of his fans, he also began de-raunchifying the lyrics of his songs. Which must take some doing: This is the same singer, after all, whose 1984 song 'Darling Nikki,' an ode to masturbation, so shocked Tipper Gore that she went and did a Mary Whitehouse and formed the puritanical Parents' Music Resource Center [sic] - the inspiration for those annoying Parental Advisory stickers stuck on CDs in the late eighties.

Nonetheless, post-conversion, he has attacked Janet Jackson for her Superbowl 'wardrobe malfunction', and in April of this year walked out of Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl because he didn't like the swearing in the film, calling it 'potty-mouthed'. Now, he's a sensible man to have walked out of that abysmal Ben Affleck vehicle, even if for the odd reason that they said 'poop' too many times, but all of this makes his latest video seem somewhat random.

Still, cracking tune and great politics, even if the man is clearly mad as cheese.

woensdag, oktober 13, 2004

Blogger meet-up at ESF?

Gonna be back over in Albion this weekend at the Ken-a-palooza European Social Forum, so no bloggy for a few days. It'd be neat-o to meet up with some other bloggers if anybody else is going there out of the eleven of you that read these scribblings.

Leave me a note in the comments if you are and we can get together and, oh I don't know, circle jerk on a biscuit or something.

Hitch finally admits he's a neo-con

Remarkable that he still finds game enough in deigning to participate in debates with 'fellow travellers with fascism' such as his former comrade Tariq Ali on 'Saddamite' radio shows like Democracy Now, but Christopher Hitchens somehow does.

The latest debate is far too short, but it is notable for Christopher's admission that he is indeed a neo-conservative in the sense that he is a partisan of Paul Wolfowitz, whom he feels is a pro-democracy idealist because, I don't know, maybe Wolfie got into a minor bun fight with Henry Kissinger at a Washington cotillion at some point.

Meanwhile, Lenny, over at the Tomb, has done a nice little bit of work digging up details of Wolfie's handiwork helping shape Indonesian security policy in the mid-seventies, of which Hitch is unaware, or more likely overlooking.

And when was that whole kickabout in East Timor again? Oh. Mmm. Somewhere around the same time. Oh well, what is it to overlook 250,000 East Timorese dead, when one now has a steady gig at the Weekly Standard and gets to do a private stand-up routine at the White House every now and then?

Lenny also notes that Wolfie apparently was still defending Suharto as late as 1997. So no excuses really there, Hitch.

He's not bad, that Lenny. If you haven't come across Lenin's Tomb yet, check him out.

'Dude! You totally can't kill them - they're civilians!' 'Oh, no, dude, you don't understand: That's a kill. We got thirty-six insurgents.'

Seymour Hersh, the legendary journo who broke the story about the My Lai Massacre in Vietnam, as well as the whole Abu Ghraib dog and pony show in pages of the New Yorker, is going on a speaking tour at the moment, promoting his book about the war, Chain of Command : The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, which I haven't managed to pick up yet - and spoke last Friday in Berkeley at the California First Amendment Coalition Annual Assembly, detailing further some of the crimes perpetrated by Coalition forces in Iraq against civilians. You can stream his remarks from Berkeley Webcasts, but, briefly, he discloses a tale of a fresh massacre that is particularly chilling and very much echoes the pattern of behaviour Hersh uncovered thirty-odd years ago in Southeast Asia. The story has, so far as I can find, yet to be covered by the media.

Jonathan Schwarz, at A Tiny Revolution, kindly transcribed the key part of the address:

'HERSH: I got a call last week from a soldier -- it's different now, a lot of communication, 800 numbers. He's an American officer and he was in a unit halfway between Baghdad and the Syrian border. It's a place where we claim we've done great work at cleaning out the insurgency. He was a platoon commander. First lieutenant, ROTC guy.

'It was a call about this. He had been bivouacing outside of town with his platoon. It was near, it was an agricultural area, and there was a granary around. And the guys that owned the granary, the Iraqis that owned the granary... It was an area that the insurgency had some control, but it was very quiet, it was not Fallujah. It was a town that was off the mainstream. Not much violence there. And his guys, the guys that owned the granary, had hired, my guess is from his language, I wasn't explicit -- we're talking not more than three dozen, thirty or so guards. Any kind of work people were dying to do. So Iraqis were guarding the granary. His troops were bivouaced, they were stationed there, they got to know everybody...

