I was watching “12 Years a Slave” with my almost 11 year old son yesterday, and within minutes of watching the movie he begged me to switch it off, specifically, during the scene where the lead character, Solomon Northup, wakes up to find himself shackled and whipped into enslavement. Although my son has a higher tolerance for TV violence than I do, he was particularly distressed by this scene, or to quote his words “disturbed because he was being forced against his will and I put myself in his place. I can handle violence but not slavery”.
It got me thinking about how justice is not merely experienced rationally, but also originates in our emotions and intuition which we express as moral outrage. It also reminded me how justice-seeking, compassion and outbursts of moral indignation are defining features of childhood which society—capitalism specifically—tries to control and harness as we grow up through various mechanisms. Emotional/intuitive justice is eclipsed by purely rational, western liberal notions of justice as “fairness” as found in “procedural” justice.
The mechanisms capitalism employs to enforce this shift include western theories of “human nature” which perpetuate the myth that the default human character is one marked by aggression, the hunger for power and self-interest, and is hence, naturally disinclined to social and economic justice, and requires hegemonic political power to restrain it.
Another mechanism is the psycho-pathologization of justice-seeking behaviour and the refusal to submit to domination, by branding them “disorders” like “anti-social personality disorder” and “oppositional defiant disorder,” whose hallmark “symptoms” are the “failure to conform” to social and political norms and in the case of the latter, “arguing” and “anger”.
The mainstream media is also guilty of disabling our gut reaction to injustice. Western media coverage of imperialist military aggression and political domination serve to at once justify and rationalize these injustices while desensitizing us to the suffering of their victims. It also achieves this by dismissing anti-imperialist leaders as demagogues who command “personality cults”, and in so doing, reducing the just causes they represent to the irrational impulses of the raucous mob.
Our inherent sense of justice is also stifled by western academic standards which require “emotional distance/detachment” in the social sciences, so that we are forced to adopt neutral positions in the face of gross social and political injustices. Thus for example, intellectuals who decry the injustices of American and Israeli aggression and occupation are discredited as “emotional”, while those who publish papers on how best to secure US “national interests” are deemed “scholarly”. In this manner, works guided by notions of naked self-interest and brute power are elevated to the status of “knowledge” while those guided by a social conscience are stigmatized as irrational rambling.
As people who pursue justice, we should always strive to naturalize moral outrage, by inculcating it in our children and refusing to be stigmatized medically or professionally for expressing it. We must work hard to retain those child-like outbursts of moral outrage which are the essence of our humanity.
Get your stomachs ready for the latest addition to the mainstream media handbook of terms which have been so drastically redefined as to lose all meaning: Russian “imperialism” vs. western “globalization”. LOL. Talk about distortion of the century meets euphemism of the millenium . I mean even if non-Marxists choose to ignore Lenin’s definition of imperialism as the highest stage of capitalism, conventional, bourgeois liberal definitions of imperialism refer to economic domination and exploitation as the defining features of imperialism. I vividly recall the text book we studied in history class in my London state-funded school identified natural resources, cheap labour and new markets as the primary motives of imperialism. But according to this new lexicon, imperialism can be reduced to territorial expansion and irredentism, which quite comically renders states like Ethiopia imperialist and more comically still, suggests that the US is anti-imperialist in so far as it rejects Russian territorial expansion. Meanwhile, the US’ military expansion across all corners of the globe via military bases, installations and occupation forces can be chalked up to “globalization”, much like its domination of the world economy. But by all means, lets all stand united in the face of “rampant” Russian imperialism which “threatens the vision for a more global world economy.”
As I watch Putin’s standing ovation today in the Russian parliament, and read news about Hizbullah’s latest attack on Israeli occupation troops in the Golan, I can’t help but think how terrifying it is to have an enemy as quintessentially stupid as the US and its allies. Just 3 weeks ago, an NYT headline penned by the head of Carnegie’s Moscow Center, boldly declared “Why Russia Won’t Interfere.” Such myopia is reminiscent of the “Assad’s days are numbered” mantra, and predictions about how “Hizbullah won’t respond [to Israel]” . Time and time again, we find that US intelligence services, think tanks and policy makers misread their enemy’s intentions and willingness to respond militarily to US/NATO/Zionist destabilization and aggression campaigns. The problem lies in their very rationality which is based on the deeply flawed premise that only imperialist powers will dare act militarily in puruit of their “security interests” (a euphemism for imperialist designs) while other nations can be sanctioned, destabilized and even bombed into submission, without standing up for their rights, security and very existence . And when anti-imperialist forces do strike back in self-defense, the US & co appear genuinely shocked by their digression from this “rational actor” model and are consequently branded as irrational (Assad is “delusional”, Putin is “in another world”, etc.) pariahs who can only be restrained by means of further sanctions, destabilization and bombing campaigns. What can be more terrifying than an enemy who possesses such a rationality?
