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Ted Hondrich: Security one week. Morality the next. It's enough to turn the stomach

It is cant to say Saddam is responsible for a war about to happen, when you are massing armies and about to attack

16 March 2003

Tony Blair keeps telling us that he wouldn't be going to war if he didn't think it was moral. He wouldn't be doing it if his Christian conscience wasn't clear. He says he genuinely believes he's right. He's not doing it for ulterior or craven motives.

Well, I don't love him, but I never thought he was being consciously immoral. Did anybody? We didn't think he was being amoral either. We didn't think he was untouched by moral considerations, even if he does go on about national self-interest every once in a while. But the seeming needlessness and irrelevance of Mr Blair's disclosures about himself are not the main point.

The question is whether it is right to attack, invade and take Iraq. Whatever the right thing to do is, it can be done out of good, bad or indifferent personal motives. We all make mistakes. Saints can do the wrong thing and monsters the right thing. The First World War generals who let men go on dying in bloody latrines were more dim than evil.

Something else about the Prime Minister and his morality is unsettling. He has spent months campaigning for, and presumably thinking about, war against Iraq. We've heard a lot about terrorism, UN resolutions, weapons of mass destruction, and so on. Then, when there were going to be people marching in London one day, Mr Blair in Glasgow discovered there was a moral case for war – presumably about it being right. The moral case was about the probable, or possible, effects on Iraqis themselves of leaving Saddam in power. That raises a question: what did Mr Blair think he was doing before that day? Not trying to figure out the right thing to do?

Maybe he'll say now he was doing that all along, but didn't think of it in terms of morality. It won't be much of a reply. It will still seem that he is uncertain about what he has been, and is, involved in. Maybe uncertain of the fact that morality is absolutely inescapable. You can be as amoral or internationally realistic as you want, but it can't save you from moral judgement.

In any case, Mr Blair should have thought a little more about his moral case – that we can attack Iraq because, if we don't, Saddam will be free to do terrible things to his own people. That is just alarming. There is no parity between our doing something with the absolute certainty of killing and maiming thousands, and not doing it with only some probability, some chance, that some people will suffer as an indirect result.

This isn't all about Mr Blair as moralist. Does he have a grip on the nature of real reasons, including moral reasons? If you give something as a reason for attacking Iraq, what you do is point to a fact. Any such reason, by its very nature, is general. If you run into the same fact somewhere else, or have your nose rubbed in it, say with Israel and UN resolutions, you have the same reason for action there. If you say you haven't, then things follow as night follows day. Your fact isn't a reason with Iraq either. It can't be. If it was, it would be a reason with Israel.

One more thought about Mr Blair as moralist. If Iraq is attacked, it will not just be about fear of terrorism, let alone a clear and present danger. It will not just be about oil. It will not just be about our having the weapons of mass destruction to ourselves. It will not just be about American imperialism. Nothing, not even the lighting of a match and certainly not war, is the result of a single cause. To fail to see each of these reasons and to put each of them clearly, and to show how you weigh each of them, but instead to jump from one favoured item to another from week to week, is to fail in your obligation as a leader, maybe to fail culpably. It is to let down democracy.

It is cant to say the UN is in danger of destroying itself when you yourself are leading whoever you can against its legitimate practice and authority, in fact acting to weaken or undermine it. It is cant to say that it is Saddam who is responsible for a war about to happen, and you are not, when you are massing armies, condemning every concession as fraud, bribing poor governments to get votes for war, and are about to attack. Cant is no part of moral intelligence. It can turn the stomach. It should. And it does.

Ted Honderich is Grote Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, University College London



March 15, 2003

The Pre-emptive Power of the Anti-War Movement

The Emerging Superpower of Peace


Amidst the agonizing crisis over Iraq, the violent contortions of the world's only military superpower have given birth to a transcendental force: the global Superpower of Peace.

That George W. Bush's obsession with Saddam Hussein has become a global issue at all is perhaps the most tangible proof of this new superpower's potential clout.

Only one thing has slowed (or stopped) Bush from launching this attack: the economic, political, moral and spiritual power of an intangible human network determined to stop this war.

Bush has amassed the most powerful killing machine humankind has ever created. He's set its fuse on the borders of an impoverished desert nation with no credible ability to protect itself from this unprecedented attack. His military henchmen believe the conquest of this small country can be done quickly, with relatively few casualties on the the attacking side (though many civilians would die on the Iraqi side, as they did in the 1991 Gulf War I).

The potential prizes are enormous:

* Outright control of the world's second-largest oil reserve;

* Removal of Bush's hated personal rival, a US Frankenstein gone bad;

* A pivotal military base in the heart of the Middle East; . Hugely lucrative contracts for both the destroyers and the rebuilders of Iraq;

* The ability to test a new generation of ultra high-tech weaponry;

* The chance to display the awesome killing power of that weaponry;

* The chance to demonstrate a willingness to use that power;

* The fulfillment of Biblical prophesy as seen through the eyes of religious fanatics.