'They were a couple weeks together, they knew each other. So orders came down from the generals in Baghdad, we want to clear the village, like in Samarra. And as he told the story, another platoon from his company came and executed all the guards, as his people were screaming, stop. And he said they just shot them one by one. He went nuts, and his soldiers went nuts. And he's hysterical. He's totally hysterical. And he went to the captain. He was a lieutenant, he went to the company captain. And the company captain said, "No, you don't understand. That's a kill. We got thirty-six insurgents."

'You read those stories where the Americans, we take a city, we had a combat, a hundred and fifteen insurgents are killed. You read those stories. It's shades of Vietnam again, folks, body counts...'

What was it that battery-operated Bush said of the insurgents a few days ago?

'We're dealing with an enemy that has no conscience. These people are brutal. They're the exact opposite of Americans.'

Washington Post acknowledges Iraqi 'resistance' is distinct from Zarqawi

There's an article in the Washington Post today by Karl Vick, 'Insurgent Alliance Is Fraying In Fallujah' that, comme d'habitude, has a headline that is the opposite of what is contained in the article itself. The story is about how native Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah are turning against foreign fighters, and particularly Abu Musab Zarqawi and his Monotheism and Jihad, which has been is responsible for many of the more sadistic attacks in the last few months, especially many of the beheadings. But while locals are indeed turning against the likes of Zarqawi, the headline gives the impression that the insurgency is faltering in the city, which is far from the case.

What is interesting is that the article - and it was carried on page A1 of the Post - concedes that there is a nationalist 'resistance' distinct from the likes of Zarqawi, and, furthermore, that they are getting a little humpty at him and his gang.

'"He is mentally deranged, has distorted the image of the resistance and defamed it. I believe his end is near," Abu Abdalla Dulaimy, military commander of [insurgent group] First Army of Mohammad, said.'

Apparently the rest of the resistance finds the austere brand of Islam being imposed in regions controlled by such fighters as welcome as apples in a bag of Hallowe'en candy. They are also 'repulsed by the atrocities that Zarqawi and other extremists have made commonplace in Iraq.'

'Abu Barra, commander of a group of native insurgents called the Allahu Akbar Battalions, said: "Please do not mix the cards. There is an Iraqi resistance, a genuine resistance, and there are other groups trying to settle accounts. There is also terror targeting Iraqis.

'President Bush, he said, "knows that and so does the government, but they purposely group all three under the tag of 'terrorism.' "

'Barra and other insurgent leaders said the "genuine resistance" is a disciplined force that restricts its attacks to military targets, chiefly U.S. forces. It is motivated, they say, by Iraqi nationalism and humiliation over what it regards as a foreign occupation.'

Now, it has been plain for months that the resistance is largely a nationalist rejectionist uprising - there is no way an average of 80 attacks on US forces a day can go on without extensive local support - and that there is a difference between these insurgents and the terror groups that have perpetrated so many atrocities. But this is the first instance of a mainstream media outlet in the US to acknowledge it that I've found.

Update: The above is backed up by an earlier report (5 October) on Democracy Now, quoting a Kuwaiti newspaper, that sections of the resistance are uniting under a single group to oppose the occupation:

'A leading Kuwaiti newspaper is reporting that a number of Iraqi resistance groups are planning on uniting under a single umbrella group to oppose the US presence in Iraq. The paper reports the resistance group will command a total of 7,000 fighters across Iraq.

'In addition, the resistance groups are threatening to take up arms against suspected Al Qaeda leader Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi unless he stops carrying out attacks against Shiite Iraqis. A source for the new unity group said, "If Zarqawi does not abandon his plans to instigate a sectarian rift, the groups will force him to do so even if that requires taking up arms against him." The group's stance on Zarqawi cast new doubts on the Bush administration's claim that Zarqawi is leading the resistance.

'A new report by Newsday has found that Zarqawi has far less power than portrayed by the U.S. and the media. The paper estimates his group has just 100 members inside Iraq. A new Arab intelligence assessment cited by Newsday determined that Zarqawi does not have the support to carry out all of the attacks that he takes credit for.'

All of this, naturally, makes it that much easier for the Western left to begin openly campaigning for solidarity with the resistance.

dinsdag, oktober 12, 2004

The Australian election is the first major defeat of the anti-war movement.