So Erdogan is threatening to ban Facebook and Youtube because of leaked audio recordings which expose his corruption. I really don’t understand why he can’t follow the example of the leaders of other NATO democracies who have also been exposed on audio. I mean, when Victoria Nuland’s audio clip was leaked where she issued directives on the type of puppet Ukrainian regime the US wanted installed, what did the Obama adminstration do? Nothing. It never happened. And when the Paet-Ashton audio was leaked where the former admitted that the snipers who shot at protesters and police were hired by Maidan leaders, what did the EU do? Nothing, because who cares about evidence which contradicts the mainstream narrative of a democractic and peaceful opposition? And when the whole world almost vomited when they heard Kerry audaciously declare “You just don’t in the 21st century behave in 19th century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pre-text,” as he conveniently brushed under the carpet decades of US invasions and aggression against other countries, was the US remotely embarassed? Of course not because when it comes to the Empire the aphorism “might makes right” becomes “might makes reality itself”. Erdogan has a long way to go before his government becomes a bona fide NATO democracy. He needs to restrain the urge to suppress the truth in favour of a more NATO-friendly approach whereby he simply ignores it and mocks his detractors for being “out of touch with reality.”
So now, thanks to the Ukraine crisis, we need to revise our current understanding of the concepts “coup d’etat”, “invasion”, and “occupation”. See, when the US invades countries thousands of miles away from it, countries whose non-English speaking populations are overwhelming anti-American and vehemently opposed to US aggression against their land, it’s sanctioned internationally as “humanitarianintervention” and “R2P”, and justified domestically as “defending” US “national security”. But when Russia steps in to protect a region literally at its doorstep, a region which would have remained part of Russia today had Khrushchev not transferred it to his native Ukraine in 1954, a region whose population is close to 60% ethnic Russian, and hence, is calling for Russia’s protection, a region which hosts Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, and for all these reasons has great symbolic value for Russia and is part of its national identity, it is not considered a national security issue or protection of a population, but is branded an “invasion”/”coup d’etat”/”occupation”. Got it?
I am copy-pasting this very important Haaretz analysis since it is protected by a firewall. Here is the full piece:
The “room for denial” doctrine — under which Syria, Hezbollah and Israel all deny that Israeli attacks have occurred so as to avoid the need to respond — was dealt a blow on Wednesday. Hezbollah’s announcement that one of its bases in Lebanon was hit by Israeli jets and that the organization will respond when and where it sees fit, attests to a tactical shift, and perhaps even a new strategy.
This doesn’t mean that from now on, either Hezbollah or Syria is going to make a public announcement every time Israel attacks. But the “open account” between Israel and Hezbollah has now become public, and that grants the Lebanese organization double legitimacy.
First, if it decides to attack Israel, it will no longer be accused of starting a war; it can defend the attack as merely “settling accounts.” Second, it can parlay the Israeli strike into official government support for it to retain its arms, which have come under increasing criticism within Lebanon due to the organization’s participation in the Syrian civil war. On Tuesday, for instance, Nabil Kaouk, deputy chairman of Hezbollah’s executive committee, demanded that the newly formed Lebanese government offer support to the “resistance” and declare this a fundamental principle of its policy.
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s statement that the attack was not on Hezbollah alone, but on all of Lebanon, poses a dilemma for the new government. The organization is trying to force the government into responding to an attack that at least some ministers see as a punishment aimed solely at Hezbollah, not the country. And for Israel, Hezbollah’s new tactic means the “room for denial” policy no longer provides an umbrella under which it can attack without claiming responsibility, and to a large extent, without fearing a response.
From a military standpoint, Hezbollah has not lost its ability to respond. It can still launch just as many rockets and missiles at Israel as it could before. But domestic political considerations, as well as strategic considerations related to the war in Syria, are dictating its moves these days. Hezbollah’s desire to keep Israel from expanding its military operations in a way that would aid the Syrian rebels — who are now waging fierce battles in Syria’s Qalamoun Hills, near the border with Lebanon — could be outweighing its fear of an Israeli attack on its bases in Lebanon.
In this context, the statement put out by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is interesting. The group, which is considered close to the rebels, said that Israel struck a Hezbollah missile base near Baalbek from which missiles had been fired at the Qalamoun Hills. That statement was denied by Hezbollah, but it portrays Israel as having become an active player in Syria’s civil war, on the rebels’ side.