But after months of preparation, the world's only military superpower has hesitated. Instead of obliterating Baghdad---as it physically could at any time---the Bush cabal has flinched.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says he needs no military allies. But he's desperately courting them.

Bush says he doesn't need UN approval. But he's desperately sought it.


One could argue the US has been marking time because it's not quite ready, with deployments and other technical needs not yet met.

But all that is now far more difficult with an astounding rejection by Turkey, which shares a strategic border with Iraq. Turkish opposition to war is running a fierce 80-90%. Major arm-twisting (and a $26 billion bribe) has not bought permission to use Turkish land and air space.

Meanwhile, the "no" votes of China, Russia, France and Germany represent the official opinion of some 2 billion people. They are irrelevant to the mechanics of armed conquest. But the four nay-sayers represent enormous political and economic power. So do scores of other nations whose nervous millions now march for peace.

"Never before in the history of the world has there been a global, visible, public, viable, open dialogue and conversation about the very legitimacy of war," says Robert Muller, a long-time UN guiding light who views this global resistance as virtually miraculous.

To all this has been added the opposition of the Pope. The Bush cabal may be asking, as Stalin did, how many divisions the Pope has.

But about a quarter of the US---and its armed forces---are Catholics. They may soon be forced to choose between the opinion of their infallible spiritual leader and that of their unelected president.

The Pope has already been asked to put himself between the people of Baghdad and a US attack. He could also speak "ex cathedra," banning Catholic participation in the war.

Meanwhile the spiritual opposition has been joined by a wide spectrum of religious organizations, including Bush's own church. Though constantly speaking in religious terms, Bush has refused to meet with the broad range of clerics who oppose his war.

Meanwhile, worldwide demonstrations are growing bigger and more focused. In Britain one wonders if the next march might shut down London or the entire country. Massive civil disobedience is inevitable at dozens of US embassies. Consumer boycotts are likely to erupt with staggering force.

Within the US, the fiercest opposition may well be coming from Wall Street. Specific corporations such as Dick Cheney's Halliburton and Richard Perle's consulting firm stand to make a fortune from Gulf War II. But mainstream financial and commercial institutions are understandably terrified. The American economy is already staggering under deep recession. Bush's tax cuts will yield stratospheric deficits for decades to come. The US economy now bears the sickly pallor of a collapsing empire.

With war, a depressed stock market that hates instability could well plunge another 25-50%. Next would come the worldwide boycott of American products. China counts a billion-plus citizens and a rapidly emerging economic powerhouse. France and Germany dominate the European Union, which will soon outstrip the US in gross output---and consumer spending. A billion-plus Muslims must also be accounted for.

Tragically, violent terrorism would also accompany a Bush attack. In bloodshed and degraded quality of life, the cost would be horrifying. The US airline industry has already warned it might not survive another round of terrorism. That's probably a tiny tip of the economic iceberg.

Through the internet, the nonviolent movement is linked by billions of e-mails and forwarded articles meant to surround and circumvent the corporate media. They warn the blood shed in this proposed war would be unconscionable. That its ecological costs would be unsustainable. That civil rights and liberties are being trashed. And that the multiplier effects of such devastating chaos cannot be predicted.

A war between unelected macho madmen, launched by a military superpower against its own puppet gone astray, is the ultimate yin to the new movement's yang.

If, as you read this, war has broken out, know this: the global Superpower of Peace can bend, but it won't break.

If Bush still hasn't attacked, and Saddam continues to be disarmed, count another day the Superpower of Peace has extended its pre-emptive influence, its maturity, its scope.

The new millennium will be neither American nor Chinese nor European nor military nor corporate nor dictatorial.

It belongs to the Superpower of Peace, being born before our electronic eyes.

Harvey Wasserman is senior editor of Free Press and author of The Last Energy War (Seven Stories Press). He can be reached at:

March 15, 2003

The Muslim World and the West

The Roots of Conflict


To say that an effective cure of a disease requires a sound diagnosis is to state the obvious. Yet, in the face of the 9/11 plague, and of the scourge of terrorism in general, the Bush administration has utterly failed to shed any light on some of the submerged factors that might have provoked such heinous attacks. Instead, the simplistic and politically expedient explanations such as "good vs. evil," "clash of civilizations," or the "Islamic incompatibility with the modern world" have shed more heat than light on the issue.

Aside from their poisonous implications for international relations, such explanations simply fail the test of history. The history of the relationship between the modern Western world and the Muslim world shows that, contrary to popular perceptions in the West, from the time of their initial contacts with the capitalist West more than two centuries ago until almost the final third of the twentieth century, the Muslim people were quite receptive of the economic and political models of the modern world. Many people in the Muslim world, including the majority of their political leaders, were eager to transform and restructure the socio-economic and political structures of their societies after the model of the capitalist West. The majority of political leaders, as well as a significant number of Islamic experts and intellectuals, viewed the rise of the modern West and its spread into their lands as inevitable historical developments that challenged them to chart their own programs of reform and development.