From Michael Moore's repeated rallying cry that 'we' are in the majority to the title of Janeane Garofalo's evening radio show on Air America (who, by the way, it turns out, as funny and smart and right-on as she is, is a complete control-freak bitch to her poor, put-upon sidekick, Sam Seder), 'Majority Report', the left has succeeded at reminding ourselves that, in fact, the overwhelming majority of people in the world broadly agree with the basic tenets of the left: peace, public education, public health-care, protecting the environment, a woman's right to choose, trade union rights, anti-racism, a generalised sense that equality is preferable to inequality, even opposition to the death penalty (so long as the question posed is phrased 'Knowing that as a result of the death penalty innocent people will occasionally die, do you support capital punishment?') - an elementary 'social democratic' consciousness, if you will. Noam Chomsky has noted this repeatedly as well, although relying more on compendia of surveys to prove the point than on the (nonetheless correct) the gut instinct and anecdotes of Moore and Garofalo.

And, you know what, it feels good. C. Hitchens may be correct in his fat-headed Letters to a Young Contrarian when he says that the 'contrarian', or radical, or misfit-what-have-you, must ultimately be prepared to be alone in his views, and not just on occasion, but for his entire life, if necessary - but Shelley's insistance that we are many certainly makes me feel inside the same way I do when I have a bowl of piping-hot, tinned rice-pudding.

I have been lucky enough (or enough of a revolutionary tourist, as some would uncharitably put it) to have been in Toronto for the Metro Days of Action in 1996, Seattle in the late November of 1999, in Quebec City and Genoa in the summer of 2001, and in London last February 15 - all of which, especially the last, were truly transcendent moments of mass solidarity.

But as true as all this is, we must recognise that not everywhere are we in the majority, and where we are, the right is not standing still, and as blunderingly calamitous as Iraq has turned out to be for Bush and Blair, there is still much room for the forces of reaction to use even such indecorous misadventure for their own gain.

The Australian election is the first major defeat of the anti-war movement. And it is a considerable defeat.

For the left, it is axiomatic that those great, apathetic masses who are truant on election day are not apathetic because they are happy with their lot, but because no matter who they vote for, nothing changes. Now, it is not the case that all - or even many - non-voters are socially aware; the consciousness of non-voters is a mixture of good ideas and reactionary ones, as is the case, to a greater or lesser degree, with the proportion of society that does vote. However, there is no question that non-voters are overwhelmingly of a poorer demographic, and their interests are certainly not those of elites in society. It is this essential fact that makes the mobilisation of non-voters key to left electoral advances in North America in particular, but in Europe as well, and not that workers and the working poor automatically vote in accordance with their interests if only we can drive them to the polling station.

Unlike the US, Canada, the UK, and other jurisdictions, in Australia voting is mandatory, which means that - as Conservative John Howard not only won the election, but increased his party's standing in the House of Representatives and Senate - many among those who would be non-voters elsewhere and whom we regularly assume to be apathetic but more-or-less in accordance with our views, in Australia voted for the pro-war, neo-liberal government.

We have often seen the abandonment of social democratic parties by workers and the working poor for conservative parties (or, worse, the far right) when social democrats engage in deregulation, privatisation and the other, usual assorted neo-liberal shits and giggles. This is normal. And voters swing back the other way too. But this will be John Howard's fourth term in office. He has instituted a programme of structural adjustment and general ass-cheek-spreading for big business at least as obsequious before capital as any Blair, Bush, or Schroeder has introduced and has been as war-mongering as Berlusconi and Aznar or any other in America's Franklin Mint collection of miniature declining-power toadies.

How is it that in such circumstances Howard could not only have won but been returned with a significantly enhanced majority?

The international anti-war/global justice movement has to recognise that there has not been an uninterrupted advance of anti-war and anti-globalisation sentiment in the last few years. It is true that the international left is stronger than it has been since 1968, but there are peaks and valleys in consciousness, and anti-war consciousness is geographically uneven as well. The right can make advances within the present period as much as we can. The right can and has been able to take advantage of what are manifest horrors perpetrated by al Qaeda, sections of the Iraqi resistance, and 'al-Qaeda-ism' in general around the world.