This isn’t the first time rebel spokesmen have reported on “Israeli military aid” for their cause. A few months ago, for instance, they reported that Israel had helped a rebel force entering Syria from Jordan by disrupting the Syrian army’s communications system, thereby making it impossible for the local field headquarters to communicate with the Syrian high command. On another occasion, rebel representatives voiced hope that Israel would continue to attack Syria, saying its previous attacks had helped the rebel forces.
What does Israel really want?
Publicly, Israel insists it isn’t involved in the rebels’ military operations. The only aid it acknowledges openly is the humanitarian aid it gives the rebels — medical treatment for the wounded and limited amounts of food. But according to Jordanian sources, Israel is briefed on the coordination between the United States and Jordan, where soldiers and officers of the Free Syrian Army are being trained.
At the same time, some Syrian opposition representatives continue to accuse Israel of wanting Syrian President Bashar Assad to remain in power. Assad’s regime, for its part, accuses Israel of aiding the rebels, seeking thereby to undermine the opposition’s legitimacy.
The uncertainty over Israel’s strategy on Syria has so far served to keep the radical Islamist groups, including those affiliated with Al-Qaida, from opening another front against Israel. Their fear is that any attack on Israel, even an unintentional one, could grant Israel license to expand its military operations in Syria beyond attacking missile convoys and Hezbollah bases.
So far, this fragile balance has been strictly maintained, and aside from occasional errant shelling in the Golan Heights, Israel is considered off-limits for attacks. But the key word in that sentence is “fragile.” The balance could be broken at any moment.
A MUST WATCH!! Remarkable footage HERE and HERE exclusive to Manar Tv of the ambush the Syrian Army staged against Jabhat al-Nusra and Liwa al-Islam rebels in Eastern Ghouta, killing 175 of them in one go. This is not the same footage al-Mayadeen showed of the rebels’ corpses , this is the operation itself. The army appears to have anticipated their advance and planted land mines across the entire area. I have never seen such a large formation of troops advance and fall at the same time, it’s almost unreal. Wow.
I was just reading some of the reactions on Twitter to Hizbullah’s latest statement in which it confirmed that Israel had struck a Hizbullah base in the Bekaa on Monday, while denying the strike had caused any casualties or targeted any weapons’ caches. The problem with dismissing Hizbullah’s threat to respond at “a time and place of its own choosing” as empty rhetoric is part and parcel of the wider problem of all-purpose punditry and the industry of self-styled Hizbullah “experts” . This phenomenon has become all the more acute in the wake of the war on Syria, whereby Western pundits and Arab social media activists, emboldened by the mainstreaming of “citizen journalism”, have become overnight “experts” on Syria, Hizbullah and the Resistance Axis.
As someone who has been studying and writing about Hizbullah for the past 18 years, I have always been particularly wary of the western journalist or pundit who claims to have spoken to Hizbullah officials, let alone Resistance commanders. Not only are such claims usually flagrant lies, but the notion that Hizbullah trusts these people and is so eager to please the white man that its officials will gladly bypass the Hizbullah Media Office (which, incidentally has not granted a single interview to western journalists in years) and divulge the movement’s strategic plans in Syria and Lebanon, is both incredibly condescending and insulting to the intelligence.
I am equally skeptical of western “expert” claims of any special insights on Hizbullah, not least because THEY NEVER GET IT RIGHT. The depth of expert knowledge is not hard to measure, for as in the natural sciences, knowledge in the social sciences is gauged by its predictive value. And the fact is that the overwhelming majority of Western, Israeli , and colonized Arab “experts” just haven’t been able to reliably predict Hizbullah’s future actions. There are many reasons for this intelligence gap but the principal one is that they are outside observers who view Hizbullah from a western-centric lens. Their understanding of concepts like power and interest emanate from a Euro-American dominated political science tradition that is peculiar to western historical experiences.
As one of the more colonial disciplines, Western anthropology introduced the role of the “participant-observer” who both observes and participates in the life of the group she is studying . Despite the scientific and ethical shortcomings of this colonial “going native” approach, it did signal a recognition of the western observer’s limitations in understanding non-western cultures from a geographic and social distance. Unfortunately, today’s epistemic community of academics, policy wonks and journalists are far less cognizant of these limitations than some of their old-school colonialist predecessors.
Any meaningful insights into the mind of Hizbullah will continue to elude all those who do not share its worldview. By that I don’t simply mean the Hizbullah supporter in the abstract sense, but those who view political reality through the same lens, share the same purpose, and are deeply committed to the same cause. Only “committed-observers” can understand Hizbullah and predict its future actions because they do not have to second-guess its intent and motives, or make assumptions about its priorities; they know them because they live them.