In light of this background, the question arises: What changed all of that earlier receptive and respectful attitude toward the West to the current attitude of disrespect and hatred? This brief survey of the relationship between the Muslim world and the Western world, especially the United States, will show that the answer to this question lies more with the policies of the Western powers in the region than the alleged rigidity of Islam, or "the clash of civilizations." It will show that it was only after more than a century and a half of imperialistic pursuits and a series of humiliating policies in the region that the popular masses of the Muslim world turned to religion and the conservative religious leaders as sources of defiance, mobilization, and self-respect. In other words, for many Muslims the recent turn to religion often represents not so much a rejection of Western values and achievements as it is a way to resist and/or defy the humiliating imperialistic policies of Western powers.

Early Responses to the Challenges of the Modern World

Not only did the early modernizers of the Muslim world embrace the Western technology, but they also welcomed its civil and state institutions, its representational system of government, and its tradition of legal and constitutional rights. For example, the Iranian intellectuals Mulkum Khan (1833-1908) and Agha Khan Kermani (1853-96) urged Iranians to acquire a Western education and replace the Shariah (the religious legal code) with a modern secular legal code. Secular political leaders of this persuasion joined forces with the more liberal religious leaders in the Constitution Revolution of 1906, and forced the Qajar dynasty to set up a modern constitution, to limit the powers of the monarchy and give Iranians parliamentary representation.

Even some of the Ottoman sultans pursued Western models of industrialization and modernization on their own. For example, Sultan Mahmud II "inaugurated the Tanzimat (Regulation) in 1826, which abolished the Janissaries [the fanatical elite corps of troops organized in the 14th century], modernized the army and introduced some of the new technology." In 1839 Sultan Abdulhamid "issued the Gulhane decree, which made his rule dependent upon a contractual relationship with his subjects, and looked forward to major reform of the empire's institutions."

More dramatic, however, were the modernizing and/or secularizing programs of Egypt's renowned modernizers Muhammad Ali (1769-1849) and his grandson Ismail Pasha (1803-95). They were so taken by the impressive achievements of the West that they embarked on breakneck modernizing programs that were tantamount to trying to hothouse the Western world's achievements of centuries into decades: "To secularize the country, Muhammad Ali simply confiscate much religiously endowed property and systematically marginalized the Ulema [religious leaders], divesting them of any shred of power."[iii] In the face of dire conditions of underdevelopment and humiliating but unstoppable foreign domination, those national leaders viewed modernization not only as the way out of underdevelopment but also out of the yoke of foreign domination.

Not only the secular intellectuals, the political elite, and government leaders but also many Islamic leaders and scholars, known as "Islamic modernizers," viewed modernization as the way of the future. But whereas the reform programs and policies of the political/national leaders often included secularization, at least implicitly, Islamic modernizers were eclectic: while seeking to adopt the sources of the strength of the West, including constitutionalism and government by representation, they wanted to preserve their cultural and national identities as well as Islamic principles and values as the moral foundation of the society. These Islamic modernizers included Jamal al-Din al-Afghani (1838-97), Muhammad Abduh (1849-1905), Qasim Amin (18631908), and Shaikh Muhammad Hussain Naini in Egypt and Iran; and Sayyid Ahmad Khan (1817-98) and Muhammad Iqbal (1875-1938) in India.

To be sure, there was resistance and, at times, even violent clashes. But, by and large, nationalist modernizers in many Muslim countries did manage to pursue vigorous agendas of social, economic, and political reform. John Esposito, one of the leading experts of Islamic studies in the United States, describes the early attitude of the political and economic policy makers of the Muslim world toward the modern world of the West in the following way:

Both the indigenous elites, who guided government development programs in newly emerging Muslim states, and their foreign patrons and advisers were Western-oriented and Western-educated. All proceeded from a premise that equated modernization with Westernization. The clear goal and presupposition of development was that every day and in every way things should become more modern (i.e., Western and secular), from cities, buildings, bureaucracies, companies, and schools to politics and culture. While some warned of the need to be selective, the desired direction and pace of change were unmistakable. Even those Muslims who spoke of selective change did so within a context which called for the separation of religion from public life. Western analysts and Muslim experts alike tended to regard a Western-based process of modernization as necessary and inevitable and believed equally that religion was a major hindrance to political and social change in the Muslim world.

Karen Armstrong, author of a number of books on religious fundamentalism, likewise points out the following:

About a hundred years ago, almost every leading Muslim intellectual was in love with the West, which at that time meant Europe. America was still an unknown quantity. Politicians and journalists in India, Egypt, and Iran wanted their countries to be just like Britain or France; philosophers, poets, and even some of the ulama (religious scholars) tried to find ways of reforming Islam according to the democratic model of the West. They called for a nation state, for representational government, for the disestablishment of religion, and for constitutional rights. Some even claimed that the Europeans were better Muslims than their own fellow countrymen since the Koran teaches that the resources of a society must be shared as fairly as possible, and in the European nations there was beginning to be a more equitable sharing of wealth.