The left internationally will develop analyses of the Australian defeat in the coming days (some of them have already begun to appear in Green Left Weekly and on Marxmail) that attempt to explain away the result in terms of how the war was hardly mentioned over the course of the campaign, and how Howard skilfully exploited the mortgaged-to-the-hilt middle class's fear of interest rate rises under Labor [sic], and how the far left and Greens made extremely modest but real gains, and this will all be true, and the Socialist Alliance and Greens there are to be congratulated.

But it is undeniable that following the revelations about Abu Ghraib, which left the US and its allies momentarily rudderless and on the defensive, there have been a number of terrorist (and I use the term in it's appropriate sense - the deliberate killing of civilians) atrocities that have been so barbaric that the anti-war left has been partially silenced.

It is not so much the random bombings - although events such as the Egyptian hotel bombing and the Bali bombing (the latter having a particularly polarising effect in Australia) don't help - that are doing this. Most people, despite the propaganda, are fairly well-equipped morally to say to themselves 'Okay, 12 civilians bombed by the darkies this week bad, but 650 bombed by us last week way bad.'

No, it is the beheadings in particular, available to view on the internet, that are as opinion-changing for our side as Abu Ghraib was for those previously sympathetic to the other side. Not just Ken Bigley, but also the 12 Nepalese workers. My roommate, a cameraman for Kurdish television and robust supporter of the Iraqi resistance (more than me) was struck dumb when the Nepalese workers were beheaded.

I remember a anti-rape activist once told me that, in fact, there are things worse than being killed. This, I think, is why I find capital punishment so barbaric: It's the knowledge, both by yourself and your family, that you are going to die shortly. While in number, clearly the Americans reproduce 9/11 every few months, there is something ineffably abominable, something of the Devil about being able to saw off a live man's head.

But it is also kidnappings such as those of the French journalists and of the Italian anti-war activists - the suspicious circumstances surrounding their abduction notwithstanding [of which I have written earlier] - that has helped push Italy, for example, from being as muscularly anti-war a year ago to a country now pretty evenly divided on the issue. (Although the wave of national chauvinism following the killing of six Italian soldiers has also contributed to this as well)

The second thing that has contributed to this erosion of anti-war sentiment is the silence of the far left in the last few months. There are, in turn, two aspects of this silence. The far left has itself been confused on how to respond to such actions, especially in continental Europe. Where the far left has been more clear-headed on the issue - in the UK mainly - a ham-handed stewardship of the Stop the War Coalition has resulted in a dearth of on the street actions that could have kept the advantage with the anti-war movement.

Liberals often ask, 'What is the point of a demonstration?' Lefties respond by mumbling something about how they pressure governments into changing their activities. But there are real, concrete consequences that result from extra-parliamentary activity. One of the main objects is to keep an idea alive in the public imagination. Another is a rallying of the troops, another still is in the organising itself. For every one person you leaflet convincing them to come to the demo, you leaflet fifty others who don't come but have been affected or changed in some way. When I was organising for the Canadian Federation of Students in Canada, we always used to say of demos themselves that they were the least important aspect of the whole process. It was the awareness raising that went on as a result of trying to get people to the demo that was what really mattered. And since February, we haven't really seen much of a concerted effort - a march or rally here or there excepted - to maintain much of anything.

Chomsky is right. There are two superpowers in the world today: the US and the global justice movement. We are beginning to have a counter-hegemonic influence. But we will lose it if the movement's erstwhile leadership is paralysed.

This is what has allowed the right to regroup and even advance. Australia is the warning. A year ago, had an election taken place in Italy, even taking into account the disarray of the various reformist forces, Berlusconi would have been toast, or rather bruschetta. If an election were held in the country tomorrow, you couldn't call it either way.

Oddly, in America, the crucible of world politics, where, theoretically, it should be hardest to mobilise, the liberal-left has never let up. Throughout the course of this year there have been enormous demonstrations. Now, yes, it's an election year, and come Kerry's election, there will be a lot of pressure to take down the bunting and remove the stickers from the back of the Volvo [BTW, apparently Volvo drivers rarely vote Republican, or so the Guardian told us this weekend], but the mobilisation of the left in the US, for all its Democratic squishiness, leaves the rest of the world in the dust as far as sustained extra-parliamentary activity goes.