They do not view Hizbullah as an organization that is external to them, nor do they support it on a partisan “Team Hizbullah” basis. Hizbullah is synonymous with Resistance which belongs to all its adherents. Supporters of Hariri don’t know the Future Movement in the same way that Hizbullah’s committed-observers know Hizbullah, and that is because the former are not bound by any shared cause, beyond a reactivity to Hizbullah cemented by sectarianism. In this sense, Hizbullah is a culture not a party with card-carrying members. And as a political culture it has its own unique mindset and rationality.
It is precisely this rationality that I invoke whenever I am interviewed by media on Hizbullah. Of course, as an analyst my knowledge of the movement is based on empirical evidence I have observed, but my assessment of Hizbullah’s actions and intentions, my prognostications of its future actions come from this resistance rationality that I share with it. When I am asked “how will Hizbullah respond” I essentially ask myself “how should we [who are committed to the Resistance project] respond?” And I am usually able to provide an accurate response or prediction, not because I possess any superior intellectual abilities, but because I, like many others in Lebanon and beyond, share the Resistance’s priorities and concerns, and my analysis is guided by the same political values and rationality as them. In fact, I am very confident that a committed 18 year old Hizbullah supporter would yield more valuable insights on the movement and offer more reliable predictions of its behavior than a western academic or journalist who claims expert knowledge.
And I am equally confident that if any committed observer is asked “will Hizbullah really respond to Israel’s attacks on Monday?” he or she will tell you that as the first such attack since the end of the July War in 2006, Hizbullah has no choice but to respond, irrespective of how deeply mired it is in the Syrian conflict and in safeguarding Lebanon from terrorist infiltration. It has to respond because confronting Israel will always constitute the larger part of its raison d’etre, even if its mission has expanded over the years. And it will respond because to not respond would upset its doctrine of deterrence and “balance-of-terror” with Israel which it painfully earned after two decades of blood and sacrifice. Hizbullah will respond because there is no precedent of Hizbullah not retaliating for an Israeli attack (I am not including assassinations here) and it is highly unlikely that it would want to set a new precedent for its enemies. We just have to wait and see when and how it will do so, because no matter how committed we are as observers we are not privy to Hizbullah’s military strategy.
I rarely post stuff on women’s issues, but I just discovered this commentary in the Guardian by Jill Filipovic, which was begging for a smackdown. Sarcastically entitled “Can Girls Even Find Syria on the Map?” the author calls for greater participation of women in the “major international debate” on Syria because she is unhappy with the ratio of female to male information warlords. As an a Arab woman and a Marxist “Critical Feminist”, I have to ask bourgeois liberal feminists the following:
Who says this is YOUR debate in the first place? And by you, I mean you American and European “experts”. Women asides, what gives your universities, think tanks and media the right to be debating and determining the destiny of our region? Why do we never question the colonial mentality that underlies your Middle East departments and bureaus, your “centers for democracy” and “peace” for the Middle East initiatives? Who the hell are you to be studying us and issuing us Euro-American directives on “good governance” and “conflict resolution”? Crises of governance and conflicts which have been engineered by none other than your governments , with your intellectual cover.
What gives privileged white women the right to be pursuing their supposed “emancipation” on the backs of our oppressed people? And why are the needs of this “debate” greater than the need of Syria and its people?
On what moral grounds should Syrian and Arab women be celebrating the inclusion of more female liberal imperialists in framing the mainstream narrative on Syria? Should Syrian women thank their western counterparts for enjoining western governments to invade Syria? Or should they be thankful for the justifications made by these women for the arms that are being funneled to “moderate” takfiris and jihadis who oppress women in the most gruesome and violent of ways imaginable? Do Arab women really need more Elizabeth O’Bagys and Christian Amanpours to distort and fabricate the reality they are living?
And who says that women’s liberation is best served by jumping on the male-dominated bandwagon which oppresses and disempowers the weak and marginalized? In this case and in others, the erasure of difference does not lead to greater gender equality; only to the assimilation of hegemonic ideology, and hence a more sinister type of subordination by consent.
How can women’s oppression be extricated from the same patriarchal-capitalist system which oppresses other classes and races? How can we ignore the “intersectionality” of hegemonic institutions which reinforce the different modes of oppression that women are subjected to? As Bell Hooks and other proponents of Critical Feminist theory have argued, feminism is “a struggle to eradicate the ideology of domination that permeates Western culture on various levels, as well as a commitment to reorganizing society so that the self-development of people can take precedence over imperialism, economic expansion, and material desires.”