Armstrong then asks: "So what happened in the intervening years to transform all of that admiration and respect into the hatred that incited the acts of terror that we witnessed on September 11?"

While profound questions of this type could go some way to help a national debate over some of the more submerged factors that contributed to the 9/11 atrocities, the beneficiaries of war dividends--who are closely linked to the U.S. Defense Department and the Zionist lobby, and who seem to be in charge of the Bush administration's foreign policy making--have successfully kept such questions off the national debate. In fact, these beneficiaries have so far succeeded in preempting a national debate on the issue altogether.

It is necessary to acknowledge, once again, that the Muslim world's earlier openness to the modern world was far from even or uniform: along with advocates of change and adaptation there existed forces of resistance and rejection. Focusing primarily on such instances of rejection, proponents of the theory of "clash of civilizations" can certainly cite, as they frequently do, many such incidents of resistance in support of their arguments that horrific acts like those committed on 9/11 "are due to inherent incompatibility of the Muslim world with Western values."[vi] But such selective references to historical developments in order to support a pre-determined view do not carry us very far in the way of setting historical records straight. A number of issues need to be pointed out here.

First, contrary to the rising political influence of "radical Islamists" in recent years, radical Islamic circles of the earlier periods did not sway much power over the direction of national economies and policies. Their opposition to Western values and influences was largely in the form of passive "rejection or elusion."[vii] They simply refused to cooperate or deal with the colonial powers and their institutions (such as modern European schools) spreading in their midst: "They did not attempt to assume direct political control but used their position to preserve tradition as best they could under the rapidly changing conditions of the time." And while they "remained an important factor in influencing public opinion, ...they basically used their position to encourage obedience to those in power."

Second, change almost always generates resistance. Resistance to change is, therefore, not limited to Muslims or the Muslim world. In fact, the Christian Church's nearly 400-year resistance to capitalist transformation in Europe was even more traumatic than that of the Muslim world. The resulting travail of transition created more social turbulence than has been observed in the context of the Muslim world. Whereas the Church of the Middle Ages anathemized the very idea of gain, the pursuit of gain and the accumulation of property are considered noble pursuits in Islam. Opponents of transition to capitalism in Europe not only tried (and almost hanged) Robert Keane for having made a six-percent profit on his investment and "prohibited merchants from carrying unsightly bundles" of their merchandise, but also "fought for the privilege of carrying on in its fathers' footsteps."[ix] As Karen Armstrong points out, during the nearly 400 years of transition, the Western people often "experienced...bloody revolutions, reigns of terror, genocide, violent wars of religion, the despoliation of the countryside, vast social upheavals, exploitation in the factories, spiritual malaise and profound anomie in the new megacities."

Third, Muslim societies, like less-developed societies elsewhere, are expected, or compelled by the imperatives of the world market, to traverse the nearly four hundred-year journey of the West in a much shorter period of time. Furthermore, the travails of transition in the case of these belatedly developing countries (vis-a-vis the case of early developers of the West) are often complicated by foreign interventions and imperial pressures from outside. External pressure has included not only direct colonial and/or imperial military force, but also pressure exerted from the more subtle market forces and agents such as the International Monetary Fund and World Trade Organization. Despite its turbulence, the painful process of transition to capitalism in the West was largely an internal process; no foreign force or interference could be blamed for the travails of transition. And the pains of transitions were thus gradually and grudgingly accepted as historical inevitabilities.

Not so in the case of belatedly developing countries. Here, the pains of change and transition are often perceived not as historical necessities but as products of foreign designs or imperialist schemes. Accordingly, the agony of change is often blamed (by the conservative proponents of the status quo) on external forces or powers: colonialism, imperialism, and neo-liberalism. Actual foreign intervention, realizing and reinforcing such perceptions, has thus had a delaying impact on the process of reform in the Muslim world. For intervention from outside often plays into the hands of the conservative, obscurantist religious leaders who are quite adept at portraying their innate opposition to change as a struggle against foreign domination, thereby reinforcing resistance to reform, especially religious reform. Today, for example, U.S. intervention in the internal affairs of countries such as Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and Turkey, far from facilitating the process of reform or helping the forces of change in these countries, is actually hurting such forces as it plays into the hands of their conservative opponents and strengthens the camp of resistance.

Whatever Happened to the Once-Popular U.S. in the Muslim World?

Prior to World War II, England and other European powers dominated world politics and markets, not the United States. In its drive to penetrate into those markets in competition with European powers, the United States, often citing its own war of independence from the British empire, frequently expressed sympathy with the national liberation struggles of the peoples of the colonial and other less-developed regions. Unsurprisingly, this made the United States--not just the country, its people, and its values but also its foreign policy and its statesmen--quite popular in the less-developed world, especially the Muslim world, as it portrayed the prospect of an unconditional ally in a rising world power.