The left needs clarity on the resistance, and we need to return to the streets, and we need to do both now. The European Social Forum that is to take place in London this weekend should have been the site of such discussions, but, given the Red-Ken-a-palooza the whole thing is turning into, I don't hold out much hope.

Howard remains in Canberra; Blair isn't going anywhere and Brown would be no different anyway; Bush may still be in the White House after November; the German Christian Democrats will win in 2006; Italy's next general election is scheduled for the same year, but Berlusconi could call a snap election at any point he feels the wind is changing more clearly in his favour; Canada's opposition Conservatives - who to a man wish they had been born in the States - backed by the Bloq Quebecois, are plotting to unseat the Liberal minority government sooner rather than later if the reports of NDP leader Jack Layton are to be believed, and Vladimir Putin has taken some sizeable goosesteps away from bourgeois democratic norms in the wake of Beslan.

We are in the majority, but it is a slim majority, and our enemies are far from demoralised.

We may have won Spain, but they won Australia, and if the global left doesn't take its finger out of its ass, it will only have been Spain we win.

maandag, oktober 11, 2004

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.

...and in so doing have fucking flushed all my previous comments down the digital toilet! Aaaargh!

donderdag, oktober 07, 2004

Dinner parties

There are people you know whom you find uninteresting, but who for some reason seem to like you, and who ask you to go and do things with them. You try and brush them off, but, like a puppy with a stick, they are unrelenting, and at some point you cave and accept their invitation.

We all have this experience from time to time. It is like stepping in poo. Most of the time you manage to avoid it, but occasionally you can't help stepping in some. However, there's not a lot worth complaining about. It's happened before. It'll happen again, and it's only a temporary annoyance anyway. You wipe most of it off on the grass and then flick the remaining shitlets out from between the grips in your sneakers with a thin stick.

But here in Brussels, I seem to be stepping in shit all the time - and I'm not referring to the continental indifference towards picking up after pets (which is a very real phenomenon, and not merely the imaginings of your xenophobic uncle).

I have a small number of French-speaking friends, but, while my French is improving, when I speak the language, my personality disappears in the same way that it would if I were possessed or zombified. I am an Anglophone zombie. People speak to me politely for five to ten minutes, and then, because it's tiring and not especially interesting, they then excuse themselves and speak to someone who can use more than three tenses in the language - in exactly the same way that I was nice for five minutes to exchange students in high school but then went back to my friends, off to behind the portables to figure out how to smoke. I don't begrudge them their conversational exit. I know how boring I am in French.

However, Brussels, much like Amsterdam, is teeming with expats. Now, you may think that the sort of people who become expats will inherently be interesting people. But you would be wrong. They are the same Eurail fratboys that travelled around Europe or Southeast Asia in their early-to-mid twenties in order to get as drunk as they did back home, but with an exotic backdrop; they're just now slightly older. They all studied Finance or Commerce or Business, or whatever it was their particular university called that glorified-group-project-and-embarrassment-to-the-very-ideal-of-post -secondary-education that is learning how to become a middle manager. They may be English or American or German or Swedish, but they all speak decent international business English - that sarcasmless, slangless, soulless version of English that has no passport, but no poetry or pop cultural references either.

What this all means is that while most of the time I am stumbling through in French with locals, and genuinely enjoying it despite its frustrations, I keep meeting these young, corporate Anglo-ninnies and being invited out for beers or to dinner parties with them. Eventually I run out of excuses and end up at exactly the same dinner party I was a few weeks ago, with the same inane conversation in marketese and the same Chris de Fucking Burgh and Eurythmics (or, retch, The Rasmus) on the stereo.

I can almost sit back and, like a grade school theatre teacher in the wings with the marked-up script in hand, watch the conversation like an end-of-year recital, knowing exactly how the conversation set pieces will play out, which topics will follow on from earlier ones.

But I don't sit back. I am charming. Or rather, I do charming. I can do charming reasonably well. I don't mean to sound full of myself - far from it: I hate the whole act. But it's an act I've got down like a street performer. There's the facial elasticity, the bon mots, the self-deprecation, the amusing tales well-recycled, well-rehearsed, that, because I have moved around the world so much, I am in absolutely no danger of repeating to someone who has heard them before.

And, above all, there is the avoidance of any topic of substance, such as literature, independent music or film, and - most especially - politics.