As a “female Middle East expert who lives in the region” to borrow Filipovic’s words, my voice is not excluded from this debate because it is a female voice as she contends, but because it is an anti-imperialist voice. And frankly, I don’t want a “voice” in this “international debate” if the terms of this debate are still dictated by the white man and his interests.
Yes, Syria does need more women’s voices, but only those resistant voices which have liberated themselves from the imperatives of bourgeois liberal individualism and which refuse to submit to the discursive parameters drawn up by the Academy and mainstream media. What Syria needs is more women who understand how their liberation is linked to their freedom and dignity as human beings who are free from all forms of exploitation and subjugation. An integral part of this freedom is a sovereign and unitary Syria which is free from the predatory ambitions of the Empire and its Arab minions.
We saw it in Syria and now we are witnessing it again in Ukraine and Venezuela; namely, using the politics of protest to engineer anti-democractic movements which seek to overthrow popular and/or elected governments in the name of democratic freedoms. And we aren’t merely talking about undemocratic groups here, but anti-democractic movements which are opposed in principle to democracy (takfiris and jihadis in Syria; right-wing fascists in Ukraine; reactionary neo-liberals in Venezuela). In all these cases, governments are being rebuked, pressured and sanctioned for exercising their constitutionally prescribed and universally recognized duty to maintain law and order and to protect national security, public safety and national unity. And as we witnessed in the aftermath of the “Arab Spring”, democracy and revolution are now redefined in the public imagination as any popular outpouring of anger irrespective of the nature of its demands, the medium through which it is expressed, or its intersection with the interests of global capital.
In customary mainstream media fashion, AFP’s report described the site of today’s terrorist bombings in Dahyeh as one close to “neighbourhoods that are strongholds of Hezbollah”. So I guess that these orphans who are cared for by a SUNNI Islamic charity are part of this hub of Hizbullah militancy and hence legitimate targets of Takfiri retribution, whose suicide bombers chose to detonate one of the two bombs close to the orphanage.
So this is what alienation feels like. I walk down my once favourite area in Beirut, Hamra, and I don’t recognize it any more. I watch some of my compatriots live in their bubble of neo-liberal denial, chanting their “I love life” mantra, and I feel so estranged from them. I read and watch news about the latest advances we have made against al-Qaeda in Syria and Lebanon and I just don’t feel any safer or any less uncertain. And while I have always enjoyed hating my enemy, Israel, I don’t even enjoy hating this new enemy. I feel no sense of triumphalism even when we win battles. Every day feels like a blur; every small pleasure feels like an absurdity. Even grief and sadness feel unreal. People who once meant everything feel like they belong to another lifetime. Aspirations and life goals feel naive and infantile. And with every Dahyeh or Hermil terrorist bombing comes that sense of shame because you are still safe and their residents are not. This is not defeatism, this is the reality of the sporadic and unpredictable nature of terrorist warfare. No matter how many battles we win, we will never get Lebanon back. It will never be the same again.
Don’t get me wrong, I fully support our national ski champ’s right to bare her boobs to the world, and am heartened by the outpouring of support she has received from across the political spectrum. But as I was reading the news today about the Lebanese Army’s latest security feats, I recalled how neither Israel’s nor al-Qaeda’s attacks on Lebanese civilans managed to bridge the political and sectarian divide, thanks to the March 14 camp’s insistence on blaming the victims for both types of aggression (if only Hizbullah hadn’t provoked the other side then all would be well). I find it beyond ironic that the sole cross-cutting cleavage in Lebanon is neither social class nor security concerns but literally, Jackie Chamoun’s cleavage. Indeed, we are a nation which can neither identify a common enemy nor rally behind a national resistance movement, but we can all unite behind Jackie’s boobs. All hail to boobies as the new symbol of national unity.
If Israel is a cancer implanted in our midst then the Saudi regime is surely our brain aneurysm. The terrorist bombings in Syria and Lebanon by Saudi-backed groups like Jabhet al-Nusra, have made it clear to us all that there will be no peace or stability in our region so long as this reactionary and decrepit ruling family remains; this pinnacle of moral debauchery; this orgy of violence, “immersed in the mud of enslavement, infanticide and other medieval practices” to borrow the words of Walid Muallem; this architect of filthy Wahhabi sectarianism masquerading as an “Islamic school of thought;” this subhuman cabal of evil incarnate which is too cowardly to fight its own battles but must subcontract them to takfiri nihilists.. .There can be no coexistence with this pathological condition otherwise known as a “regional powerhouse.” The Saudi regime must go.