Thus, for example, when the late Egyptian leader Jamal Abdel Nasser faced the European opposition to his state-guided economic development program, he turned to the Unites State for help. Nasser's appeal for the U.S. support had been prompted by the United States' veiled expressions of understanding of Egypt's aspirations to chart an independent national policy. Nasser perceived those sympathetic gestures as signs of genuine friendship and cooperation. But when the United States revealed its conditions for the promised cooperation, the Egyptian leader was deeply disappointed.

One major condition required Egypt to enter into the then <U.S.-sponsored> military alliance in the region, the Baghdad Pact. This was one of the early military alliances that the Unites States established in the region, not only to counter the Soviet influence but also to supplant its enfeebled allies, Britain and France. As a savvy statesmen, Nasser understood the "necessity" of such alliances and was, in fact, willing to join the proposed military pact. But the United States expected more. In addition, the U.S. wanted to "shape" Egypt's economic policies. As Mahmood Hussein put it, "the United States claimed the right to control the Egyptian state's economic policies."[xi] Disillusioned--indeed, with his back against the wall--Nasser turned to the Soviet Union to temper the pressure thus exercised against Egypt. The turn to the Soviet Union was, therefore, precipitated more by expediency, or by default, than by ideological affinity.

Like Egypt's Nasser, Iran's liberal-nationalist prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq also initially harbored illusions of unconditional friendship with the United States. This was because, in the dispute between Iran and England over the control of Iranian oil, the United States had originally conveyed signs of neutrality, even sympathy, with Iran's grievances against England. Prior to the 1953 nationalization, Iran's oil was essentially controlled by Britain. As promised during his election campaign, Mossadeq took steps to nationalize the country's oil industry soon after being popularly elected to premiership in 1951. As England resisted giving up its control of Iran's oil industry, a severe crisis ensued between the two countries. "Mossadeq had thought that the United States might warn London not to interfere, and for a while Truman and Acheson maintained the pretense of neutrality by advising both sides to remain tranquil."[xii] It soon became clear, however, that while trying to weaken the British Empire, the United States was pursuing its own imperialistic agenda. And when Mossadeq resisted compliance with that agenda, he was fatally punished for "insubordination": His democratically elected government was soon overthrown by the notorious 1953 coup, which was orchestrated by the CIA and British intelligence. The coup also brought the Shah--who had fled to Rome--back to power, aboard a U.S. military plane with the CIA chief at his side.

It is now common knowledge that, since the 1953 violent overthrow of Mossadeq's government in Iran, the United States has helped or orchestrated similar coups against duly elected governments in a number of other countries. In each case, the United States replaced such legitimate governments with "friendly" dictatorial regimes of its own choice. A sample of such handpicked regimes includes those of General Pinochet in Chile, the Somoza family in Nicaragua, Duvalier in Haiti, and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. The list of the U.S. interventions and adventures abroad is quite long. In his latest best-seller, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got To Be So Hated, Gore Vidal lists some 200 such interventions since WW II.[xiii] Most of today's regimes in the Muslim world (such as those ruling in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, and a number of smaller kingdoms in the Persian Gulf area) are able to maintain their dictatorial rule not because their people want them stay in power but because they are useful to some powerful interests in the United States.

It is not surprising, then, that many people in these countries are increasingly asking: Why can't we elect our own governments? Why can't we have independent political parties? Why can't we breathe, so to speak? Why are our governments so corrupt? Why are our people, especially Palestinians, treated like this? Why are we ruled by regimes we don't like and don't want, but cannot change? And why can't we change them? Well, the majority of these countries' citizens would say, because certain powerful interests in the United States need them and want them in power!

Nor is it surprising that many people in the Muslim world, especially the frustrated youth, are flocking into the ranks of militant <anti-U.S>. forces, and employing religion as a weapon of mobilization and defiance. It is also no accident that desperate violent reactions are usually directed at the symbols of U.S. power--not at those of the Japanese, for example. Correlation between U.S. foreign policy and such reactions was unambiguously acknowledged by the members of the United States' Defense Science Board, who wrote in a 1997 report to the undersecretary of defense for acquisition and science, "Historical data shows a strong correlation between U.S. involvement in international situations and an increase in terrorist attacks against the United States."

Calling such tragic and often destructive reactions to U.S. international involvements "blowbacks from imperialistic U.S. foreign policies," Chalmers Johnson in his illuminating book, Blowback, lists many instances of U.S. interventions in the domestic affairs of other countries, as well as some of the violent responses to such interventions:

What the daily press reports as the malign acts of 'terrorists' or 'drug lords' or 'rogue states' or 'illegal arms merchants' often turn out to be blowbacks from earlier American operations.... For example, in Nicaragua in the 1980s, the U.S. government organized a massive campaign against the socialist-oriented Sandinista government. American agents then looked the other way when the Contras, the military insurgents they had trained, made deals to sell cocaine in American cities in order to buy arms and supplies. If drug blowback is hard to trace to its source, bomb attacks, whether on U.S. embassies in Africa, the World Trade Center in New York, or an apartment complex in Saudi Arabia that housed U.S. servicemen, are another matter.