There is no point in discussing music with these people for the most part because they will, from their eleventh birthday to now, have only ever listened to or enjoyed music that they do not have to seek out in order to hear. I'll not say that they only listen to top-forty, because it's not as simple as that, and I'm no snob: there are top-forty hits I appreciate. But for me, music is something you work at, something you investigate and explore. And I feel the same way about film and literature and, well, just about everything in life. The division is not some Berlin Wall between popular art and independent art - because the Beatles and Shakespeare were popular as well as being 'good', and there's also a lot of indie music that remains indie for a very good reason. However, these Commerce grads are as identical in their musical/film/fashion/literature/art tastes as their personalities are identical. And, by and large, they know nothing of what exists beyond the corporate culture they are spoon-fed. So there is no point in talking about any of these topics with them, because they will always say: "Who? I've never heard of them." And so you are reduced to a sort of lowest common denominator of conversation - what everybody has heard of. So we end up talking about Finding Nemo or something.

But then, at some point, someone will regale us all with some tale about how atrocious customer service is in the Benelux. So I will trot out my story about trying to buy gloves at an H&M in Amsterdam, which I've told a hundred times and is always a hit - but I know where this is going, because the round of customer service anecdotes always gives way to accounts of bureaucratic fubars. Always. You can see it a proverbial mile off.

And a story about a bureaucratic fubar will always, always lead to some ignorant folktale about a union.

So then Mr. Charming has to take his leave. Or rather, Mr. Charming will say 'Yeah, but you have to understand that...' I will try to keep up the Mr. Charming demeanour and jokiness, while still putting forward the basic righteousness of trade unionism. And then, because I will have demolished what was supposed to be an amusing little narrative that would have been followed by something between guffaws and polite snickering, thus ruining the tennis match of insipid anecdote followed by vacuous chestnut followed by fatuous parable, the Alpha Male at the table will counter my argument with the typical illogical, counterfactual defence of privilege they always do, but, because they are no longer attempting to take part in the antiseptic banter and adding to the general mood of sociability but instead attempting to re-establish the petit bourgeois ideological uniformity that existed just minutes before, the larking about is largely gone.

I then have no choice but to point out the inconsistencies in the fellow's position, in as whimsical fashion as I can, mind, and the smiles return.

But I have still said something that somehow they don't quite agree with, no matter how waggishly I have said it, and so, after cleaning up the wine that has come out of her nose from laughing at the same time as drinking, one of the women will then ask a question along the lines of: "So you think that…?"

And I say, yes, actually, and this is why.


I will joker it up a bit again, but it's clear by now that I am Not One Of Them. The rest of the evening will proceed cheerfully enough. Perhaps phone numbers and cards will even be exchanged. Other times there will be a bit of a ruckus - especially if a member of the Swedish haute bourgeoisie who attended a British boarding school and is now a metals trader and is named David is there (the particular occasion I refer to here was a result of our clashing perspectives on the shooting of three protestors in Gothenburg in 2001 by the Swedish police during the anti-EU/anti-Bush demos. He was for the pigs. I was not. There was not much room for mirthful compromise at that point, even for the sake of the dinner).

Anyway, I'm a little sick of the whole charade.

One of these days I will catch myself saying something along the lines of: 'If I am to be honest, actually, Elsa, ha, ha, you should know that I am a Marxist and I believe in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the state, violently if necessary. No, I'm not joking. And, quite frankly, I find your witless, meaningless, leaching, bourgeois lives to be boring beyond redemption, and, Come the Glorious Day, should I find the lot of you blindfolded and up against a wall, I will not plead with the presumably over-zealous young Jacobin holding you captive to show you mercy, but instead happily volunteer for the opportunity to put an end to these sorts of conversations forever.'

maandag, oktober 04, 2004

America's Ketchup

There is no hope for humanity. This was a sponsored link in my Gmail today:
'You don’t support Democrats.

'Why should your ketchup?

'W Ketchup™ is made in America, from ingredients grown in the USA.

'A portion of every sale is donated to the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for the children of active duty service members killed in the line of duty.

'W Ketchup is America’s Ketchup™'

I suppose the cheap joke here would be that you should put it on your freedom fries.

Marc Cooper galloping off to Hitchenstan

Louis Proyect, the moderator of the superb Marxist mailing list, Marxmail (long a site for open discussion of Marxist politics amongst socialists of different tendencies and traditions while most organised socialist organisations remain inexplicably luddite towards or politically suspicious of listservs and the like), has recently started his own blog, Unrepentent Marxist. In his latest post, concerning the backing of John Kerry by 'broad layers' of the US left, he writes:

'If you had told me three years or so ago that broad layers of the US left would be backing a pro-war candidate in the 2004 elections, I never would have believed it.'

I think this is unfairly pessimistic. The calculus that liberals and many on the left in the US have made may not be one that I agree with - Kerry is openly pro-war and is a corporate DLC Democrat in every other capacity, as I have said before - but I think Proyect here, and others on the Left who have clear-headedly backed Nader and worked like Stakhanovites to campaign for their candidate despite the dirty tricks and shady legal manoeuvrings of the Dems, could fall into a pit of bitterness and despondency if they believe that the magnificent anti-globalisation movement born in Seattle, which metamorphosed into a robust anti-war movement are now 'backing' a pro-war candidate. They are not. They are backing the least bad of the possible options. The lesser-evilism argument is a difficult one to defeat. The left is not pro-war, it's anti-Bush.

It may not be a terribly evolved politic, but it is far from surprising, and it's not the end of the world. The global justice/anti-war movement hasn't gone anywhere, and if we compare it to the last major upturn in struggle - the events of 1968 or thereabouts - we see that the movement then had largely died off by the early to mid seventies, while today, depending on how you celebrate the birthday of the altermondialistes, we're more or less nearly five years going and getting stronger.


A quite good related point Proyect makes is the frustration he has with the pro-war left - and he doesn't just mean Hitch.

'An important element of this is the susceptibility of many liberals and some radicals to describe the Iraqi resistance as Islamo-fascists, etc. Some of the people heaping such abuse were veterans of the Vietnam era radicalization, who apparently forgot how the Vietnamese revolutionaries were described at the time. They were linked to Joseph Stalin and at least in the pages of Dissent Magazine an anti-war demonstration was interpreted as endorsement of the Gulags.'

Well said, Louis. If it was possible for Hitchens and other soixante-huitards once upon a time to support the Stalinist Ho Chi Minh against the US in Vietnam, despite all the then well-known horrors of Stalinist states elsewhere - indeed in the white heat of May 68, the Soviets were crushing the Prague Spring - then it should be as easy today to see who the main enemy is.

'While somebody like Christopher Hitchens exhibits this tendency in its full hothouse flowering, you find others along the liberal-left spectrum moving inexorably in the same direction. In today's edition of marccooper.com, we find the one-time aide to Salvador Allende enthusing over an article by one Ahmed S. Hashim in the leftish Boston Review that "paints a vivid and rather chilling picture of the armed opposition to the U.S. occupation." This has been part of a recent propaganda spasm by people like Frank Smyth, Doug Ireland and Cooper to smear principled anti-war efforts as tantamount to raising money for the Ku Klux Klan or something.'

Again, however, I would note that Nation writer Marc Cooper has not just crossed the Rubicon in terms of the Iraqi resistance, he has also written extensivelyon the supposed authoritarian tendencies of Hugo Chavez, berating the left for 'brainlessly' following the chubby Venezuelan in the red beret. If the 'one-time aide to Salvador Allende' has travelled so far to the right as to support the death-squad-linked anti-Chavistas, is it at all surprising that he is a rabid Hitchenite when it comes to Iraq?

The best that can still be said for Cooper is that he at least hasn't endorsed Bush, unlike Hitchens.

Proyect shouldn't get so depressed. The Coopers and Hitchens of the world today hold the identical position, vis-à-vis the left, that the CIA-patronised habitués of Dissent magazine he mentioned did in the sixties. But it is not only the war on which they are wrong. From the Zapatistas, through the revival of industrial struggle, to the anti-globalisation movement - every major development of the left in the last ten years has passed these sorts by. They are tiny and largely, apart from Hitch, uninfluential. The anti-war movement is massive and strappingly internationalist, (admittedly somewhat irregularly) producing some of the largest demonstrations in the history of the left.

We are - as has often been said before - many. They are few.

The strange tale of the two Simonas

Having written some days ago about the kidnapping in Iraq of the two young Italian women (both named Simona and both 29 - which is not a bad age at all), it is with honest relief that we can read in the last few days of their release, along with their Iraqi comrades.