The point here is, of course, not to condone or justify, in any way, the destructive or terrorizing reactions to U.S. foreign interventions--legitimate grievances do not justify illegitimate responses. Nor is it meant to disrespect the innocent victims of such atrocious reactions, or to disparage the pain and agony of the loss of the loved ones. The point is, rather, to place such reactions in a context, and to suggest an explanation. As Gore Vidal puts it, "It is a law of physics...that in nature there is no action without reaction. The same appears to be true in human nature--that is, history."[xvi] The "actions" Vidal refers to here are U.S. military or covert operations abroad, which are sometimes called state or wholesale terrorism. "Reactions," on the other hand, refer to desperate individual, or group, terrorism, which are also called retail terrorism.


Close scrutiny of the Muslim world's early responses to the challenges of the modern West reveals that, despite significant resistance, the overall policy was moving in the direction of reform and adaptation. That policy of adaptation and openness continued from the time of the Muslim world's initial contacts with the modern world in the late eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries until approximately the last third of the twentieth century. During that period, the majority of the political elite and/or national leaders viewed the rise of the modern West, and its spread into their territories, as an inevitable historical development that challenged them to chart their own programs of reform and development. Not only did the political elite, the intellectuals, and government leaders view modernization as the way of the future, but so did many Islamic leaders and scholars, known as "Islamic modernizers,"

It is true that obscurantist conservative forces, both religious and otherwise, have always defied reform and resisted change. It is also true that, at times, religious nationalism played an important role in the anti-colonial/anti-imperial struggles. But because Islamic leaders often lacked clear programs or plans for the reconstruction and development of their societies, political leadership on a national level often fell into the hands of secular nationalists who offered such nation-building plans. After WW II, those plans were fashioned either after the U.S. model of market mechanism, as in the cases of the Shahs of Iran and the Kings of Jordan, or after the Soviet model of "non-capitalist development" and/or Arab "socialism," as in the cases of Nasser's Egypt and Qaddafi's Libya. Both models nurtured dreams of economic progress, democratic rights, and political/national sovereignty. Accordingly, secular nationalist leaders who promoted such models, and promised economic well being and social progress, enjoyed broader popular support than the conservative religious leaders who lacked plans of economic development and national reconstruction.

As long as the hopes and aspirations that were thus generated remained alive, promises of an "Islamic alternative" remained ineffectual in their challenge of the plans of the secular nationalist leaders. But as those hopes gradually and painfully turned into despair and hopelessness, such promises began to sound appealing. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, most of the national governments' hopeful and auspicious plans that had hitherto nurtured dreams of economic progress, democratic rights, and political sovereignty turned out to be hollow and disappointing. Frustrated, many Muslims turned to religion, and sought solace in the promise of an "Islamic alternative."

Equally disappointing were the policies of the United States in the Muslim world. Before supplanting the European imperial powers in the region, the U.S. promised policies of neutrality and even-handedness in the Muslim world. Once it firmly replaced its European rivals, however, the United States set out to pursue policies that have not been less imperialistic than the policies of its European predecessors. U.S. imperial policies in the region have, therefore, strongly contributed to the nurturing of the Islamic revival of the recent decades.

These historical observations refute the claim that Islam and/or the Muslim world are inherently incompatible with modernization, and that, therefore, the rise of an Islamic militancy in the last few decades, and the violent reactions such as the 9/11 attacks, are essentially manifestations of "the clash of civilizations." The claim that attributes the Islamic resurgence to the "inherently confrontational nature of Islam" tends to downplay, or overlook, specific socioeconomic factors and geopolitical policies that underlie the rage and reactions of the majority of the Muslim people.

Dr. Ismael Hossein-zadeh teaches economics at Drake University, Des Moines, IA. He can be reached at:



March 15, 2003

"They Can See!"

Why Certain Liberals Love the War


Writing in The Guardian, U.K., on March 11, George Monbiot raises the question about the blindness of the 'liberal' interventionists who refuse to see the war against Iraq as a part of US bid for global 'Full Spectrum Dominance'. Here, I will argue that the 'liberal' interventionists are not blind, but fully conscious of US motives. Their interests are identical with that of the American Republican extreme right. Under the cloak of liberalism (or even 'radicalism' as in the case of Nick Cohen, columnist for The Observer) they seek to realise the old vision of an empire where the sun never sets. Whereas the British attempt died a lingering death over two world wars and the political independence of its colonies after 1947, the 'New American Century' with its technological and military superiority, promises the ultimate fulfilment of this dream.