It seems that most of the Italian press is taking it as a given, despite denials, that the country's government paid a ransom of US$1 million for the release of the two aid workers, whose left-wing NGO was opposed to the sanctions, the war and is opposed to the occupation. The left-of-centre La Repubblica said a "ransom was paid and that is nothing to be ashamed of" in a front page report, and reportedly much of the country agrees.

At the same time, a few days ago, Naomi Klein together with Jeremy Scahill, a reporter for Democracy Now, had published in the Guardian an investigative piece that raised a number of disturbing questions about this particular hostage-taking.

According to Ms Klein and Mr. Scahill, who quote witnesses, the kidnappers were clean shaven and bare-faced where generally the mujahedeen generally hide their face. Some were also wearing business suits. One of the kidnappers addressed the others as 'sir'.

'Most are opportunistic attacks on treacherous stretches of road. Torretta and her colleagues were coldly hunted down in their home… Witnesses say the gunmen questioned staff in the building until the Simonas were identified by name, and that Mahnouz Bassam, an Iraqi woman, was dragged screaming by her headscarf, a shocking religious transgression for an attack supposedly carried out in the name of Islam.

'Most extraordinary was the size of the operation: rather than the usual three or four fighters, 20 armed men pulled up to the house in broad daylight, seemingly unconcerned about being caught. Only blocks from the heavily patrolled Green Zone, the whole operation went off with no interference from Iraqi police or US military…Strangest of all is this detail: witnesses said that several attackers wore Iraqi National Guard uniforms and identified themselves as working for Ayad Allawi, the interim prime minister.'

The kidnappers reportedly also carried 'AK-47s, shotguns, with silencers and stun guns', instead of the usual rusty old Kalashnikovs, and while an Iraqi 'government' spokesperson has denied any connection to the events, ' Sabah Kadhim, a spokesperson for the interior ministry, conceded that the kidnappers "were wearing military uniforms and flak jackets".'

As a Marxist, I am not normally given to conspiracy theories, expressive as they are of the viewpoint that if we get rid of the conspirators - the bad men - then the rest of the system will be hunky dory, rather than looking at the (given) crimes that occur as products of the system itself. Nonetheless, as Watergate and Iran-Contra show, there are indeed actual, real-life conspiracies, which have nothing to do with lizard men, grassy knolls or Area 51.

All of this stinks like the dodgy 'vanilla-orange' toilet deodoriser I bought from the discount store last month that didn't work at all until it broke open upon inspection, causing your humble servant and the toilet floor (but not the toilet) to smell like a citrus-y urinal cake for a day.

But more generally, despite the barbarism of all these kidnappings, and the torturous, death-row-like waiting that both the victims and their families experience, and their headline-grabbing nature, one must ask why the death or kidnapping of a handful of Westerners, as wrong as it is, warrants more concern than the dozens, then hundreds, then just dozens again - but never less than dozens - of Iraqis that die every few days from US bombs and helicopter gunships?

In one week in April, US Marines killed over 600 people in the space of a week. As horrific as the kidnappings are, we must not forget this.

Indeed, the two Simonas themselves have now, in their first public appearances, called on the Italian government to withdraw from Iraq and caused quite a brou-ha-ha in Italy by saying they continue to support the Iraqi resistance despite what happened to them.

From the BBC:

'"Guerrilla warfare is legitimate, but I am against the kidnapping of civilians," Simona Torretta…told Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

'"You have to distinguish between terrorism and resistance - I said it before and I repeat it today," she added.

'Ms Torretta went on to describe Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's administration as "a puppet government in the hands of the Americans". ' [italics added]


Needless to say, the Italian right feels the young women are being somewhat ungracious, with the editor of Il Foglio, a daily newspaper allied to the Prime Minister, suggesting that they return the $1 million by collecting it from the rest of Italy's anti-war movement. I myself am waiting for Hitchens, Hari or whoever to make the obvious but cheap Patty Hearst comparison.

It will be interesting to see if the two Simonas will also be able to shed some light on who in fact were their captors. Nonetheless, the courageous words of the two young activists have gone some way in undermining the public relations benefit Berlusconi may has gained at the expense of the Italian anti-war movement as a result of the kidnapping.