The war on Iraq has certainly produced a bewildering array of 'liberal' positions. The interventionists believe that whatever the cost, the invasion of Iraq is, in the words of Nick Cohen, 'the only way to peace' (March 2, The Observer). A murderous tyranny will be overthrown, Iraqis liberated, one name on the axis of evil crossed off. Let us examine the ideological roots of this argument. Robert Kagan has achieved fame with his book Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order, and he is one of the signatories of the Project for the New American Century established in 1997. In an article called 'The Healer' published by The Guardian on March 3, he clearly spells out the vision of this new liberalism. Kagan's dividing of a 'Kantian' Europe living for the ideal of perpetual peace and a 'Hobbesian' America still clued into the conflictual nature of global reality has attracted lots of attention. What is more revealing, I think, is Kagan's division of a post-modern Europe and a 'modern and pre-modern world' that threatens it. The latter does not, of course, include the US, but Asia, Middle-East, Africa and Latin America. Citing Robert Cooper, once a 'top official' of the British Foreign Office, Kagan advocates an international double standard of conduct:

Among themselves, Europeans "may operate on the basis of laws and open cooperative security". But when dealing with the world outside Europe, "we need to revert to the rougher methods of an earlier era--force, pre-emptive attack, deception, whatever is necessary". This is Cooper's principle for safeguarding society: "Among ourselves, we keep the law, but when operating in the jungle, we must also use the laws of the jungle."

Kagan not only approves of this, but thinks the US is the indispensable force needed by Europe to achieve this order of things. As the inheritor of European imperialist mantle, it deals with the jungle on a regular basis, while Europe wishes to forget about it. Together, they can work to keep the barbarians at bay by enforcing a global double standard.

What are the key weaknesses of this argument? Obviously, this is an inherently racist vision that divides the world between civilised, peace-loving US/Europe and the rest of savage humanity dwelling in jungles who can only understand the language of force. But this ethical point is far from being the most dangerous part of this argument. Kagan/Cooper's worldview has a venerable lineage stretching right back to the days of European imperial might where this 'necessary' double standard was invoked to rationalise the violent subjugation and oppression of three-quarters of humanity. Philip Meadows Taylor captured this mood in his 1865 novel Ralph Darnell, where his hero Robert Clive says this about Indians "Among Gentoos and Moors--who look more to the effects of physical than moral power than you are accustomed to do in a free country like England--tis only by showing ourselves prepared to resist and overcome any attempts at oppression, that we can insure that weight and respect.power can alone insure us respect". When Charles Grant delivered his impassioned plea to the British parliament for increased intervention in India, he cited exactly the 'moral' difference between civilised Europe and savage Asia that is echoed in Kagan and Cooper's thinking: "in the worst part of Europe, there are no doubt great numbers of men who are sincere, upright and conscientious. In Bengal, a man of real veracity and integrity is a great phenomenon." Grant, like many of our contemporary liberals, was also an interventionist abroad. And the justification of that interventionism (with all its brutal consequences) was derived on precisely the moral and political double standard that lies at the heart of Kagan's world view.

Of course, one need not limit the examples to British imperialism. French, Portuguese, Dutch, Belgian, German, Italian imperial efforts were based precisely on the vision of a civilised Europe that has to play by the law of the jungle in Africa, India, China, Latin America. This language and practice was adopted by the US in its wars throughout the 20th century, whether they were 'proxy/dirty' wars in Latin America and the far-east, or direct invasions of Vietnam, Laos, Grenada, Panama. Ethically racist and historically imperialist, this ideology of liberal interventionism is also dangerous because it deliberately ignores the structural causes that reduces large parts of the world to zones of poverty, conflict, massive degradation of human life, social inequality and corresponding rise in violence. It hides the fact that it was the function and aim of empires to keep the majority of the world savage and lawless in order to exist as a relatively prosperous and law abiding entity, although the unravelling of this aim was hideously demonstrated in two world wars. Currently, liberal interventionists refuse to talk about the new imperial imperatives behind the US drive to war against the 'axis of evil'. With the sinister glow of civilisers in their cheeks, they proclaim loudly about the end of tyranny and spread of democracy, while they deliberately ignore the massed evidence of the miserable failure of these aim. Afghanistan and Kosovo are bandied around as beacons of the new world order. Well, as Luke Harding reports in last week's U.K. Observer, Afghanistan has fallen rapidly back to feudal warlordism and Hamid Karzai's own life is heavily dependent on his international body guards. Kabul may have become an international city under the protection of UN forces, but in the provinces the warlords rule just as before. American special troops still work to mop up the Taliban. They managed to call in an air strike on an Afghan village two weeks ago, causing heavy civilian casualties. Pashtun anger bubbles away barely beneath the surface. In time honoured fashion, Afghan tribal and ethnic politics has made use of foreign power to achieve a change in the status Quo under the Taliban. There is certainly no democracy. As for Kosovo, western media in general has contrived to ignore its post-war reality. Not a word about the reverse ethnic cleansing that saw the Kosovo Serbs encouraged to leave with a help of grenades and fire. Not a word about the effect of these returnees to Serbia. On the morning of March 13, the world woke up to the news of the assassination of the Serb Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic. The effects of a moral war in the Balkans are beginning to be felt.

The US state today, in the tradition of European empires in the 19th century, is not interested in 'exporting' liberation or democracy or nation building. Its administration is committed to achieving global domination both militarily and economically. As Monbiot shows, its Afghan invasion was undertaken to set up forward bases in Central Asia--from Pakistan to Georgia- some of whose leader's democratic credentials and human rights abuses rival that of Saddam Hussein. You won't find many US forces peacekeeping in Afghanistan. Moreover, it needs to keep a chain of conflict erupting throughout the world, precisely to enforce the borders between savagery and civilisation. Through international monitory bodies and its own raw military might, it leads the enforcement of structural inequalities that is the basis of violence (Iraq, and indeed Bin Laden's Jihadis, for example were armed, funded and given ideological credence by the US in the closing stages of the Cold War). It is in the interest of the industrial-military nexus that runs the US government to stoke 'manageable' conflicts globally. It provides the rationale for the permanent global dominance it aims for.

The liberal interventionists then, have always worked hand in glove with empire. In the 19th century, they urged for civilising missions across the globe and worked to obscure the true aims of those missions. Today, they dream on about the final solution of global conflicts, paradoxically, through military interventions led by the US. The technologies and the modus operendi of the imperium has changed, its ideological technique hasn't. It still depends on constructing a vision of a law-abiding and civilised US-European entity (although Germany and France may find themselves outside soon) and the jungle outside. It then works to achieve that vision by enforcing inequalities and violence that makes that vision a reality.

But what are the options? cry our liberal interventionists. It is all very well analysing how Al-Qaida and Saddam came to be. Now that they are here, what can one do about it except wage war? Quite apart from the fact that given the nature of the US imperium, this is a recipe for the deadly Orwellian situation of 'unending war for unending peace', it ignores the possibility of taking up genuinely courageous long term, truly international and largely peaceful measures that are already available by the dint of several Peace studies institutes and think tanks. In the case of Iraq, for instance, there are a series of measures available including ending of the sanctions, permanent inspections, inspections monitoring the 'human rights' abuses within the country, and negotiating the right of the Iraqi refugees to return. With concerted international effort, and without constant US scuppering of the plans, all these aims are eminently achievable. As Hans Blix constantly points out, the weapons inspections are working. But this doesn't suit the US administration whose aims were stated in a Project for the New American Century document in 2000--"the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein [it is necessary for] maintaining global US pre-eminence".

Liberal interventionists identify with US state interests in their unwillingness to lend support for international peaceful resolution of conflicts (both Kosovo and Afghanistan were littered with the rejection of diplomatic solutions). But again they cry, 'what about the Iraqis under Saddam? Is not their liberation the price we pay for US global dominance?' I must admit their sudden concern for Iraqis and Kurds is a trifle surprising, since not only were they largely unconcerned about their fates under Saddam till last year, but following their logic, we may as well take up the cry - what about Chechens under Russia and its puppet regime, what about Tibetans under the Chinese, or the Palestinians under the Israeli occupation, the Kurds under Turkey, the people under repressive and dictatorial governments in Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia to name but a few? Have not the Pentagon plans to occupy Iraq and its oilfields and run it in conjunction with the Ba'ath party officials already been rejected in alarm by the Iraqi Congress in exile and the Kurds of northern Iraq? Post-Saddam Iraq, if the Pentagon has its way, is going to be much worse that post-Taliban Afghanistan. Not a democracy, certainly, but a military occupation. Not enjoying liberty, but a change of masters.

The test for European and American liberalism has always been empire. Under the jargon of freedom, democracy and liberty, has always lurked the belief in the double standard advocated by Robert Kagan. Liberal interventionists believe that civilisation and law are features that are largely absent in the world outside US and Europe. They believe that force is the only way to deal with the barbarians. They work to obscure the role of the civilised world in enforcing inequality and ensuring future conflicts. They promote deliberate historical falsifications--in the face of public and resolute support of Tony Blair's stance on Iraq by Ian Duncan Smith and virtually every member of senior Conservative party, Nick Cohen argues 'If war was about oil, conservatives wouldn't oppose it.' (March 2, The Oberver) The Conservatives are not opposing it. From Aznar in Spain to Berlusconi in Italy and the Rumsfeld-Wolfwowitz -Cheney gang in Washington and Duncan Smith in Britain­ they are supporting it. Perhaps Mr Cohen wishes to protect his 'radical' label by obscuring how his position in identical with that of Ian Duncan Smith. Robert Kagan's 'healer' is Tony Blair, whose attempts to win Europe to a hawkish position on Iraq he praises as an effort to 'advancing an international liberal order in the years and decades to come'. As this advancement of international liberal order depends on being at war with the 'barbarians', we can dispense with the rhetoric of universal liberty and democracy. Try as the liberal interventionists may, their position at the heart of empires, whether European or British, is too glaring to hide. They are not blind, they see and their vision is already uniting the globe against them.

Pablo Mukherjee teaches at the University of Newcastle. He can be reached at: