Stop the War Stop the Killing
Has the Gulf War taken place yet?
TERMINALS AND FRONTIERS
Climate Change: Prognosis And Courses Of Action
Lunch With The Chairman: Why was Richard Perle meeting with Adnan Khashoggi?
Seymour M. Hersh
Invasion of the Kiddyfiddlers
Solway's Silver Bullet
Istanbul September/October 2002
A journey to understand why thousands of political prisoners were prepared to starve themselves to death in Turkish prisons
Internationalism revisited or In praise of Internationalism
Br(other) Rabbit's Tale
Derry on its Hobby Horse
Colin Darke, March 2003
Discussion on Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts
Arts Programme, BBC Radio Scotland, 6/6/03
Stop the War Stop the Killing
The UN Security Council has been meeting today to listen
to the report of the weapons inspectors operating in Iraq and responses
to it. I doubt there is a widespread consensus for war in the US, but
there is no doubt that the administration led by President Bush and his
associates are pushing for a war sooner rather than later. The ostensible
reason given for the war against Iraq is that it's an imminent threat
to the US, and that Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction, of which
none have been found. In theory Iraq threatens the US from a distance
of 7,000 miles. From what we gather from the inspectors, Iraq in the 12
years since the first Gulf War (between Iraq and Iran, started 1980) is
in a much depleted and weakened condition - being an imminent threat
to the US is preposterous. They are not even considered to be a threat
to their neighbours. Should bombing begin, it is to me a mystery if the
excuse is really Iraq's military threat.
The other US administration line is equally confected: that Iraq might
be distributing arms to al-Qaeda terrorists. There is no direct evidence.
But since one of the alleged al-Qaeda people was supposed to be in Northern
Iraq, it follows that Iraq and al-Qaeda are in cahoots to wreak terrible
violence on the US and other countries. Then again, I don't want
to minimise the nefarious quality of the Iraqi regime - its Human Rights
record is one of the worst in the world and it is a state based upon repression
and terror. But to suggest that Iraq is an immanent danger to the US and
the rest of the world is extremely far fetched.
Would there be this kind of US military, diplomatic and political pressure
placed on Iraq - and on the rest of the world to join the US in war - if
it was a net exporter of oranges? Of course it isn't, it is an oil
producing country with the proven second largest oil revenues after Saudi
Arabia. It is also a leading Arab country which has gone through an horrendous
cycle of sanctions imposed against it for the last 12 years. Sanctions
and a very tight embargo which haven't affected Saddam Hussein and
his regime at all, but which have affected the Iraqi population - with
hundreds of thousands of people dead from malnutrition, the absence of
medicine resulting in the onset of terrible diseases, plus the fact that
the civilian and military infrastructures were destroyed during the last
Gulf War by the US. All in all we have a state which is in an extremely
weakened condition, with a rogue government (no doubt) and an extremely
long suffering, punished population which, if there is a war, will bear
the brunt of American power.
There are many reasons for this war. One of them is oil, and it is not
a coincidence that Afghanistan near the Caspian Sea is in a direct line
with the oil supplies and regions of the Arabian Gulf - all of which
fall under direct American military and political hegemony in the event
of a war. Although there is a hegemony right now, what the US seek are
the assurances of vast oil supplies, the guaranteed control of this enormously
important resource. Remember, China by the end of this decade will be
using as much oil as the US already does. So, the contest for cheap and
relatively accessible oil supplies is one of the reasons for this war,
not so much the crimes of humanity committed by Saddam Hussein's
regime, which it is important to remember was politically and militarily
backed in many of those crimes by the US and various European countries.
Another reason is that this is a highly strategic area of the world. There
is a real felt need, partly as a result of 9/11, that the old order is
no longer of use to the US - those undemocratic, repressive regimes
in Iraq and other Middle East countries supported for over 50 years by
the US and European allies. This area is unstable now, partly because
the people have risen up against their unpopular rulers, but also because
of the rise of political Islam - a much exaggerated force but still
seen by the US because of 9/11 as a threat. There is a sense in which
US interests - which since WWII have always been oil and Israel - would
be better served in a realignment of the area, so that Israel and the
US with allies like Turkey or India at a further remove, would better
control and dominate the area.
Finally, the threat represented by Iraq is considered also to be a threat
to the interests of Israel. It is important to remember that many of the
hawkish members of the US administration - like Paul Wolfewitz and
Richard Perle - have always been close to the Israeli right wing. Perle
himself, head of the Intelligence Review Board of the Pentagon [see: 'Lunch
with the Chairman', S.M. Hersh, p.18], was a political adviser to
Netanyahu when he was a candidate for the Premiership of Israel. Perle
argued that he should discard anything like a peace process, annex the
West Bank and Gaza, expand the settlements, and perhaps in the future
throw out a few more Palestinians so that the area would be relatively
easy to control. So somehow the interests of Israel are very much part
of this multifaceted war as seen by a right wing, neo-conservative group
in Washington which believes Israel is best served by expansion, brutality
and a continued contempt for the UN.
One important factor not usually taken into account by commentators in
the West is the importance of Iraq to Arab culture and Arab civilisation.
Iraq enjoys a particularly privileged place - during the Abassi period,
from 750 AD, Baghdad was the capital of the world and for a period of
600 years was the capital of science, art, humanities, in what was then
the civilised world and the core of the Arab Empire, which extended into
Spain, Southern Europe, as well as Northern Africa, and to the East, today's
Sri Lanka. So, the travail of the Iraqi people, as the White House circular
suggests, is to bomb Baghdad to produce "shock and awe" in the
population. All of this is considered to be, for most Arabs and Iraqis,
an attack at the very heartland of the Arab world, Arab people, Arab civilisation
and of Arabism itself. And the US planners' reason for this is to
break once and for all the spirit of Arab unity and nationalism, which
has historically been a thorn in the side of Western Imperialism. The
battle, I contend, is still going on for control of this rich area and
for the self-determination of those people.
The link question which is never discussed in the media is Palestine.
If you listen to Secretary Powell, all the commentators in the media (during
what is the worst moment in the history of the American media when they
simply support without question, comment or sufficient investigative energy
what the administration says, and are themselves involved in stirring
up hysteria for war and a kind of xenophobia against Iraq; a place which
they have no idea of, which they personalise with this demonic figure
of Saddam Hussein) and the furore over Iraq being in contravention of
the UN Charter, it's never mentioned that aside from the US, which
is also a state which is in contravention of numerous UN treaties and
protocols, there is the question of Israel. Israel has been in contempt
of 64 UN Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. For 35 years
since the 1967 occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, it has systematically
flouted the Geneva Convention, the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and
64 resolutions drawing attention to abuses of human rights by Israelis.
Sharon - who is now threatened with a law suit against him in Belgium
for War Crimes committed during the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon resulting
in the massacres of Sabra and Chatila - has conducted a policy of purist
repression against Palestinians which must be examined against the abuses
of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The Israeli army has used Apache helicopters,
missiles, rockets, F16 jets against civilian populations in the West Bank
and Gaza. It has imposed curfews sometimes lasting over 200 days on a
civilian population which is basically unarmed: there is no Palestinian
Army, Navy or Airforce. Close to 2,000 people have been killed by the
Israeli military, some designated as terrorists although none of them
ever had trials. There has been a whole policy of "targeted killings",
"extra judicial assassinations" against Palestinians, sometimes
whole families are killed by mistake or through "collateral damage".
The economies of the West Bank and Gaza have suffered an enormous and
catastrophic economic blow on a day-to-day basis, partly because of the
closures where no Palestinian can leave or enter, or go from one part
of the same town to another; partly because of the deliberate policy of
Israel razing agricultural ground, destroying it, confiscating land, building
settlements on it; making it impossible for people to go to work, for
students to study, for university professors and students to enter classes.
This is the longest military occupation in modern history and yet the
US connives in this to supply Israel. The total is $135 billion since
the beginning of the occupation. This is the largest amount of foreign
aid ever given by any country to another country. In addition, in the
UN the US vetoes resolutions which condemn Israel, which ask Israel to
cease and desist for example from demolishing houses - 60 houses alone
this week and 21 people killed. But that does not even deserve a mention
in the American media as they focus on the imminent threat to the US - the
largest and most powerful military machine in the history of the world - from
this incapacitated, tyrannical regime in Baghdad. All the while, as Sharon
has openly said, his government has been abusing the Palestinian civilian
population by attacking hospitals and ambulances, by making it impossible
for people to have kidney dialysis and pregnant women to have their children
in hospitals - they are held up in the rain and mud at barricades sometimes
dying as a result. Trees are uprooted - an average of 896 trees have
been uprooted every day by the Israeli Army since the beginning of the
Intifada and that does not even touch upon the question of the settlers.
Israel entered lands that were Palestinian in 1967, including East Jerusalem
which was annexed that year, and has implanted 400,000 settlers against
every UN Resolution and Convention. These settlements are now connected
to each other by a roads system which cost $780 million to build, paid
for almost entirely by the US, on which only settlers can travel in such
a way as in Apartheid South Africa. The economy has been deliberately
destroyed on the West Bank and Gaza by Israel. It has de-developed the
economy of Palestine so that there is a rate of 65% unemployment. It is
estimated that over 60% of the population lives beneath the poverty line
of $2 a day. Malnutrition, as the UN has been saying, is now an endemic
structural problem for the West Bank and Gaza. About 70% of the population
is in need of food because Israel will not allow them to grow their own,
import it or even travel to places where they can get food. In the case
of some of the villages near the green line, which have been fed or supplied
to some degree by well intentioned Israeli resisters bringing food in,
that is now forbidden. The West Bank and Gaza is basically locked up.
On the western side there is the sea, of which two thirds of the coast
is closed to Palestinians. Three large settlements numbering 7,500 Israelis
inside the middle of Gaza, chopping it up, are protected by 12,000 troops.
Whereas 1.2 million Palestinians live like sardines in refugee camps,
tenements and towns mostly filled with the stench of rubbish, which they
are not allowed to remove; putrefying carcasses, stagnant water, in fact
every possible condition of abject poverty, malnutrition and psychological
trauma experienced by no other population on earth today. All this has
been going on with the sponsorship of the US in a case of the most monumental
human hypocrisy. As the US pushes an aggressive policy against Iraq, accusing
it of every nefarious crime against its own interests under the cover
of fighting terrorism, Sharon and his army pursue an active policy of
collective punishment against Palestinian civilians.
While Israel enjoys US military support and unending financial support,
the US will not even allow the UN to discuss the Palestinian question;
even for International Observers to protect the Palestinians from human
rights abuses carried out by Israeli troops who are encouraged in a kind
of racist contempt to treat them like animals and make sure their pride
and dignity as human beings are trampled upon. They're humiliated
whether through random house searches, ransacking of buildings, vandalisation
of property, or through more brutal means where they remove the records
of the Central Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Education, Ministry of
Health, to make sure that Palestinian records of a collective national
existence are erased forever. Those are crimes against humanity, active
war crimes committed by acknowledged war criminals like Sharon, who in
Israel in 1982 after the illegal invasion of Lebanon (the first modern
instance of announced regime change) was convicted by an Israeli court
of the responsibility for the massacres of Sabra and Chatila, which occurred
under Israeli supervision.
Our protest against war has to be inclusive and has to deal with the issues
which are connected to each other. That this military action against Iraq
has to be seen as a part of a collective punishment, and that the problem
of Palestinian refugees started in 1948 when Israel was established as
a result of ruining and destroying Palestinian society. One has to understand
and accept this is very much at the core of the tension between the Arab
and Islamic world on the one hand, and the West, especially the US, on
the other. That our battle against war is also our battle against human
rights abuses, where ever they occur. We cannot be invidious and just
focus on Iraq, bring them to their knees, occupy the country and rule
it militarily just because Iraq is a net exporter of oil connected to
the Caspian axis. There ought to be a broad front in the protests not
only against US action in Iraq but also against US action in Palestine.
It is simply ludicrous to hear President Bush describe Saddam Hussein
as a Hitler, as a demon, as an evil man, and on the other hand, with a
straight face, describe General Ariel Sharon as a man of peace, which
he did in June last year.
What immediate effect would an attack on Iraq sanctioned by the UN or
otherwise have on the situation regarding Israel and Palestine?
How do you asses the chances of the demonstrations or the peace movements
in the US?
What is the effect of the anti-terrorism laws in the US?
Is there a place for non violence as a response to any of this, either
in Palestine, on the marches, or in relation to Iraq?
You wrote three weeks ago in the Guardian: "When will we resist";
we 'the Arabs'. As you rightly said, the US is close to an attack
on the Arab world to redesign the Middle East and control the oil, and
you suggest that the Arabs remain passive and submissive and you call
for a collective, genuinely Arab alternative. Could you outline this alternative?
The likely effect of an attack on Iraq by the US, what would be the
effect on Palestine? The most nightmarish scenario suggests that under
the cover of a conflagration in Iraq with the world's attention turned
to that locale, the Israeli government under Sharon might undertake what
it calls a "transfer of populations" - use the opportunity
of the distractions to drive out another large segment of the Palestinian
population to places like Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. Although I think
it's also unfeasible because we're dealing with a politicised
and galvanised population that hasn't submitted to the terror tactics
of Sharon. Speaking as a Palestinian, I am extremely proud of the fact
that Palestinians have not surrendered, and that Palestinian life - in
its terrible tatters today - is still going on. There will be resistance
to an attempt to drive out large numbers of the population.
Another scenario is increasing the number of lands taken from Palestinians,
while Sharon says he is willing to make a peace deal, in which case there
will be little land left - the figure is now 40% of the West Bank and
75% of Gaza, the rest is annexed by Israel, taken for settlement, and
Israel will continue to control the entrances, exists, water and air rights.
So anything like a real sovereignty for the Palestinians is definitely
not in Sharon's programme and the war in Iraq will make it easier
for him (with the support of the US) to impose draconian solutions.
An attack on Iraq would be extremely deleterious to the Palestinians also
because the attention of the world will be focused on Iraq and the tremendously
needed humanitarian aid for food, shelter and health services required
by the Palestinian population under siege, living in a system of Apartheid,
will be suspended. There are already stories that UNRWA, the agency for
Palestinian refugees, is running out of money. They have a few months
left in funds and supplies. There is a humanitarian catastrophe in the
offing for a population that has already suffered for 35 years under Israeli
There is also the possibility that more people will understand the linkage
between Palestine and Iraq. That the Imperial hand in both places, the
contravention of human rights and UN resolutions in both places, need
to be considered together. What we are living through is a continued attempt,
which has gone on for over 150 years, to keep the Arab countries of the
Middle East divided, weakened and basically under outside domination.
Imperial domination is still flourishing, the result being social distortion,
wide spread military governments and human rights abuses that one associates
with countries like Iraq and Syria.
The question about demonstrations in the US. This is the first time in
modern history that there has been such a wide spread set of demonstrations
and protests in the US before war begins. There's a very widespread
feeling on the part of the population that this is an unnecessary war,
that it's being waged for obscure and constantly changing purposes,
that the war on terrorism that we were supposed to be fighting in Afghanistan
has been forgotten, and that we are now in a state of war based on pre-emption
(the new military doctrine of the US) that most Americans refuse. The
demonstrations are serious and important and not to be underestimated
in their effect on government in the long run. What's so important
about them is that people are being asked to choose between being a rogue
power acting out of enormous strength, obduracy, and a kind of blindness
to everyone else, or acting like a member of the world community. And
most Americans, like most people everywhere, want the latter: to be part
of the world community bound by the laws of war and the conventions of
the UN, etc. We are too small a world, and now because of the systems
of modern electronic communication, no part of the world is distant or
without its effect on any other part. So I think there's a dawning
consciousness among vast numbers of Americans, certainly among the young.
As a result of the outrages of September 11th there has been an atmosphere
of repression increasing over time in the US, with alarm shown by the
civil liberties communities, and especially communities of Muslims, Arabs
and people of colour, for whom preventive detention, racial profiling
and invasions of privacy have become routine. Many thousands of Americans
and resident aliens in the US are invidiously discriminated against simply
on the basis of their race, religion and country of origin. There is a
mass hysteria, an atmosphere symbolised by the Terrorism and Patriot Act
which makes it a crime, in a way, to be an Arab. There are many incidents
of people sitting on planes and buses reading Arabic newspapers and being
asked not to do so, or to leave, or being taken into custody because they
disturb the other passengers. And people are picked up simply on their
name, taken aside at airports and other public places because of this
fear. I've seen the deliberate identification of Islam with terrorism
which has occurred at least since the Iranian revolution of 1979. A foreign
devil is very important to the foreign policy of the US - Islam and
Muslim people are the foreign devil. Plus the fact that the Israeli government
has waged an unceasing war against Palestinians under the rubric of fighting
terrorism, which they were very clever to adopt as their policy. So there's
a sense of justified vigilance and pre-emptive punishment which has caused
wide sectors of the American public to be alarmed at the loss of civil
liberties, the suspension of due process - for example the case of
prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, and many others throughout the US who have
been picked up, not allowed to see lawyers, not charged, detained for
three months at a time and then maybe re-detained. The atmosphere is such
that people have to be careful of what they're told, what they say.
There's a McCarthyite atmosphere on some American campuses where
criticism of Israel and US policy in the Middle East is immediately equated
with anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism.
I don't want to conclude on an entirely negative note - most people
have been aroused in this country to the dangers of abuses to the constitutional
rights and privileges that every American ought to enjoy. Which is one
of the great prides of this country. But these rights are threatened.
The government is deeply conservative, reactionary, and it wants submission
and docility, rather than a democratically active, participating citizen.
And it is the duty of intellectuals to try to remind people of our rights
and our heritage as a people in search of more freedom, freedom through
community and common goals rather than through the assertion of power
and force. That the US is a capitalist society which has recently gone
through tremendous revelations of corporate greed and corruption, plus
the fact we're in the middle of a very severe economic recession,
have awakened people to the abuses of which this system is capable - the
fact that we don't have health insurance as you do; that the so-called
welfare safety net has been removed due to neo-liberal policies beginning
with the Clinton administration but certainly continuing now; the state
of public education is disastrous, especially in large cities like New
York, Baltimore, Los Angeles. A hopeful sign is that there is an awakened
public consciousness now, that we needn't be patriotic, patriotic
being one of the supreme US virtues towards everything that the President
and his coterie of advisers want us to do.
As to the question of non-violence, I would prefer to use the phrase 'mass
action', here and in the occupied territories. Every liberation movement
has tried to protect itself from injury, killing and abuse of the kind
that is heaped on Palestinians each day by the Israeli Army. There are
instances of peaceful marches broken up by soldiers using live ammunition
where 30 or 40 people are killed, or bulldozers demolishing houses with
people in them, or the razing of the Jenin refugee camp in which many
people lost their properties but also their lives. The Israeli army is
not shy about using all its enormous weaponry, which includes weapons
of mass destruction. Israel has an estimated 200 nuclear warheads plus
biological and chemical warfare capabilities, and has not signed a non-proliferation
or nuclear treaty. Against all that, one has to talk about organised mass
action in which large numbers of people impede, at great risk to their
lives, the processes of segregation, property destruction, above all land
expropriation. That's beginning to emerge as the principle means
of struggle in Palestine. Most people feel that suicide bombing - which
I've opposed from the very beginning - is counter-productive.
It's of course an expression of desperation and a kind of terminal
frustration, but in the end it brings nothing but more reprisals, more
punishment and more suffering. There is now a search for democratic participation
in mass protest. What we have is the slow emergence of national initiatives
in the Occupied Territories, of people coming together to perform self-help
and protest actions, actions that engage and mobilise Israelis, because
you can't talk about self-determination in Palestine without also
talking about the participation of Israelis in the same process. It's
two people in one land, and that reality means that they have to share
not only in each others' fate but in each others' troubles.
There are all kinds of hopeful signs that will expand the struggle against
militarism, for example young Israeli reservists who refuse to serve on
the West Bank and Gaza.
The point I made in my article on submissive Arabs, please don't
misunderstand. I was talking about the Arab regimes, which are unrepresentative,
undemocratic, maintained by repression and force - every country in
the Arab world (to a greater or lesser degree) is ruled by the secret
service and the military. Most countries, including some of the most liberal
in appearance like Egypt and Jordan, have very severe press laws where
freedom of expression is highly circumscribed, and where the powers of
the government - like the Israeli and US governments - claim to
be fighting Islamic terrorism and have imposed very harsh measures on
the population, making them isolated from their people. It's these
governments that I was talking about, that now cringe in submission. They
realise that their continuation in office depends on the patronage of
the US and therefore will say nothing in public that might upset the US,
for fear that after the war protection will be taken from them and they
will fall prey to their people's desires and wishes. What I'm
really talking about is the need for Arab intellectuals - writers,
film makers, philosophers, journalists, the women's movement and
human rights movements - to continue to mobilise as many Arabs as possible
to enter the political struggle and not sit back waiting for an American
military government to redesign the whole area. The great danger we face
as a people, that all people face, is the imposition of government and
power from above - whether from globalisation or military power of
the sort the US wields - and the resultant depoliticisation. Informed
in part by the internet, mass media and satellite channels like Al-Jazeera - some
Arab channels have a wider range of discussion and opinion, and because
they're satellite are not so liable to censorship and control by
the government - there's a general movement towards mobilisation
and a feeling that if we don't take our fate in our own hands and
become responsible for our future, it's not going to be done by the
ruler and it's certainly not going to be done by the Americans.
There was an item in today's paper about a group of Iraqi opposition
people who only two weeks ago were deeply impressed with how President
Bush was committed to civilian democracy in Iraq, since then they have
had meetings with the real people whom they're going to have to deal
with (people like General Tommy Franks, the Pentagon and State Department
Planners who are in charge of post war, post-Saddam Iraq) and they finally
realised that the US administration's only interested in securing
its interests in Iraq, in oil, and, as for the Iraqi people and the opposition,
they can go fly a kite. That's the fallacy most people believe when
they rely on and ally themselves with Imperial powers who they think will
drive them gloriously into a liberated country. What is happening now
is an awakening in the US, the Arab States and elsewhere in the world,
that announcing a war and going at it with flimsy purposes and without
fairness or justice are unacceptable policies. We live on a planet where
people want to live together and not be subject to the enormous power
of the last remaining super power like the US, and the people that rule
What are the likely consequences of the re-election of Sharon in Palestine
It seems to me his government, for all the appearance of strength
and determination it tries to exude, is a troubled government. The most
likely scenario is that Sharon will continue what he's doing, and
under the cover of affairs of war in Iraq perhaps be able to do it with
a little more impunity and more damage, but it's likely also that
an election will be called, that his government will fall sooner rather
than later. But I'm quite discouraged by the Israeli peace movement,
the so called liberals, who claim that they were really defeated by the
Intifada, that they were betrayed by Arafat's refusal to accept the
Camp David suggestions in 2000. That's simply unacceptable hand wringing.
First of all there's no reliable record of what was offered at Camp
David, and if Arafat and his people refused it they must have known, having
accepted so many preposterous things in the past, that this would not
be acceptable to their people. And whatever we now know about the plan,
it was that Israel was willing to return a percentage of the land (a very
high percentage according to them) but it would be divided land, cantonised,
with Israel controlling the spaces between. When Israeli propagandists
in America - like New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman - keep
saying the Palestinians were offered 95% and they turned it down, it's
like saying prisoners run 95% of the jail, but of course the guards and
wardens control the walls, exits, windows, water and electric supply.
So the Israeli protest movement withdrew from the struggle against their
own government's depredations, policy of occupation, demolitions
and settlement building. There is no way anybody should be convinced by
so-called liberal Israelis saying "we want peace but the Palestinians
aren't doing their part." The thing to remember is, that if
there is a military occupation, the burden is on the occupier and its
citizens to end it, not on the oppressed people to stop resistance. The
problem is to get rid of the occupation and the only people who can do
that - aside from the Palestinians who are fighting it - are the
Israeli citizens themselves. It is the Israeli government that has been
committing crimes against humanity, against the Palestinian people.
This is an edited transcript of a live video link-up from Colombia
University, New York, to public meetings called by the Palestine Solidarity
Campaign and Globalise Resistance, on 14/2/03. It was directly followed
by a live video link-up from Gaza with Mrs Al-Durrah.
Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign
Peace & Justice Centre, Princes Street
Edinburgh, EH2 4BJ
Tel: +44 (0)131 538 0257
Participants and sites included: Edinburgh University, University of Sussex,
Durham University, Napier University; Augustine United Church, London
School of Economics, Ullapool, University of Dundee, University of Teeside.
Has the Gulf War taken place yet?
Shortly after the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999,
Michael Ignatieff published a book called 'Virtual War'1.
In it he argued that Kosovo was a new type of conflict, marked most particularly
by the ability of Western nations to wage what he called 'war with
impunity'. This impunity had two defining characteristics. Firstly,
'the citizens of the NATO countries ... were mobilized not as combatants,
but as spectators. The war was a spectacle ... The events in question
were as remote from their essential concerns as a football game'
(p.3). Secondly, the sheer wealth of the West means that, even with relatively
small defence budgets, we can afford to fight wars and not suffer noticeable
changes to our standard of living. Both these conditions, Ignatieff argued,
were new, and fundamentally altered the nature of global power relations.
'If Western nations can employ violence with impunity, will they
not be tempted to use it more often? The answers ... are not obvious.
For the future depends not on us but on our enemies. They, like us, are
drawing their own conclusions from the way we seek to avoid the mortal
hazard of war' (p.5). Contained in Ignatieff's words is a warning:
as we continue to enjoy such absolute asymmetry of power, we find ourselves
inexorably drawn into other asymmetries: the only options available to
the 'enemies' of such nonchalant belligerence are terrorism
and guerilla warfare.
So it is that only three years after the book's publication, its
prophesies having come to pass, we must yet again find new theorisations
of the global order, even whilst that order is still mutating. It has
been suggested that we should put our deliberations to one side until
the sandstorm abates and the vista becomes clear again; however, is it
not possible that this new state of flux is (for some time to come, at
least) the new world order? 'Stability' is supplanted by contingency,
impunity by uncertainty, war without end, Amen.
If we return to Ignatieff and consider the way in which he describes the
nascent phenomenon of 'virtual war' at the end of the twentieth
century, we might find some ways of drawing out historical threads that
can reconnect us with the world before September 11th 2001, when Ground
Zero initiated an American Year Zero every bit as all-consuming as that
of the Khmer Rouge or the Jacobins. We might trace some background to
current crises in conceptions of 'democracy' and 'society',
in addition to offering some correctives to what may be an occasionally
deterministic or premature account on Ignatieff's part. This is a
complex investigation, however, since we're dealing with two sets
of schismatic events; first the 'virtualisation' of war, as
Ignatieff sees it, with all the changes concomitant to that, and subsequently
the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, and the commencement
of the War on Terror. We therefore have to address two mutually interdependent
determinisms, both of which are claiming, to a greater or lesser extent,
to have witnessed the end of the world as we previously knew it.
Most of Ignatieff's book is composed of articles and essays republished
from other sources; only the concluding chapter (also called 'Virtual
War') was written specifically for the book. It's this chapter
and its contentions that I want to consider in detail here, and to follow
up. Before I begin that consideration, however, I want to examine some
of the different potential meanings of the term 'virtual'; Ignatieff
uses it pointedly, in a specific context, but it has a variety of resonances
that we should not overlook. These days, the word is most often used to
refer to concepts and technologies connected with cyberspace and 'Virtual
Reality' (a technology which, significantly, is almost always considered
in terms of video games). Underlying all three of the meanings or connotations
described below is a sense of some schism between the 'real'
and the 'simulated'2. War, it is routinely and blithely
asserted in the media and by philosophers, political theorists and strategists,
is now little more than a computer game3; Ignatieff comments,
'The bombing of Baghdad was the first war as light show and the aerial
bombardment of Iraqi forces was the first battle turned into a video-arcade
game' (p.168). Bear in mind two things, as you read on. Firstly,
the phrase 'shock and awe' was briefly registered as a trademark
by Sony, before they decided that this was in 'bad taste' (does
this mean that the war in Iraq will not be coming to a Playstation
near you soon? Of course it will, they just decided to do it with better
taste). Secondly, the ubiquitous web video provider, Real.com, made this
the first pay-per-view war. It 'offered' users of American media
websites such as CNN.com and ABC.com the 'opportunity' to pay
a subscription to view their live video streams from Baghdad.
Most immediately, then, 'virtual' refers to the way in which
not only the everyday citizenry, in the West, are now removed from the
fighting (mobilised, in the overwhelming majority, as spectators, rather
than as conscripts or munitions workers), but so also are the military
leadership themselves. According to the rhetoric of 'precision bombing'
and 'smart warfare', war is fought remotely, with computer-
and satellite-guided armaments.
The second level of virtuality concerns the increasing mediatisation /
mediation of the war, the manner in which it has been delivered to 'us'
spectators - as in a recent history of war reporting, from Vietnam
to Qatar, Basra and Baghdad. Following the significant impact that images
of the fighting in Vietnam had on public opinion in the US (and remember
here the UK and US governments' contrived dismay at Al Jazeera's
broadcasting of images of civilian casualties4), Western governments
knew that, as communications technologies developed, much tighter control
of the media would be required during wartime. The Falklands war took
place only twenty years ago, and yet at the time footage still took two
weeks to make its way back to TV studios in London. Reporters in the Falklands,
'embedded' as they were with the military, were generally much
more compliant than their colleagues had been in Vietnam, taking a clearly
'patriotic' line rather than raising issues about the worth,
or conduct, of the conflict (hardly surprising when even Michael Foot,
then Labour leader, was falling over himself to express his support for
the war). For the military, the Falklands was a media success, questions
concerning the sinking of the Belgrano only emerging some time after the
It was not until a decade later, however, that the so-called new technologies
started to change fundamentally the manner in which war was covered; nor
was it necessarily in the way that is so often described. War reporters
in Kuwait were the first to be able to take advantage of new satellite
transmitters portable enough to be used in the field, meaning that live
pictures of a war could, in theory, be beamed around the world; in addition,
CNN was the first broadcaster to be able to offer twenty-four hour coverage
of a war5. However, military concerns about what live TV coverage
might potentially mean for the execution of a war strategy led to tight
controls, such as the pooling of sanctioned video footage. Thus the news
networks had all the technology required to cover the war as it happened,
but were able to say almost nothing about it. What we were offered instead
was the war as a pyrotechnic display, at a safe distance, even when, paradoxically,
the images might be coming from the nose of an airborne Cruise missile.
Successive technological developments in the ten years since the Gulf
have accentuated this dichotomy between filling the schedules of rolling
news channels and extended bulletins and actually finding something to
report. Sony made an earlier appearance in the virtualising of war when
it transpired that their walkman-sized DV editing decks were a great favourite
with the Kosovan Liberation Army. The KLA became extremely adept at turning
out propaganda and handing it, broadcast-ready, to journalists desperate
for a story. It seems that US and British forces have taken this tactic
into the mainstream with some relish in recent weeks; and now, of course,
the journalists are conveniently placed within the army, ready to receive
the story 'as it happens' (or perhaps, as it is 'helped
Finally, there is a sense in which the war in Iraq is virtualised simply
because the political systems which justify (demand) it are themselves
no more than the simulation of politics. In a supposedly 'post-industrial',
'post-ideological' age, we are denounced as naïve if we
even lament this turn. Thus Baudrillard famously described the Gulf War
as 'the absence of politics pursued by other means'. Public
political life no longer exists in the neo-liberal even-newer world order,
where pragmatism rather than principle dictate policy. A simulated politics
gives rise to a rolling war with no clear justification or endpoint (currently
the choice is between régime change and the destruction of weapons
of mass destruction, and there's no clear indication yet where the
roadshow will visit next).
Debunking the myth of isolationism (a further aside)
Isolationist exceptionalism - the sense of the United States being
a city on a hill, safe from the fratricide of Europe - runs deep in
the American electorate (pp.178-79).
It's become a cliché to describe the way in which September
11th roused the US from its slumber, forced it to slough off its isolationism,
to re-engage with global politics, and so on. The truth of these statements
is usually seen as self-evident, but should proof be required, America's
former unwillingness to commit even to humanitarian and peacekeeping missions
around the world (or at least to commit its infantry) is cited.
The idea that America pursued anything approaching an isolationist policy
in the decade after the end of the Cold War is blatantly untrue. The 1980s
saw a series of both covert and open interventions in Latin America, and
continued US support for friendly despots elsewhere. Following the implosion
of the communist bloc, the US Army did not abandon its many bases around
the world, nor did the CIA cease to seek to influence the geopolitical
order on the basis of US self-interest. That the US assists the continuing
illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine is but one example of this, although
Israel is one of very few steady themes in what is otherwise a capricious
and opportunistic foreign policy.
The point of all this is simply to reiterate that 'virtuality',
in all the above senses, has not delivered us into a 'post-territorial'
age. And whilst there seems to be an overwhelming urge in the media and
in political circles to describe the way in which everything changed after
September 11th, such that the rupture threw up 'new realities',
this is also misleading; what we find, in fact, after September 11th are
persistent themes made more clear. One is that the physical presence of
US forces in bases around the world is not only more important now than
it was before (indeed the US can only conduct its wars with such impunity
by both maintaining and strengthening these commitments), but that this
global presence never really went away just because of the onward march
of virtuality. Furthermore, even though openly illegal unilateral wars
may have been frowned upon by the Clinton administration, the idea that
before September 11th the US was a sleeping giant, a benevolent superpower
reluctant to interfere in the affairs of others, is quite clearly and
demonstrably a myth.
Precision bombing, virtual armies, propaganda, lies and the new nation
Ignatieff claims that 'precision weapons', armaments that could
be remotely guided and controlled, were first developed in Vietnam, a
war definitely not fought with impunity. He describes the way in which
new conventional weaponry became a necessity due to the nuclear stalemate
of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' (MAD):
"The beauty of such weaponry was that, unlike the nuclear arsenal,
they could be used. But only in a certain way. To make the use of these
politically and morally acceptable, it was essential to increase the precision
of their targeting; ... and to reduce, if not eliminate, the risk to
those who fired them ... " (p.164).
He goes on to state that Western advances in computer technologies, often
explicitly led or commissioned by the military, finally sealed the fate
of the Soviet Union. As Moscow clung to an industrial economy of scale,
the US responded by committing itself to the new technologies. Ignatieff
cites Mikhail Gorbachev, who described evidence of Star Wars (Reagan's
short-lived space-based Missile Defence System, recently revived by Bush
Jnr.) as the one development which forced the Soviet Union's capitulation6.
Ignatieff goes on to describe some other attributes of precision warfare,
noting that 'the aim of post-modern warfare' is not 'attrition
and destruction', but 'to strike at the nerve centers - command
posts, computer networks - which direct the war-machine ... Command
and control can be attacked both by direct missile bombardment and also
by information warfare: electronic jamming, release of computer viruses,
disinformation and propaganda' (p.169). This is virtual warfare in nearly
all senses of the word.
'Cyberwar' is just an extension of the old-style propaganda
warfare that Psychological Operations (PsyOps) teams have been churning
out for decades. It's notable, however, now that journalists are
on the battlefield and able to send their stories back instantaneously,
how the propaganda war is much more consciously waged on the Home Front.
Surely this is a central part of the 'post-modern war'? David
Leigh, writing recently in the Guardian, highlighted three types
of 'disinformation'.7 He summarises these as follows.
'Level 1: Unconfirmed false reports presented as fact to make exciting
news stories ... Level 2: Disputed events presented as fact for propaganda
purposes ... Level 3: Military disinformation.' There are many
ways in which news agencies and embedded journalists conspire, whether
consciously or not, to assist in the propagation of these various levels
of lying. Into what category, for example, would we place the infamous
ITN pictures of Bosnian prisoners at Trnoplje? In that case, ITN camera
crews, journalists and editors conspired to give the false impression
that prisoners at Trnoplje were kept behind barbed wire in a 'concentration
camp' (the barbed wire behind which prisoners were seen actually
comprised the animal pen into which ITN had placed their camera)8.
Much more recently, the toppling of the statue of Saddam in Fardus Square
(conveniently just outside the Palestine Hotel where the international
press were staying) has been shown to have been a stunt organised by the
US military and its 'official' Iraqi opposition, flown in by
the Pentagon a few days previously. No more than around 75 non-US personnel
were present at the event, and the square itself was sealed off by US
Marines while the stunt went ahead9. An equally important level
of disinformation, which requires a great deal of complicity between reporters
and the military, is that of simple omission. In recent arguments about
the ethics of embedding, journalists have striven to assert that their
integrity, their ability to smell a rat, to maintain their cynicism, remains
intact. What the military realised early on, however, was that, so long
as the agenda was set by them, it didn't really matter how
it was reported. Could this be why 'non-embedded' journalists
in Baghdad were labelled as the mouthpieces of the Iraqi régime
by David Blunkett? (The vague accusations made by Blunkett were almost
certainly directed most categorically at the Independent's
The arguments surrounding precision bombing themselves come into the frame
of the propaganda war:
"While precision guidance weaponry is supposed to reverse the twentieth-century
trend towards ever greater civilian casualties, warfare directed at a
society's nervous system, rather than against its fielded forces,
necessarily blurs the distinction between civilian and military objectives.
The most important targets have a dual use. Television stations transmit
military signals as well as information. Power stations run military computers
as well as water pumping stations and hospitals. There is no guarantee
that war directed at the nervous system of a society will be any less
savage than war directed only at its troops (p.170)."
After the negative publicity generated by the bombing of the TV station
in Belgrade10 during the Kosovo campaign, the British government
in particular was anxious to be seen to prosecute this war in as 'sterile'
a manner as possible: this was the war in which the lights would be left
on, demonstrating that in the four years since Kosovo precision warfare
had once again advanced immeasurably. At the time of writing, the power
and water are still off in Baghdad after several days (this no doubt due
to the dastardly machinations of the otherwise invisible Ba'ath régime).
This often repeated intention of the government, to strike at the régime
and somehow leave the Iraqi people unmolested, alerts us to another 'new
reality' that Ignatieff does not address. Whilst the government and
media (and large, particularly hypocritical parts of the anti-war movement)
assert that 'we' are fighting this war, collectively, as a nation,
'we' are not fighting 'them' (the Iraqi people, collectively,
as a nation). So what entity, exactly, are we at war with? What is nationhood
if it is not nation states who fight wars? Is it too now virtualised,
in some way? The people of Iraq, we are told, are glad that the United
Kingdom and United States - us - have liberated them, because 'we'
have taken on their régime. Then again, the people of the United
Kingdom clearly did not approve of this conflict before it started. This
is, we learn, a new, oxymoronic phenomenon: an imperial war of national
liberation. This should alert us to some profound difficulties in
our understanding of what exactly the nation state is in this virtualised,
post-September 11th world. It seems infinitely mutable; on the one hand,
the 'democratic' nations who wage this war presume that the
executive is entirely inseparable from the people who confer its legitimacy;
on the other, the despotic 'rogue states' against whom this
war is waged have an exclusively parasitic relationship to their subjects.
Unfortunately there are plenty of good despots whose relationship with
their people is as yet undetermined. In all cases the same dictum seems
to apply: the Leader is the People.
Having won the Cold War by virtue of its high-tech, post-industrial economy,
the West is now caught in a peculiar paradox of the 'virtual war'. Even
though they allow servicemen's and women's lives to be saved
and wars to be fought 'with impunity', the military resists
the wholesale adoption of the new technologies and the new warfare, simply
because it, like the old Soviet Union, depends on economies of sheer scale.
A large army is 'reassuring' precisely because it mobilises,
by implication, the threat of attack. As long as this cycle continues,
the army can be confident that its future is guaranteed. A scaled-down,
technological army, even if it possesses all the firepower and might of
its predecessor, appears to be an acknowledgement that the 'threat'
has diminished, and thus one of two things must happen: either people
start to feel less secure, or, conversely, they understand that their
security is no longer dependent on a large national army, and the armed
forces' insulation from the vagaries of the information economy disappears.
Ignatieff takes up this theme: 'If you have Cruise missiles, why
do you need all those airplanes? If you have precision guided weapons
launched from submarines, why do you need all those aircraft carriers
and destroyers?' (p.172)11.
Kosovo, then, was not really the 'virtual war' that it might
have been, because the military did not want to adopt all the new technologies
that the administration wanted to deploy. And in many ways, the war in
Iraq has been both 'more new' (politicians now realise that
they must at least make the appearance of wanting to kill fewer civilians,
however credible that may be) and 'less new' (ground forces
with heavy artillery were deployed, and tanks laid roads behind them in
order to establish supply lines). Ignatieff highlights a previous conflict
between generals in the army and defence chiefs in the Pentagon:
" ... the central claim of the new technological gospel was that
computers, battlefield sensors and spy satellites could dispel the 'fog'
of war - the chaotic uncertainty in which battles unfold; and eliminate
the 'friction' - adverse terrain, climate, equipment failure,
troop morale and other incalculable factors - standing in the way of
military victory. Generals like Norman Schwarzkopf were skeptical: they
had bitter combat experience of both fog and friction in Vietnam. They
also knew that the 'systems analysts' of the Pentagon had promised
then that new technologies married to new tactics ... would dispel the
fog and grease the friction of warfare. And they hadn't.
"Vietnam veterans like Schwarzkopf were also angered by the argument ...
that putting troops on the ground was no longer necessary ... Sooner
or later, they argued, the army would need to put its soldiers on the
ground to fight their way in and take and hold ground (p.173)."
The very recent and open disagreements between General Tommy Franks and
Donald Rumsfeld about the size of force that would be needed in Iraq are
only the most recent example of a conflict that has been continuing for
at least the last fifteen years.
Kosovo, Ignatieff maintains, occurred 'in mid revolution'. 'America ...
has not yet reorganized its troops around the strategic doctrine which
the revolution in military affairs makes possible: air-lifted maneuver-based
warfare by lightly armed squads, working in and around enemy lines, to
call in high precision fires from naval and space based assets12.
To some extent, America and its NATO allies fought a virtual war because
they were neither ready nor willing to fight a real one' (pp.175-6).
This throws up some confusion. After September 11th, should we conclude
that the 'revolution' has been completed, since the tactical
pattern Ignatieff describes sounds very much like that deployed in Iraq
(at least those parts we know about); or is there a certain amount of
'fog' surrounding this too? Was this war more 'real',
in that it (eventually) was waged in the most part by large infantry and
Marine battalions, or more 'virtual', in that it deployed tactical
airstrikes and 'precision bombing'?
Virtual democracy, virtual humanitarianism, 'virtual consent'
and other hollow noises
Writing only three years ago, Ignatieff was able to claim that '[l]eaders ...
address their electorates and afterwards pollsters consult samples of
citizens to see just how far they support what the leader has in mind ...
When leaders call for more risk than an electorate will support, the polls
pull them back into line' (p.177). Not this time. The government
of the United Kingdom very nearly unseated itself, such was its determination
to go to war in the face of public disapproval of such an action (including
the largest demonstration ever held in the United Kingdom).
In a section entitled 'Virtual consent' Ignatieff writes that
'[t]he power to give or withhold consent to war is an essential element
of the freedom of citizens' (p.176), but goes on to note that in
the years since the Korean War, no formal declaration of war has been
made by either Congress of the Houses of Parliament.
"This bypassing of the constitution is assisted by linguistic subterfuge.
Since constitutions state that war requires a declaration to be legitimate,
the word 'war' never passes a leader's lips ... The word
'humanitarian' figures prominently (p.177)."
In the recent simulation of political dissent that immediately preceded
this war, both on the streets and in the House of Commons, what actually
happened? Tony Blair was able to override the wishes of the British people
on this issue, not in spite of, but because we live in a 'democracy'.
The question we should be asking is not 'how could this happen in
a democracy' but 'what does democracy mean'. Members of
Parliament were able to enter the House and vote on a government motion,
and on various amendments, not on the basis of what their constituents
might have wanted (those whom they are elected to represent), but solely
on the basis of their consciences (and career ambitions). Thus 'consent',
such as it was, was given to an illegal conflict, and this was not anti-democratic
but part of our democratic system. There is surely yet another
irony in the fact that our own democratic system allowed the clearly-heralded
wishes of its citizens to be over-run in the name of providing 'democracy'
to someone else. 'Our vision for the future of Iraq is of a country
free of repression able to live peacefully alongside its neighbours and
develop in a way its own people choose. I believe it is a progressive
vision.' So wrote Tony Blair in a letter emailed to all Labour Party
members after the vote in the Commons.
"But if war in the future is sold to voters with the promise of impunity
they may be tempted to throw caution to the winds. If military action
is cost-free, what democratic restraints will remain on the resort to
force? ... Democracies may well remain peace loving only so long as
the risks of war remain real to their citizens. If war becomes virtual ...
democratic electorates may be more willing to fight especially if the
cause is justified in the language of human rights and even democracy
What has become apparent from the rhetoric that preceded and has accompanied
the war, is that we are entering a new era where 'democracy'
needs constant protection from a vaguely mobilised terrorist threat. That
this is a circular argument should hardly need reiterating by now. Nor
should it need to be said that 'humanitarian warfare' has delivered
us - and this time quite without irony - to a state where peace
is literally war. It's just so easy that way.
Ignatieff describes how the Anti-War campaign in the States helped to
bring the Vietnam War to an end. One lesson of the virtual war is that,
once it has started, it cannot be stopped by 'public disapproval'.
This war, which needed no public approval to begin, could theoretically
have been prevented by a sustained anti-war campaign, had that very clear
mandate been reflected in the House of Commons. If parliament had voted
against British involvement in the war, it is doubtful that American troops
could have fought the war alone, from both the north and south of Iraq.
However, once hostilities began, it was clear that the pretense of seeking
approval was over.
Some of Ignatieff's own conclusions can be held up and re-examined
in the light of subsequent developments. Whilst they remain useful, there
are a few points that are striking now for their premature obsolescence.
'Virtual war,' he writes, 'proceeds to virtual victory'
(p.208). This is clear enough. When we consider the conflict in Afghanistan,
can we say for sure when it ended, or even whether it has ended? The Gulf
War never really ended, since US and UK planes carried on bombing Iraq
in the subsequent twelve years. And what was the effective outcome of
Kosovo? 'Wars fought in the name of the human rights of other nations'
national minorities are bound to be self-limiting. We fight for victory
and for unconditional surrender only when we are fighting for ourselves'
But this time round, according to one of the excuses at least, we were
fighting for ourselves, to protect against the threat of Saddam's
weapons of mass destruction. Or were we fighting for the human rights
of the Iraqi people? Or to topple a régime that was no longer useful?
At least this much is certain, there appears to be no way this war can
ever really end, since there is no-one to surrender to the occupying army
('George Galloway', suggested one wag in the House of Commons).
And the power vacuum which immediately followed 'liberation'
has not gone away, despite the assertion that US and UK forces are now
policing the streets of Iraqi cities.
For Ignatieff, of course, the concept of régime change as an
overt policy was still a distant and unlikely possibility (even though,
as I have pointed out, the US has been changing régimes covertly
for many decades).
"A rogue state is judged to be better than no state at all. A Serbia
and an Iraq that remain intact, under despotic leadership, are both preferred
to societies dissolving into civil war. And since - a further contradiction - Western
nations believe in self-determination, they are unwilling to occupy these
defeated states and rebuild them from the bottom up in a properly imperial
Yet this is precisely what we find ourselves confronted by now: virtual
victory, for sure, in that it remains as inconclusive as any of the campaigns
that Ignatieff lists; but for different reasons. 'We' have toppled
the régime, and 'we' will set about installing a new
one, but in the interim 'we' do not want to take responsibility
for the anarchy that ensues. And the transition will be long, and complex,
and uncertain, and 'we' may not even get the régime we
wanted in the end ...
Ignatieff's arguments are tainted by a kind of determinism, an 'endism'
(linked to the arguments propagated originally by Francis Fukuyama that
we had reached the 'end' of history with the collapse of the
Soviet bloc), that we should always be careful to avoid. This applies
as much to prescriptions concerning the 'post-9/11 world' as
to Ignatieff's pre-September 11th arguments about virtual war.
We can close by reconsidering one of the themes with which began this
essay, that of terrorism. Conor Gearty, an expert on the way in which
Western nations use the threat of terrorism to curtail civil liberties,
wrote in 1997 on some paradoxes that this threw up13. After
signing the Oslo Peace Accords with the PLO in 1994, the Israeli government
was in a precarious position: it could not simply walk away from the White
House saying that the terrorist threat was no more, since the fear of
it had been so carefully fostered for the preceding 45 years. Nor could
it admit as much. Thus, by agreeing peace, the 'moderate' Israelis
effectively ensured their own downfall. The terrorist threat had to be
re-articulated, but the 'people' refused to credit this re-articulation14.
So the current terrorist threat must be kept alive, not diluted, if the
same fate is not to befall the neo-conservative administration in Washington.
'If Western nations can employ violence with impunity, will they
not be tempted to use it more often? The answers ... are not obvious.
For the future depends not on us but on our enemies. They, like us, are
drawing their own conclusions from the way we seek to avoid the mortal
hazard of war' (p.5). This is one of Ignatieff's prescient insights
that remains unchanged by subsequent events, indeed it is substantially
Speaking recently in Paris, Jean Baudrillard, who got into so much trouble
for stating that the Gulf War 'would not take place', 'was not happening'
and then 'did not take place', described a variation of this interrelationship15.
Re-animating the 'Master:Slave' dialectic of Hegel, Baudrillard suggested
that terrorism was now victorious. The Master, he said, was always that
which 'gave life' to the Slave, 'he who has no right to his own death'.
The suicide bomber, however, reclaims their own death, and thus unseats
or deposes the 'Master'. America, however, still engaged in the work of
mourning September 11th, is unable to control or 'own' its 'death(s)'
and so becomes the slave. As US forces wander around the globe in search
of retribution, they merely act a part which has already been written
for them. But this revenge can never be exacted; if it were, if terrorism
were 'defeated', 'we' should have to stop fighting it. Western governments
gave life to the logic of the terrorist threat, but it surpasses their
control, and cannot be readily extinguished, as Yitzhak Rabin discovered.
Perhaps this argument seems to overdramatise the effect that any informal
or guerilla resistance can have against the only global superpower: there
is really no 'dialectic' to speak of, we could argue, such is the asymmetry.
Furthermore, the threat presented by Saddam Hussein, al-Qaeda, and whoever
else may come into the frame, is massively overstated, for economic and
political ends. Baudrillard does not mention (as Gearty implies) that
if terrorism didn't exist, governments would have to invent it, so convenient
is the 'threat' in justifying the withdrawal or curtailing of civil liberties.
Whichever way we choose to approach this problematic, it seems 'we' have
got ourselves into a quite intractable predicament by attempting to virtualise
a world that, every so often, insists on asserting its own reality.
With thanks to Dan Fleming, Arshad Sharif, Stuart Watson and Chris Jewesbury.
1. Michael Ignatieff (2000) Virtual War (London: Chatto & Windus)
2. This is intensely problematic; virtuality is nothing new. Enlightenment
ontology and epistemology, by constructing the sovereign subject prior
to the world, also constructs the technological drive for mastery over
the world that is at the heart of Virtual Reality. The world is objectified,
turned into usable data, or 'standing reserve' in Heidegger's
terms. VR, which places us literally at the scopic centre of a fantastic
universe, fulfills the aims of modernity, rather than surpassing them.
See Martin Heidegger (1977) The Question Concerning Technology and Other
Essays (London: HarperCollins)
3. Bizarrely, one of those who has most recently criticised the media
for turning war into a 'spectator sport' and a 'reality
TV show' is none other than the gamesmaster himself, commander of
British forces Air Marshall Brian Burridge.
4. See also www.informationclearinghouse.info
5. See TBN, 'Video from the Battlefield', http://www.umich.edu/~newzies/main/satellite/satellitevideo.html
6. Star Wars operates as a very efficient 'virtualisation of the
threat'. Since governments rely on cultivating fear (of the threat
of terrorism, or of hostile states, or of economic instability) to justify
war (and thus maintain their power), Star Wars, a virtual weapons system
if ever there was one, itself escalates the conflict, rather than pre-empting
or preventing it. It is thus an offensive, rather than a defensive, weapon,
as Gorbachev surely recognised.
7. David Leigh (2003) 'False witness', The Guardian, April 4th
2003, p. 19
8. See www.spiked-online.com/Articles/00000002D0E3.htm
for an account of how LM magazine was shut down for daring to report this
9. For a wide-angle shot of the square during the 'toppling',
go to http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article2838.htm
10. See http://www.srpska-mreza.com/library/facts/bombed-RTS.html
for a contemporary account of the bombing from a Serbian political website.
11. He notes that in the decade after 1989 defence spending in the US
fell from six to three percent of GDP (although after September 11th this
has begun to climb again). In a recent lecture, he comments that even
the reduced spending on defence (latest figures, for 2002, are $336 bn,
or 4% of GDP) represents an enormous amount of money: only such a rich
nation can put so little of its budget into defence and still fight wars
without feeling the economic effects at home.
12. What Donald Rumsfeld, with no discernible trace of irony, called 'lightning
war'. See http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2002/02/01022002104506.asp
13. Conor Gearty (1997) The Future of Terrorism (London: Phoenix). See
also Gearty, ed., (1996) Terrorism (Aldershot: Dartmouth)
14. Interestingly, the foremost theoretical proponent of the terrorist
threat was none other than Benjamin Netanyahu, precisely the figure who
stood to gain from the downfall of the Oslo Accords.
15. For a French report on the discussion between Baudrillard and Jacques
Derrida in Paris on the 19th of February, see http://www.humanite.presse.fr/journal/2003/2003-02/2003-02-21/2003-02-21-058.html
TERMINALS AND FRONTIERS
Lalchand Azad talks to video and digital artist Kooj
Chuhan from the group Virtual Migrants, about theory, practice and in
particular their set of works collectively titled 'Terminal Frontiers'
which bears the strap-line 'deportation, terror and murder by paper'.
LALCHAND: Virtual Migrants have produced educative works, artistic works,
and worked in association with campaigns. How do you see the relationship
between these areas of activity?
KOOJ: Campaigning is generally to gain support and lobby - whether
through militant action or otherwise - for a specific change and to
provide focal activity for progressive energies. Political education is
to impart positive or suppressed information and ideas, to generate critical
discussion and present systematic, coherent, alternative perspectives
and practical approaches; also to assist your understanding of your own
position among the power structures of society. Progressive art practice
in this context is that which enables heartfelt engagement with the ideas,
structures and human realities which political education deals with.
The question is how these fit into social or political change. For any
given issue or theme, the associated campaigning, education and art practice
will be part of a movement whether closely and actively or distantly and
with minimal reference. Change with any significance, foundation and continuity
can only be produced if the elements of a movement can support each other.
Ultimately, fundamental political change will only take place when a whole
range of diverse and developed elements of a mature movement can be organised
cohesively and integrated within a logistical and philosophical framework.
In Britain at the very least this is a long way off, so for now let's
talk about appraising current art practice in relation to campaigning.
Central to Virtual Migrants' work has been a connection with anti-deportation
campaigns for some years. These campaigns are part of a movement supporting
mainly asylum seekers to gain legitimate refuge in this country where
it has been denied. Over a long period of time - including the twenty
years since I first got involved in such campaigns - the success of
such campaigns has not moved forward despite certain forms of organisation
within the movement having advanced - laws have tightened and people
are being snatched and unfairly deported more than ever. Maybe this isn't
the fault of the movement and is just inevitable, along with the wider
downturn of political consciousness over the same period. On the other
hand, maybe the right seeds were just simply not sown way back. Maybe
short term victories were the order of the day and swallowed up all available
energy, in which case we should be able to redress this with benefit of
LALCHAND: So is Virtual Migrants about sowing seeds?
KOOJ: Recently we have worked on two responses - an educational CD-ROM
and the Terminal Frontiers series of art works. The almost unfunded CD-ROM,
titled 'We Are Here Because You Were There' - which me and
Aidan (Jolly) put together with a lot of contributions - is an introductory
critique about immigration and asylum in Britain, particularly geared
towards schools key stage 3 onwards. In compiling material for the CD-ROM
we realised that such introductory perspectives and information simply
did not exist in any form - we had to write it ourselves rather than
being able to modify existing literature that possibly should have already
been available. Perhaps that in itself answers the question about whether
seeds were sown before and whether we might be considered to be sowing
a few? I mean, after all these years it really feels to me that I have
had to create this CD-ROM to move forward from the history of the legal
discrimination focus which has dominated critical literature about deportations.
The theoretical broader base of links and contexts has never been established,
let alone popularised. The CD-ROM serves to introduce a broader contextual
base while the Terminal Frontiers artworks allow passionate and empathetic
connection with the ideas in a vivid, moving and memorable way. But this
needs to be part of a movement of sowing similar seeds if worthwhile fruits
are to be reaped in the future since we are up against reactionary ideological
seeds being sown all the time.
LALCHAND: And how does this fit in with the process of the campaigning
KOOJ: The CD-ROM addresses the need to impart information and perspectives
to a broad cross-section of the public. We felt this to be particularly
important because of the power of the media in areas where there are no
refugees yet people are very anti-asylum, and also because of the lack
of any involvement of a campaigning or progressive voice in such geographic
areas. In fact, much sincere progressive involvement of local campaigners
is directed towards assisting and working with the victims of state immigration
policies, which may be welcome but leaves behind the more awkward effort
to debunk myths and encourage proper debate with local indigenous people.
I might go on to argue a similar process having contributed to the rise
of the BNP around Greater Manchester to show it is part of a broader tendency,
and how the results of this lack of 'seed sowing' can allow
some seeds from the far right to be successfully planted instead. Basically,
I am saying that there are too few activists who venture outside 'converted'
territory, and while doing so may feel the most unrewarding and even the
least mobilising it may in the long term be the most politically useful.
Perhaps there is a short-termism about much activism and campaigning,
whereas serious political education is a long-term affair through which
we are trying to lay the foundations for the future. I think there is
a general lack of understanding among the left, progressives and minority
activists about the possible roles of art other than as putting on a benefit
or cultural event, or providing promotional media.
LALCHAND: And within progressive art practice is there perhaps too much
'preaching to the converted'?
KOOJ: Having used the phrase myself I have to say it is a really misleading
and unconstructive concept. It certainly is an accusation levelled at
progressive artists but it misrepresents the needs of progressive movements.
Similarly, my arguing for the greater sowing of educative seeds is not
the same as preaching to the 'non-converted'. First of all,
what is 'converted'? Within any group supporting progressive
activism there are many differences of opinion, a range of contradictions
and (like for everyone else) many suffer from a lot of misinformation
from the dominant discourses. There is little opportunity to explore,
understand and focus, or to resolve perspectives and further questions.
Art and media works are a key way in which people can come together and
do this in a less didactic way and retain a closeness to the central concerns,
a sense of purpose, along with the 'sing it together' sharing
of common ground which necessarily sustains any interest-based group.
Though didacticism also has its place - for example the 'We Are
Here...' CD-ROM which was intended as an educational work with a
capital 'E' - for use in schools and so on rather than as
an art product. Having said that, it is certainly no more didactic than
any school history book and probably less so; didacticism has to be placed
in context and we should challenge those accusations of being didactic
and dogmatic when indiscriminately used against work which states a progressive
LALCHAND: Lets move on to the Terminal Frontiers exhibition. Can you briefly
describe the project?
KOOJ: It was a two-year long project with a number of sections which resulted
in five different electronic art works being produced by a range of artists
at different levels, including Keith Piper, with a range of contributions
including from people seeking asylum and also from school children. The
processes involved in creating the works were very intensive with a general
attempt to scratch below the surface at the underlying causes for and
contexts around issues to do with asylum and globalisation, while at the
same time wanting to be true to our personal responses to these issues.
It's all well documented on our website.
LALCHAND: One of the two key pieces (Keith Piper's being the other)
was the 'What If I'm Not Real' installation which you directed
and which involved collaboration with a number of artists. How did this
work and what was it about?
KOOJ: 'What If I'm Not Real' was developed through much
collaborative discussion with the entire group of six artists, which included
five of migrant origin. Across three screens in a circular arrangement,
accompanied by other sculptural elements, the viewer can follow the simple
movements of the adult, child and official on their respective screens
producing a visual narrative accompanied by finely crafted, multi-directional
and alternating musical atmospheres. Among other things, the adult tries
to sew together the borders of two maps with a thread that will always
be too short, the child tries to piece together assorted fragments of
photographs of faces, and the official both sends off military vehicles
and receives money from the 'ground' of water. The interplay between the
characters leads to a final retaliation from the adult, although equally
the power of the piece is that it allows a range of mentalities between
aggressor and underdog to be woven together, explored and played out.
The mask work and plain garments were intended to minimize the specific
gender and cultural references while at the same time keeping the sense
of character and drama - the intention was to create a simpler and
more universally applicable set of meanings.
LALCHAND: Originally coming from an expression of a group of artists,
how does it work as art and as a contribution to progressive change?
KOOJ: Well, the work was very much our personal response to the issues
presented before us, though we clearly wanted the final work to support
our political sympathies. Being true and authentic to yourself and also
to your politics and beliefs is a difficult trick to play and takes some
commitment, arguments and a learning curve to achieve. The work is incredibly
rich with personal approaches and ideas such as the sense of opposites
which was so critical to our poet Tang Lin. The characters were all placed
on water suggesting on the one hand a relief from the problems of land - both
which the migrant has left and also which the migrant must go to - yet
on the other hand the disturbing sense that as land creatures they can't
float there forever and will need to leave this temporary respite. Blood
is also used to represent both life and death with the adult migrant finding
her own resolution by using her own blood along with that of others as
a form of fuel. Keith Piper's immediate comment was, 'God, the
production values are really high!' And a number of people who have
generally held the painfully common view that 'political art is just
an excuse for a slogan at art's expense' were all persuaded
otherwise once they had seen this work. In fact, a fuller text about its
aesthetics would be a significant piece in itself but unfortunately the
work's strength of provocative content usually leads the discussion
away, as it will do now.
As with many such works, it is essentially about engaging people with
human feelings and realities at a deeper level than facts and statistics,
managing to emotionally distil global processes and relationships into
simple, universal human narratives. It is clearly non-didactic, allowing
exploration of a range of metaphors within a structured framework, yet
still makes a clear statement that is largely free from specific cultural
references. It reached out to those interested in the art and the issues,
and to art audiences more generally who would not normally frequent such
a space. Further to this, it has stimulated interest in such work amongst
artists and art spaces. I would add that the whole set of Terminal Frontiers
works - along with the CD-ROM - is a compelling, complementary combination
at all levels. One of the works was designed to be portable and toured
various public and community venues away from the gallery space. Even
though we had variable responses to this 'community tour', its
value and possibilities are enormous and we want to try it again. It is
part of our commitment to make work geographically accessible, even if
demanding, while simultaneously avoiding it being marginalized from the
mainstream where it can also be seen in a more dedicated environment.
'Terminal Frontiers' will be coming to Street Level gallery
in Glasgow this autumn, and is due to continue touring through 2004. The
show was premiered at Castlefield Gallery (Manchester) in late 2002 and
was subsequently shown at the ICA (London).
The artists involved in the Terminal Frontiers series of works are Kooj
Chuhan, Aidan Jolly, Tang Lin, Hafiza Mohamed, Miselo Kunda-Anaku, Jilah
Bakshayesh and Keith Piper.
Change: Prognosis And Courses Of Action
As the USA launches an illegal invasion and occupation of the country
with the world's second largest proven oil reserves, it's as
good a time as any to step back and look at the state of the bigger environmental
picture. Fifteen years after NASSA's Dr James Hansen first warned
a congressional panel that the world was warming are we any closer to
addressing the problem of climate change? Where is unchecked warming leading
us? Have we, as a global community, achieved a commitment to action that
is sufficient to avoid global catastrophe? If not, what can we do about
Since the facts about climate change are often shrouded in fog to the
extent that many people are in doubt as to whether or not global warming
is benign, first: what is the state of the science?
The world's leading authority on the science of climate change is
the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, established in
1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the UN Environment Programme.
The IPCC brings together over 2,000 of the world's leading climate
scientists and its Assessment Reports represent summaries of the latest
Its Third Assessment Report published in 2001 is a document to give pause.
The 0.6C increase in global mean temperature over the 20th century, it
says, is likely to have been the largest increase of any century during
the past 1,000 years and has already produced observable, dramatic changes
including widespread retreat of mountain glaciers, a decline in Arctic
sea ice thickness of about 40% during late summer to early autumn, a 10%
loss of snow and ice cover, warming oceans, sea level rises of between
0.1 & 0.2 metres, more frequent and intense warm El Nino episodes
and changes in patterns of rainfall, cloud cover and temperature.1
News of observable impacts on the natural world - such as "thawing
of permafrost, later freezing and earlier break-up of ice on rivers and
lakes, lengthening of mid to high-latitude growing seasons, poleward and
altitudinal shifts of plant and animal ranges, declines of some plant
and animal populations, and earlier flowering of trees, emergence of insects,
and egg-laying in birds" - has become part of the background noise
of our society. Yet, out of everyday sight, some natural systems that
are particularly vulnerable to climate change may be undergoing significant
and irreversible damage including "coral reefs and atolls, boreal
and tropical forests, polar and alpine ecosystems, prairie wetlands, and
remnant native grasslands."
But climate change also has wide ranging impacts on the human systems
of "water resources; agriculture (especially food security) and forestry;
coastal zones and marine systems (fisheries); human settlements, energy
and industry; insurance and other financial services; and human health."2
The UK government has funded its own assessments of how climate change
will impact over the coming decades. The temperature over central England
has risen - beyond the global average - over the course of last
century by 1ºC and the mean temperature is expected to rise by a
further 2 to 3.5ºC by the 2080s depending on the emissions scenario.
Winters will continue to become wetter and intense rainfall events will
continue to increase in frequency. High temperature extremes will become
more common and low temperature extremes rarer. Sea-level rises and extremes
of sea level will occur more frequently. And whilst the thermal growing
season will increase, the summer soil moisture will decrease.3
But while we are relatively well placed to adapt to these changes, it
is the world's poorly resourced majority that will suffer most. The
IPCC notes the low adaptive capacities of the poor and their high vulnerability.
It details the expected changes for each region - an increase in droughts
and floods in Africa, for instance - along with the degree of confidence
with which they can be predicted. It is in the developing world that loss
of life will be greatest and the impacts of climate change will serve
to "increase the disparity in well-being between developed countries
and developing countries."
In 2001 a Red Cross report noted that natural disasters had doubled between
1995 and 2000. Eighty-eight percent of those affected and two thirds of
those killed during the 1990s lived in the least developed countries.
The report warned that "Recurrent disasters, from floods in Asia
to drought in the Horn of Africa, to windstorms in Latin America, are
sweeping away development gains and calling into question the possibility
of recovery." Aid agencies capacity to adequately respond will soon
But we can expect worse to come since the IPCC predicts that without additional
measures to combat climate change the global average surface temperature
will rise a further 1.4 to 5.8ºC depending upon the development scenario
used. Such a projected rate of warming, they warn, "is much larger
than the observed changes during the 20th century and is very likely to
be without precedent during the last 10,000 years."
The professional deniers
"There is no debate among any statured scientists of what is happening.
The only debate is the rate at which it is happening."
James McCarthy, Chair of the Advisory Committee on the Environment of
the International Committee of Scientific Unions5
Faced with action to curb emissions the fossil fuel industry has conducted
a war on reality in order to preserve their trillion dollar business.
By doing so they have put the very future of the planet in the balance.
A handful of sceptics have been promoted by the carbon industries to try
and present the climate science as uncertain and flawed. They have peddled
scientifically spurious arguments and have often put forward economic
objections to change. Ross Gelbspan of the Boston Globe has shown
that the principal US sceptics such as Fred Singer, Patrick Michaels,
Robert Balling and Richard Lindzen have been bank rolled by fossil fuel
interests.6 But these scientists and their arguments are not
taken seriously by the climate scientists that lead the field.
One of the tactics of the sceptics was to play up the uncertainties in
IPCC reports. Scientists are by nature cautious in their assessments and
areas of uncertainty that were expressed in the earliest IPCC reports
have been replaced, as the science has improved, with more firmly expressed
statements. But as Ross Gelbspan noted: "Uncertainty cuts both ways
[...] Our scientific knowledge, in other words, may even be lagging behind
nature. The momentum of globally disrupting climate change may be further
advanced than earth science, with its areas of uncertainty, is currently
able to prove." This was the case with the ozone hole. When atmospheric
measurements of ozone were finally made, the results were much worse than
anything the modelling had predicted.7
So what action has been taken at an international level and is it enough?
The warning signal of IPCC's first report in 1990 was enough to spur
the international community into action. The United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed at the Rio Earth Summit
in 1992 and came into force in March 1994. It established the objective
of stabilising atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at levels that
would avoid "dangerous anthropogenic [i.e. human] interference with
global climate." Significantly, it recognised that scientific uncertainty
must not be used to avoid precautionary action and that industrial nations - with
the greatest historical contribution to climate change - should take
the lead in addressing the problem.8
In 1995 however, the signatories to the UNFCCC concluded its commitments
were inadequate and launched talks on a legally binding protocol. The
1997 Kyoto Protocol commits industrialised countries to an overall reduction
in emissions of 5.2% below 1990 levels by 2010. The US committed itself
to a 7% cut and the EU 8%. On announcing the agreement, the Chair of the
negotiating session, Raul Estrada claimed that "the overall target
of 5.2% is 30% below business as usual [...] This we can celebrate."9
However, Kyoto's target of an overall 5.2% reduction was much less
than the 15% originally argued for by the European Union or the 20% that
the Alliance of Small Island States wanted to see. The withdrawal of the
US - representing 36.1% of industrialised countries' greenhouse
gas emissions in 1990 - from the treaty in 2001 means that the overall
figure of 5.2% reduction is no longer relevant. Furthermore the inclusion
of 'flexibility mechanisms'10 (successfully pushed
for by the US with Japan, Australia and Canada), weaken the potential
for reductions still further, since they effectively provide get-out clauses
for any country who fails to meet their targets. In effect the Protocol
now allows for an increase on 1990 levels which perhaps even go beyond
After the US pulled out of Kyoto in March 2001, 178 nations finalised
many of the protocol's key rules in Bonn in July 2001. Many compromises
were made to keep countries on board. Canada and Japan who formerly sided
with the US's negotiating position have now ratified the Protocol,
though Australia - another key US ally - has not. As soon as Russia
has ratified the Protocol - which it has stated its intention to do - it
will become law.12
In terms of emissions reductions, eleven years of international negotiations
have achieved disappointingly little. Whilst acknowledging that the current
agreement is "totally inadequate", NGOs such as the World Wildlife
Fund and Greenpeace argue that it nevertheless provides "a sound
legal architecture" upon which to build future reductions.13
On the face of it the UK government has a relatively good record regards
climate change. It accepts the science; has a programme of action to deal
with it; lobbied along with the EU at climate negotiations for strict
targets; by setting itself a voluntary target of 20% it has gone further
than its original Kyoto commitment of 12% reduction in greenhouse gas
emissions from the 1990 level by 2010; it now has a white paper on Energy
which proposes a reduction of 60% of CO2 emissions by 2050.
Dig a little deeper however and it emerges that the bulk of the UK's
CO2 emission reductions to date have been as a result of an economically
driven switch in emphasis away from coal towards gas in electricity generating
stations. The government's existing programme of measures designed
to deliver its emissions reductions14 has been criticised for
being inadequate. A report by the government's Sustainable Development
Commission reached the conclusion that although the UK's Kyoto target
would be met, "without further measures, the UK will fall well short
of the Government's goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions by
20% of 1990 levels by 2010."15
Published earlier this year The White Paper16 contains many
encouraging signs taking on many of the recommendations made by the Royal
Commission on Environmental Pollution (RCEP) in its report 'Energy:
The Changing Climate'.17 According to the SDC it "goes
a long way to filling the gaps identified in the Sustainable Development
Commission's recent audit of the existing Climate Change Programme."18
Its main guiding consideration is that: "Significant damaging climate
change is an environmental limit that should not be breached. We need
to keep the UK on a path to 60% cuts in carbon dioxide emissions by 2050."
It also recognises that: "If we do not begin now, more dramatic,
disruptive and expensive change will be needed later." On the international
level it declares: "A concerted international effort is needed. We
will continue to work with other countries to establish a consensus around
the need for change and for firm commitments to this ambition [...] We
want the world's developed economies to cut emissions of greenhouse
gases by 60% by around 2050."
Highlighting the importance of energy efficiency and renewable energy,
nuclear power was put on hold as an option. The government has already
announced (January 2000) an aim that renewable sources of energy will
supply 10% of UK electricity by 2010 and now aims to double that by 2020.
Interest groups are still picking over the White Paper and their responses
to it. Friends of the Earth's cautiously optimistic response is characteristic:
"For the first time it seems that climate change has been placed
at the heart of energy policy and this has to be congratulated. We are
however concerned that the government has got a long way to go to deliver
the policies and measures that will ensure the vision outlined in the
White Paper is met."19
The White Paper includes a promise of an extra £60M for the development
of renewable energy supplies in addition to the £38M extra announced
in the 2002 spending review. Much greater amounts are needed to kick start
the renewable industry in the way the government suggests. (Compare this
amount for example to the chancellor's £3B reserves to pay
for the war on Iraq and its £7B bail out of nuclear energy20).
The Science and Technology Select Committee issued a scathing condemnation
of the White Paper as "a document full of sentiments with few practical
policy proposals that give us any confidence that its targets (and aspirations)
can be met." It argues for a massive increase in investment in renewable
energy technologies funded by a Carbon and Renewable Energy Tax (Science
& Technology Select Committee, Fourth Report "Towards a Non-Carbon
Economy: Research, Development and Demonstration", 3/4/3.
Most worrying from the UK's point of view is that any gains in CO2
savings at home have been far outstripped by emissions it has helped create
abroad. Since Labour came to power the Export Credit Guarantee Department
has put $1B into financing eleven coal-fired stations in the developing
world. BBC2's Newsnight programme calculated that for every tonne
of C02 emissions the government had saved at home, three tonnes had been
The Problem with the US
The funding and promotion of sceptics in the US has been but one prong
of a campaign fought by the fossil fuel industry to confuse the public,
play up the economic implications of the Kyoto protocol, make it politically
unacceptable to introduce a carbon tax or cuts in emissions and ultimately
impede and disrupt the international negotiations.
ExxonMobil and others have pumped millions of dollars into think tanks
and lobby groups (including the Global Climate Coalition, George C Marshall
Institute, American Petroleum Institute and Competitive Enterprise Institute)
and conducted high profile media campaigns and direct lobbying to massage
the public, legislative and business communities in the US.22
And the campaign has seen some considerable successes. In 1995 Republican
congress member Robert Walker successfully argued for cuts in funding
of climate change science programmes (although these were subsequently
partly reinstated)23; and in 1997 Congress passed a key resolution
recommending that the US not sign an international climate agreement unless
it included new commitments for developing countries.24 The
fossil fuel lobby's persistent work inside the international negotiations
to bring about the weak agreement that we are left with today has been
Today, the fossil fuel industry no longer needs a lobby - it effectively
became the government when Bush appointed a cabinet with a majority of
its members having ties to oil and gas corporations. Since Bush came to
power his administration has pulled out of Kyoto (March 2001), unveiled
an alternative to Kyoto consisting entirely of voluntary measures by business
(February 2002), launched an energy strategy that promotes a massive increase
in fossil fuels (May 2001)26 effected the removal of Dr Robert
Watson from the chair of the IPCC (April 2002), dismissed a report written
by its own Environmental Protection Agency confirming the science of climate
change (June 2002), snubbed the Johannesburg Earth Summit by sending Colin
Powell instead of George Bush (September 2002) and now launched a war
for oil in Iraq in the face of overwhelming international opposition and
against international law (March 2003).27
With just 4% of the world's population using a quarter of the world's
energy, the US remains the largest stumbling block to effective action
to counter climate change. But perhaps the tide is turning. In January
2000 at the World Economic Forum, a vote amongst hundreds of chief executives
put climate change as the number one issue of concern to business in the
future and some predict that international diplomatic pressure and increasing
domestic pressure may yet force the US to re-engage with the Kyoto process.
The ultimate gamble
The impacts of climate change are already catastrophic: extreme weather
events are commonplace and will continue to increase. The most worrying
characteristic of the climate system is the danger posed by 'feedbacks'.
Once set in motion these have the effect of accelerating the rate of warming.
Although each of the IPCC's assessments have contained warnings about
such feedbacks The Ecologist's science editor, Peter Bunyard, believes
that the IPCC has underestimated the role of these processes by leaving
them out of its modelling. New climate modelling by Peter Cox at the Meteorological
Office's Hadley Centre suggests that if no further action is taken
to curb greenhouse gas emissions then within the next fifty years we will
reach a threshold beyond which climate will start accelerating irreversibly
and out of control.28 This threshold occurs when the Amazon
rainforests start to turn from a 'sink' (buffering the effects
of climate change by absorbing excess atmospheric CO2) to a 'source'
(releasing CO2 back into the atmosphere through an increase in forest
In Cox's modelling this occurs when levels of CO2 concentrations
in the atmosphere reach 550ppmv and according to the RCEP this level should
be considered an unbreachable upper limit. The world is not currently
on track to stay within this threshold. In order to be so, cuts of 60%
in industrialised countries' CO2 emissions from 1990 levels by 2050
would be needed.29 To achieve this will require radical changes.
Both the UK government and the EU are saying that they want to adopt these
targets and promote them at an international level. How they will achieve
this and secure the participation of the US and limit the weakening role
of flexible mechanisms remains to be seen.
Up until now, action at intergovernmental level has been characterised
by an attitude of 'How little can we get away with?' But increasingly
there is a realisation that the economic imperative alone requires a fast
pace of change. We now know that the longer we wait the more painful,
difficult, drastic and financially costly the changes will be.
The gravity of the climate situation means that we can't just wait
around to see whether or not governments and big business get their act
together (though we need to put pressure on them to ensure they do). We
need to start now to take action at every level we can. Beyond the obvious
things like registering for electricity from renewable sources (all it
takes is a phone call and it can be cheaper)30, considering
modes of transport and fuels31, cutting down on international
flights, ensuring our homes are properly insulated, using energy saving
light bulbs, etc. we should be raising awareness and encouraging action
with friends and relations and at the workplace.
There is also good potential for getting local government to take action.
Five hundred local governments representing 8% of global emissions have
signed up to a programme of voluntary action to address their emissions.
The Cities for Climate Protection campaign requires participants to monitor
and reduce their emissions with many adopting a target of an 8% reduction
in greenhouse gas emissions by 2005 or 2010.32 The Local Agenda
21 Initiative provides an interface with your council through which they
can be encouraged to sign up to the CCP plan.33 Alternatively,
you may have a local Friends of the Earth group who are active and could
be effective in this way.
In London, Ken Livingstone has issued a bold 'Draft Energy Strategy'
which lays out a broad programme of action and shows many of the ways
in which local councils can play a major role in encouraging the use of
energy efficiency, renewable energy and combined heat and power plants
through the planning system.34
A key lever of change in today's society is the economic one. The
Ecologist has suggested raising awareness amongst fund managers of
the risk to investments from climate change and encouraging disinvestment
in fossil fuels.35 Such action was the source of the success
of the campaign to stop the Illisu Dam and the organisers of the offensive
have written a report which shares their experiences.36 Individual
shareholders of oil companies and campaigns are an important pressure
point and campaigns against new oil developments such as the Baku-Ceyhan
pipeline37 should be supported. Development banks and export
credit agencies need to be pressurised to stop funding the development
of fossil fuel electricity plants and start funding renewable ones.38
The Ecologist discusses the option of bringing crippling
legal actions against fossil fuel companies for their knowing role in
causing the impacts of climate change, similar to the recent successful
actions against the tobacco industry.
There are limitless things that can be done. 'Stormy Weather - 101
Solutions to Global Climate Change' by Guy Dauncey and Patrick Mazza39
makes constructive suggestions for action at every level from the individual
to the intergovernmental, and the UK Rising Tide group brainstormed fifty
ideas for direct action.40 The battle for the Earth's
climate is the single most important issue facing the world today and
one way or another we need to make sure that it is not one that is lost.
1. Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Report,
Summary for Policymakers, (IPCC, 2001), http://www.ipcc.ch/pub/reports.htm
2. Third Assessment Report: Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation and
Vulnerability, Summary for Policymakers (IPCC, 2001), http://www.ipcc.ch/pub/reports.htm
3. Hulme, M., Turnpenny, J., Jenkins, G., (2002), Climate Change Scenarios
for the United Kingdom: The UKCIP02 Briefing Report. Tyndall Centre for
Climate Change Research, UK - see http://www.ukcip.org.uk
for this report as well as regional and sectoral studies.
4. Disasters will outstrip aid efforts as world heats up, by Peter Capella,
The Guardian, 29/06/02.
5. The Heat is On, Ross Gelbspan, p.22 (Perseus Books, 1998)
6. These scientists received funding from Western Fuels, German Coal Mining
Association, Edison Electric Institute, Cyprus Minerals, British Coal
Corporation, Kuwait Foundation for the Advancement of Science, Kuwait
Institute for Scientific Research, Reverend Moon, Exxon, Shell, ARCO,
Unocal and Sun Oil (Gelbspan, pp. 41-56). The American Petroleum Institute's
1998 strategy document included the grooming and promotion of five new
sceptics. See Exxon's Weapons of Mass Deception - The Assessment
of Greenpeace International, http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/5292.pdf
7. Gelbspan, p.31-2.
9. The Carbon War, Jeremy Leggett, p. 321, (Penguin, 2000)
10. In depth discussion of the flexibility mechanisms can be found in
Democracy or Cabocracy, Corner House Briefing No. 24, http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/briefing/24carboc.html;
and The Sky is Not the Limit: The Emerging Market in Greenhouse Gases,
by Carbon Trade Watch, (The Transnational Institute, Amsterdam, January
11. See 'Extended Quantitative Analysis of the COP-6 President's
text', by Malte Menishausen and Bill Hare, Greenpeace International,
June 2001 and "Evaluating the Bonn Agreement and some key issues",
The National Institute of Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) p.22.
The Netherlands 2001)
13. The Ecologist Report, November 2001, pp. 21-22, http://www.theecologist.org
15. UK Climate Change Programme - a policy audit (Sustainable Development
Commission, 12/2/03); & Policy audit of UK Climate Change Policies
and Programmes (Edinburgh Centre for Carbon Management, 12/2/03.
16. Energy White Paper, Our energy future - creating a low carbon economy,
Department of Trade & Industry, February 2002, http://www.dti.gov.uk/energy/whitepaper
17. Energy: The Changing Climate (Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution,
18. Sustainable Development Commission, Press Notice: 24 February 2003,
Sustainable energy future beckons, http://www.sd-commission.gov.uk/events/news/pressrel/030224c.htm
19. Bryony Worthington, Campaigner, Climate and Transport, Friends of
20. Liabilities - Labour's Hidden Subsidies To Nuclear Power,
Friends of the Earth Press Briefing, January 2003, http://www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/liabilities_nuclear_power.pdf
21. BBC2 Newsnight, report by Susan Watts, July 2002; Exporting Pollution - Double
Standards in UK Energy Exports, Greenpeace UK, July 2002, http://www.greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/5034.pdf
22. Exxon's Weapons of Mass Deception - The Assessment of Greenpeace
23. Gelbspan, p. 76
24. Between them, the two sponsors of Senate Resolution 98 - Senators
Hagle and Byrd - have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from
the oil and gas industry. The vote on the resolution was preceded by intensive
lobbying by Mobil, Exxon and their various front groups. See Exxon's
Weapons of Mass Deception.
25. Legget; Exxon's Weapons of Mass Deception; and Gelbspan, Chapter
26. The Tiger in the Tanks - ExxonMobil, oil dependency and war in
Iraq (Greenpeace UK, Feb 2003)
27. Carve up of oil riches begins by Peter Beaumont & Faisal Islam,
The Observer, 3/11/02; The Tiger in the Tanks - ExxonMobil, oil dependency
and the war on Iraq greenpeace.org.uk/MultimediaFiles/Live/FullReport/5543.pdf;
When will we buy oil in euros? by Faisal Islam, The Observer, 23/2/3
28. The Truth About Climate Change by Peter Bunyard in The Ecologist Report,
November 2001, pp. 7-11; see also Equinox: The Day the Oceans Boiled,
Channel 4 TV, 17/6/01
29. RCEP report, p.4
30. Friends of the Earth have made a comparison of renewable electricity
suppliers at http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/climate/press_for_change/choose_green_energy/index.html;
for information about clean fuel vehicles
31. Biofuels offer amazing potential see Fill 'er up Boyo by Jim
White, The Guardian 20/1/3 and http://www.northwales.org.uk/bio-power/links.htm
33. Most local councils operate some form of Agenda 21 group since central
government asked them to. The current health and effectiveness of the
group is likely to vary widely. Contact your local council for details
or see http://www.london21.org/directory.asp
for a list of LA21 groups in London and elsewhere
34. Green light to clean power - The Mayor's Draft Energy Strategy,
35. Fast-forward: new ideas to accelerate change by Simon Rellatack in
Ecologist Report, November 2001
36. Campaigners' Guide to Financial Markets: Effective Lobbying of
Companies and Financial Institutions by Nicholas Hildyard and Mark Mansley,
(Cornerhouse, January 2002), http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk
38. http://www.foei.org, http://www.bankwatch.org
all have campaigns
39. New Society Publishers, 2001
Lunch With The Chairman: Why was Richard Perle meeting with Adnan Khashoggi?
Seymour M. Hersh
At the peak of his deal-making activities, in the nineteen-seventies,
the Saudi-born businessman Adnan Khashoggi brokered billions of dollars
in arms and aircraft sales for the Saudi royal family, earning hundreds
of millions in commissions and fees. Though never convicted of wrongdoing,
he was repeatedly involved in disputes with federal prosecutors and with
the Securities and Exchange Commission, and in recent years he has been
in litigation in Thailand and Los Angeles, among other places, concerning
allegations of stock manipulation and fraud. During the Reagan Administration,
Khashoggi was one of the middlemen between Oliver North, in the White
House, and the mullahs in Iran in what became known as the Iran-Contra
scandal. Khashoggi subsequently claimed that he lost ten million dollars
that he had put up to obtain embargoed weapons for Iran which were to
be bartered (with Presidential approval) for American hostages. The scandals
of those times seemed to feed off each other: a congressional investigation
revealed that Khashoggi had borrowed much of the money for the weapons
from the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (B.C.C.I.), whose collapse,
in 1991, defrauded thousands of depositors and led to years of inquiry
Khashoggi is still brokering. In January of this year, he arranged a private
lunch, in France, to bring together Harb Saleh al-Zuhair, a Saudi industrialist
whose family fortune includes extensive holdings in construction, electronics,
and engineering companies throughout the Middle East, and Richard N. Perle,
the chairman of the Defense Policy Board, who is one of the most outspoken
and influential American advocates of war with Iraq.
The Defense Policy Board is a Defense Department advisory group composed
primarily of highly respected former government officials, retired military
officers, and academics. Its members, who serve without pay, include former
national-security advisers, Secretaries of Defense, and heads of the C.I.A.
The board meets several times a year at the Pentagon to review and assess
the country's strategic defense policies.
Perle is also a managing partner in a venture-capital company called Trireme
Partners L.P., which was registered in November, 2001, in Delaware. Trireme's
main business, according to a two-page letter that one of its representatives
sent to Khashoggi last November, is to invest in companies dealing in
technology, goods, and services that are of value to homeland security
and defense. The letter argued that the fear of terrorism would increase
the demand for such products in Europe and in countries like Saudi Arabia
The letter mentioned the firm's government connections prominently:
"Three of Trireme's Management Group members currently advise
the U.S. Secretary of Defense by serving on the U.S. Defense Policy Board,
and one of Trireme's principals, Richard Perle, is chairman of that
Board." The two other policy-board members associated with Trireme
are Henry Kissinger, the former Secretary of State (who is, in fact, only
a member of Trireme's advisory group and is not involved in its management),
and Gerald Hillman, an investor and a close business associate of Perle's
who handles matters in Trireme's New York office. The letter said
that forty-five million dollars had already been raised, including twenty
million dollars from Boeing; the purpose, clearly, was to attract more
investors, such as Khashoggi and Zuhair.
Perle served as a foreign-policy adviser in George W. Bush's Presidential
campaign - he had been an Assistant Secretary of Defense under Ronald
Reagan - but he chose not to take a senior position in the Administration.
In mid-2001, however, he accepted an offer from Secretary of Defense Donald
Rumsfeld to chair the Defense Policy Board, a then obscure group that
had been created by the Defense Department in 1985. Its members (there
are around thirty of them) may be outside the government, but they have
access to classified information and to senior policymakers, and give
advice not only on strategic policy but also on such matters as weapons
procurement. Most of the board's proceedings are confidential.
As chairman of the board, Perle is considered to be a special government
employee and therefore subject to a federal Code of Conduct. Those rules
bar a special employee from participating in an official capacity in any
matter in which he has a financial interest. "One of the general
rules is that you don't take advantage of your federal position to
help yourself financially in any way," a former government attorney
who helped formulate the Code of Conduct told me. The point, the attorney
added, is to "protect government processes from actual or apparent
Advisory groups like the Defense Policy Board enable knowledgeable people
outside government to bring their skills and expertise to bear, in confidence,
on key policy issues. Because such experts are often tied to the defense
industry, however, there are inevitable conflicts. One board member told
me that most members are active in finance and business, and on at least
one occasion a member has left a meeting when a military or an intelligence
product in which he has an active interest has come under discussion.
Four members of the Defense Policy Board told me that the board, which
met most recently on February 27th and 28th, had not been informed of
Perle's involvement in Trireme. One board member, upon being told
of Trireme and Perle's meeting with Khashoggi, exclaimed, "Oh,
get out of here. He's the chairman! If you had a story about me setting
up a company for homeland security, and I've put people on the board
with whom I'm doing that business, I'd be had" - a reference
to Gerald Hillman, who had almost no senior policy or military experience
in government before being offered a post on the policy board. "Seems
to me this is at the edge of or off the ethical charts. I think it would
stink to high heaven."
Hillman, a former McKinsey consultant, stunned at least one board member
at the February meeting when he raised questions about the validity of
Iraq's existing oil contracts. "Hillman said the old contracts
are bad news; he said we should kick out the Russians and the French,"
the board member told me. "This was a serious conversation. We'd
become the brokers. Then we'd be selling futures in the Iraqi oil
company. I said to myself, 'Oh, man. Don't go down that road.'"
Hillman denies making such statements at the meeting.
Larry Noble, the executive director of the Washington-based Center for
Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research organization, said of Perle's
Trireme involvement, "It's not illegal, but it presents an appearance
of a conflict. It's enough to raise questions about the advice he's
giving to the Pentagon and why people in business are dealing with him."
Noble added, "The question is whether he's trading off his advisory-committee
relationship. If it's a selling point for the firm he's involved
with, that means he's a closer - the guy you bring in who doesn't
have to talk about money, but he's the reason you're doing the
Perle's association with Trireme was not his first exposure to the
link between high finance and high- level politics. He was born in New
York City, graduated from the University of Southern California in 1964,
and spent a decade in Senate-staff jobs before leaving government in 1980,
to work for a military-consulting firm. The next year, he was back in
government, as Assistant Secretary of Defense. In 1983, he was the subject
of a New York Times investigation into an allegation that he recommended
that the Army buy weapons from an Israeli company from whose owners he
had, two years earlier, accepted a fifty-thousand-dollar fee. Perle later
acknowledged that he had accepted the fee, but vigorously denied any wrongdoing.
He had not recused himself in the matter, he explained, because the fee
was for work he had done before he took the Defense Department job. He
added, "The ultimate issue, of course, was a question of procurement,
and I am not a procurement officer." He was never officially accused
of any ethical violations in the matter. Perle served in the Pentagon
until 1987 and then became deeply involved in the lobbying and business
worlds. Among other corporate commitments, he now serves as a director
of a company doing business with the federal government: the Autonomy
Corporation, a British firm that recently won a major federal contract
in homeland security. When I asked him about that contract, Perle told
me that there was no possible conflict, because the contract was obtained
through competitive bidding, and "I never talked to anybody about
Under Perle's leadership, the policy board has become increasingly
influential. He has used it as a bully pulpit, from which to advocate
the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and the use of pre-emptive military action
to combat terrorism. Perle had many allies for this approach, such as
Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, but there was intense
resistance throughout the bureaucracy - most notably at the State Department.
Pre-emption has since emerged as the overriding idea behind the Administration's
foreign policy. One former high-level intelligence official spoke with
awe of Perle's ability to "radically change government policy"
even though he is a private citizen. "It's an impressive achievement
that an outsider can have so much influence, and has even been given an
institutional base for his influence."
Perle's authority in the Bush Administration is buttressed by close
association, politically and personally, with many important Administration
figures, including Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith, the Under-Secretary of
Defense for Policy, who is the Pentagon's third-ranking civilian
official. In 1989, Feith created International Advisors Incorporated,
a lobbying firm whose main client was the government of Turkey. The firm
retained Perle as an adviser between 1989 and 1994. Feith got his current
position, according to a former high-level Defense Department official,
only after Perle personally intervened with Rumsfeld, who was skeptical
about him. Feith was directly involved in the strategic planning and conduct
of the military operations against the Taliban in Afghanistan; he now
runs various aspects of the planning of the Iraqi war and its aftermath.
He and Perle share the same views on many foreign-policy issues. Both
have been calling for Saddam Hussein's removal for years, long before
September 11th. They also worked together, in 1996, to prepare a list
of policy initiatives for Benjamin Netanyahu, shortly after his election
as the Israeli Prime Minister. The suggestions included working toward
regime change in Iraq. Feith and Perle were energetic supporters of Ahmad
Chalabi, the controversial leader of the anti-Saddam Iraqi National Congress,
and have struggled with officials at the State Department and the C.I.A.
about the future of Iraq.
Perle has also been an outspoken critic of the Saudi government, and Americans
who are in its pay. He has often publicly rebuked former American government
officials who are connected to research centers and foundations that are
funded by the Saudis, and told the National Review last summer, "I
think it's a disgrace. They're the people who appear on television,
they write op-ed pieces. The Saudis are a major source of the problem
we face with terrorism. That would be far more obvious to people if it
weren't for this community of former diplomats effectively working
for this foreign government." In August, the Saudi government was
dismayed when the Washington Post revealed that the Defense Policy Board
had received a briefing on July 10th from a Rand Corporation analyst named
Laurent Murawiec, who depicted Saudi Arabia as an enemy of the United
States, and recommended that the Bush Administration give the Saudi government
an ultimatum to stop backing terrorism or face seizure of its financial
assets in the United States and its oil fields. Murawiec, it was later
found, is a former editor of the Executive Intelligence Review, a magazine
controlled by Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., the perennial Presidential candidate,
conspiracy theorist, and felon. According to Time, it was Perle himself
who had invited Murawiec to make his presentation.
Perle's hostility to the politics of the Saudi government did not
stop him from meeting with potential Saudi investors for Trireme. Khashoggi
and Zuhair told me that they understood that one of Trireme's objectives
was to seek the help of influential Saudis to win homeland-security contracts
with the Saudi royal family for the businesses it financed. The profits
for such contracts could be substantial. Saudi Arabia has spent nearly
a billion dollars to survey and demarcate its eight-hundred- and-fifty-mile
border with Yemen, and the second stage of that process will require billions
more. Trireme apparently turned to Adnan Khashoggi for help.
Last month, I spoke with Khashoggi, who is sixty- seven and is recovering
from open-heart surgery, at his penthouse apartment, overlooking the Mediterranean
in Cannes. "I was the intermediary," he said. According to Khashoggi,
he was first approached by a Trireme official named Christopher Harriman.
Khashoggi said that Harriman, an American businessman whom he knew from
his jet-set days, when both men were fixtures on the European social scene,
sent him the Trireme pitch letter. (Harriman has not answered my calls.)
Khashoggi explained that before Christmas he and Harb Zuhair, the Saudi
industrialist, had met with Harriman and Gerald Hillman in Paris and had
discussed the possibility of a large investment in Trireme.
Zuhair was interested in more than the financial side; he also wanted
to share his views on war and peace with someone who had influence with
the Bush Administration. Though a Saudi, he had been born in Iraq, and
he hoped that a negotiated, "step by step" solution could be
found to avoid war. Zuhair recalls telling Harriman and Hillman, "If
we have peace, it would be easy to raise a hundred million. We will bring
development to the region." Zuhair's hope, Khashoggi told me,
was to combine opportunities for peace with opportunities for investment.
According to Khashoggi, Hillman and Harriman said that such a meeting
could be arranged. Perle emerged, by virtue of his position on the policy
board, as a natural catch; he was "the hook," Khashoggi said,
for obtaining the investment from Zuhair. Khashoggi said that he agreed
to try to assemble potential investors for a private lunch with Perle.
The lunch took place on January 3rd at a seaside restaurant in Marseilles.
(Perle has a vacation home in the South of France.) Those who attended
the lunch differ about its purpose. According to both Khashoggi and Zuhair,
there were two items on the agenda. The first was to give Zuhair a chance
to propose a peaceful alternative to war with Iraq; Khashoggi said that
he and Perle knew that such an alternative was far-fetched, but Zuhair
had recently returned from a visit to Baghdad, and was eager to talk about
it. The second, more important item, according to Khashoggi and Zuhair,
was to pave the way for Zuhair to put together a group of ten Saudi businessmen
who would invest ten million dollars each in Trireme.
"It was normal for us to see Perle," Khashoggi told me. "We
in the Middle East are accustomed to politicians who use their offices
for whatever business they want. I organized the lunch for the purpose
of Harb Zuhair to put his language to Perle. Perle politely listened,
and the lunch was over." Zuhair, in a telephone conversation with
me, recalled that Perle had made it clear at the lunch that "he was
above the money. He said he was more involved in politics, and the business
is through the company" - Trireme. Perle, throughout the lunch,
"stuck to his idea that 'we have to get rid of Saddam,'"
Zuhair said. As of early March, to the knowledge of Zuhair, no Saudi money
had yet been invested in Trireme.
In my first telephone conversation with Gerald Hillman, in mid-February,
before I knew of the involvement of Khashoggi and Zuhair, he assured me
that Trireme had "nothing to do" with the Saudis. "I don't
know what you can do with them," he said. "What we saw on September
11th was a grotesque manifestation of their ideology. Americans believe
that the Saudis are supporting terrorism. We have no investment from them,
or with them." (Last week, he acknowledged that he had met with Khashoggi
and Zuhair, but said that the meeting had been arranged by Harriman and
that he hadn't known that Zuhair would be there.) Perle, he insisted
in February, "is not a financial creature. He doesn't have any
desire for financial gain."
Perle, in a series of telephone interviews, acknowledged that he had met
with two Saudis at the lunch in Marseilles, but he did not divulge their
identities. (At that time, I still didn't know who they were.) "There
were two Saudis there," he said. "But there was no discussion
of Trireme. It was never mentioned and never discussed." He firmly
stated, "The lunch was not about money. It just would never have
occurred to me to discuss investments, given the circumstances."
Perle added that one of the Saudis had information that Saddam was ready
to surrender. "His message was a plea to negotiate with Saddam."
When I asked Perle whether the Saudi businessmen at the lunch were being
considered as possible investors in Trireme, he replied, "I don't
want Saudis as such, but the fund is open to any investor, and our European
partners said that, through investment banks, they had had Saudis as investors."
Both Perle and Hillman stated categorically that there were currently
no Saudi investments.
Khashoggi professes to be amused by the activities of Perle and Hillman
as members of the policy board. As Khashoggi saw it, Trireme's business
potential depended on a war in Iraq taking place. "If there is no
war," he told me, "why is there a need for security? If there
is a war, of course, billions of dollars will have to be spent."
He commented, "You Americans blind yourself with your high integrity
and your democratic morality against peddling influence, but they were
When Perle's lunch with Khashoggi and Zuhair, and his connection
to Trireme, became known to a few ranking members of the Saudi royal family,
they reacted with anger and astonishment. The meeting in Marseilles left
Perle, one of the kingdom's most vehement critics, exposed to a ferocious
Prince Bandar bin Sultan, who has served as the Saudi Ambassador to the
United States for twenty years, told me that he had got wind of Perle's
involvement with Trireme and the lunch in Marseilles. Bandar, who is in
his early fifties, is a prominent member of the royal family (his father
is the defense minister). He said that he was told that the contacts between
Perle and Trireme and the Saudis were purely business, on all sides. After
the 1991 Gulf War, Bandar told me, Perle had been involved in an unsuccessful
attempt to sell security systems to the Saudi government, "and this
company does security systems." (Perle confirmed that he had been
on the board of a company that attempted to make such a sale but said
he was not directly involved in the project.)
"There is a split personality to Perle," Bandar said. "Here
he is, on the one hand, trying to make a hundred-million-dollar deal,
and, on the other hand, there were elements of the appearance of blackmail - 'If
we get in business, he'll back off on Saudi Arabia' - as
I have been informed by participants in the meeting."
As for Perle's meeting with Khashoggi and Zuhair, and the assertion
that its purpose was to discuss politics, Bandar said, "There has
to be deniability, and a cover story - a possible peace initiative
in Iraq - is needed. I believe the Iraqi events are irrelevant. A business
meeting took place."
Zuhair, however, was apparently convinced that, thanks to his discussions
with Trireme, he would have a chance to enter into a serious discussion
with Perle about peace. A few days after the meeting in Paris, Hillman
had sent Khashoggi a twelve-point memorandum, dated December 26, 2002,
setting the conditions that Iraq would have to meet. "It is my belief,"
the memorandum stated, "that if the United States obtained the following
results it would not go to war against Iraq." Saddam would have to
admit that "Iraq has developed, and possesses, weapons of mass destruction."
He then would be allowed to resign and leave Iraq immediately, with his
sons and some of his ministers.
Hillman sent Khashoggi a second memorandum a week later, the day before
the lunch with Perle in Marseilles. "Following our recent discussions,"
it said, "we have been thinking about an immediate test to ascertain
that Iraq is sincere in its desire to surrender." Five more steps
were outlined, and an ambitious final request was made: that Khashoggi
and Zuhair arrange a meeting with Prince Nawaf Abdul Aziz, the Saudi intelligence
chief, "so that we can assist in Washington."
Both Khashoggi and Zuhair were skeptical of the memorandums. Zuhair found
them "absurd," and Khashoggi told me that he thought they were
amusing, and almost silly. "This was their thinking?" he recalled
asking himself. "There was nothing to react to. While Harb was lobbying
for Iraq, they were lobbying for Perle."
In my initial conversation with Hillman, he said, "Richard had nothing
to do with the writing of those letters. I informed him of it afterward,
and he never said one word, even after I sent them to him. I thought my
ideas were pretty clear, but I didn't think Saddam would resign and
I didn't think he'd go into exile. I'm positive Richard
does not believe that any of those things would happen." Hillman
said that he had drafted the memorandums with the help of his daughter,
a college student. Perle, for his part, told me, "I didn't write
them and didn't supply any content to them. I didn't know about
them until after they were drafted."
The views set forth in the memorandums were, indeed, very different from
those held by Perle, who has said publicly that Saddam will leave office
only if he is forced out, and from those of his fellow hard-liners in
the Bush Administration. Given Perle's importance in American decision-making,
and the risks of relying on a deal-maker with Adnan Khashoggi's history,
questions remain about Hillman's drafting of such an amateurish peace
proposal for Zuhair. Prince Bandar's assertion - that the talk
of peace was merely a pretext for some hard selling - is difficult
Hillman's proposals, meanwhile, took on an unlikely life of their
own. A month after the lunch, the proposals made their way to Al Hayat,
a Saudi-owned newspaper published in London. If Perle had ever intended
to dissociate himself from them, he did not succeed. The newspaper, in
a dispatch headlined "washington offers to avert war in return for
an international agreement to exile saddam," characterized Hillman's
memorandums as "American" documents and said that the new proposals
bore Perle's imprimatur. The paper said that Perle and others had
attended a series of "secret meetings" in an effort to avoid
the pending war with Iraq, and "a scenario was discussed whereby
Saddam Hussein would personally admit that his country was attempting
to acquire weapons of mass destruction and he would agree to stop trying
to acquire these weapons while he awaits exile."
A few days later, the Beirut daily Al Safir published Arabic translations
of the memorandums themselves, attributing them to Richard Perle. The
proposals were said to have been submitted by Perle, and to "outline
Washington's future visions of Iraq." Perle's lunch with
two Saudi businessmen was now elevated by Al Safir to a series of "recent
American-Saudi negotiations" in which "the American side was
represented by Richard Perle." The newspaper added, "Publishing
these documents is important because they shed light on the story of how
war could have been avoided." The documents, of course, did nothing
of the kind.
When Perle was asked whether his dealings with Trireme might present the
appearance of a conflict of interest, he said that anyone who saw such
a conflict would be thinking "maliciously." But Perle, in crisscrossing
between the public and the private sectors, has put himself in a difficult
position - one not uncommon to public men. He is credited with being
the intellectual force behind a war that not everyone wants and that many
suspect, however unfairly, of being driven by American business interests.
There is no question that Perle believes that removing Saddam from power
is the right thing to do. At the same time, he has set up a company that
may gain from a war. In doing so, he has given ammunition not only to
the Saudis but to his other ideological opponents as well.
Issue of 2003-03-17, Posted 2003-03-10
Writer Terrorises US War Businessman
Following the publication of this article in New Yorker magazine, Richard
Perle, then still chairman of the Pentagon's private Defense Policy Board,
called journalist Seymour Hersh a 'terrorist' on CNN and threatened to
sue him in the UK.
CNN transcript: http://www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0303/09/le.00.html
'Put Up or Shut Up': http://188.8.131.52/article2241.htm
Conflicts of Interest
On Monday, 24th March Rep. John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, asked
the Pentagon's inspector general to probe Perle's work as a paid adviser
to bankrupt telecommunications company Global Crossing Ltd. and his guidance
on investment opportunities resulting from the Iraq conflict.
On the Wednesday, Perle submitted his resignation as Chairman of the Pentagon's
Defense Policy Board to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, stating:
"As I cannot quickly or easily quell criticism of me based on errors
of fact concerning my activities, the least I can do under these circumstances
is to ask you to accept my resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy
Rumsfeld accepted Perle's resignation as chairman but, incredibly, asked
that he remain a member of the board and continue as a leading advisor
to the Defense Secretary.
Invasion of the Kiddyfiddlers
It is arguably one of the hard-won achievements of the women's movement to have placed child sexual abuse, especially incestuous rape, on the political, legal and media agenda (Bell, 1993, p. 154). However, not unlike other achievements of the women's movement, it has been an ambiguous success. The making over of child sexual abuse into a question of paedophilia is an uneasy translation at best. Guy Hocquenhem has argued: "These new arguments are essentially about childhood, that is to say, about the exploitation of popular sentiment and its spontaneous horror of anything that links sex with the child."1
Recently, the question of systematic and collusively obscured sexual abuse of minors has become a central media theme in both Europe and North America. Importantly, the emergence of this media-spectacle has been related to the coming to maturity and thus coming to voice of the victims of such abuse. (Just as significant, however, is the fact that the media have not always been willing to address such themes.) In tandem with the spectre of organisationally protected 'paedophile priests', another media-enabled spectre of social-sexual panic has emerged: the 'paedophile-at-large' or the 'paedophile-in-the-community.' Zygmunt Bauman, the social theorist, in his book In Search of Politics introduces a discussion of the loss of the possibility of a meaningful politics by citing a spontaneous public protest in response to precisely this spectre of the paedophile-at-large. Bauman retells the story of Sidney Cooke, a paedophile who had been released from prison and returned home. Home, in this case, was Yeovil, in England's West Country. These protests are described as highly charged emotional outpourings from ordinary people: ordinary people who took to the streets, and gathered outside the local police station where it was believed that Cooke was in hiding. Bauman argues that what is at stake in this protest is what seems to be the only space left where spontaneous public action and collective political involvement is available to the citizenry. According to Bauman, the powerlessness felt by these people is overcome for a short period when a sense of community, shared belonging, and shared outrage can be expressed powerfully and publicly.
Bauman invokes the theme of moral panic as a way of explaining what is at stake in these protests. Moral panic is a sociological construct developed by British academics in the 1960s to address a media-facilitated fear of such perceived societal threats as the emergence of youth subcultures. Stanley Cohen in his (1972) Folk Devils & Moral Panics provides a broad outline:
"Societies appear to be subject, every now and then, to periods of moral panic. A condition, episode, person or group of persons emerges to become defined as a threat to societal values and interests; its nature is presented in a stylised and stereotypical fashion by the mass media; the moral barricades are manned by editors, bishops, politicians and other right-thinking people; socially accredited experts pronounce their diagnoses and solutions; ways of coping are evolved or (more often) resorted to; the condition then disappears, submerges or deteriorates... Sometimes the object of the panic is quite novel and at other times it is something which has been in existence long enough, but suddenly appears in the limelight. Sometimes the panic passes over and is forgotten, except in folklore and collective memory; at other times it has more serious and long-lasting repercussions and might produce such changes as those in legal and social policy or even in the way the society conceives itself. (Cohen, 1972, p.9)"
This construct has been criticised, not least as a consequence of it passing into greater and non-specialised currency. Pointing to the weaknesses of the concept Simon Watney has argued that:
"To begin with, [moral panic] may be employed to characterise all conflicts in the public domain where scape-goating takes place. It cannot, however, discriminate between either different orders or degrees of moral panic. Nor can it explain why certain types of events are especially privileged in this way. Above all, it lacks any capacity to explain the endless 'overhead' narrative of such phenomena, as one 'panic' gives way to another, or one anxiety is displaced across different 'panics'. Thus one moral panic may have a relatively limited frame of reference, whilst another is heavily over-determined, just as a whole range of panics may share a single core meaning whilst others operate in tandem to construct a larger overall meaning [...] the theory of moral panics makes it extremely difficult to compare press hysteria and government inaction, which may well turn out to be closely related. (Watney, 1987, p. 41)"
Accepting the limited power of analyses of moral panic, it is nonetheless interesting to note that the paedophile scare is arguably a classic example of moral panic, and one that is subject to several renewals over the last three decades. Recognising the paedophile narrative as part of a panic response strongly suggests then that it is serving a function of displacement. Thus Bauman and others will argue that the core meanings at play here do not reside in the ostensible content of the stories told and retold. Rather, it is a question of serving some other need. Essentially this proposes a functional reading of the panic as a mechanism for disavowing a broader set of intractable social and political problems by allowing for the symbolic acting out of a proxy anxiety in a way that is amenable to some potential resolution. Such resolution is usually dependent on attaching blame to a localisable, if not proximate, cause. Thus Bauman sees the clutch of panicked people of Yeovil, protesting the presence of an alien in their midst, as a reflex of the felt loss of a public sphere and of a participative politics. However, it may be that these situations are more complex than is allowed by positing a simple opposition between surface content (paedophile as threat of imminent harm to children) and actual function (reclaim a space of politics / disavow its loss). The need for a more nuanced reading of these panic responses is particularly suggested by the recent upsurge in narratives of child-sex offences which involve celebrities.
These recent narratives provide a further twist on this narrative of perversity and violence with the emergence of the celebrity paedophile in the British and to a lesser extent in the Irish media. Such cases as the Gary Glitter conviction, the Tim Allen conviction (husband of a famous Irish TV chef), the Jonathan King prosecution, the Pete Townshend story and more recently the false accusation of Matthew Kelly are indicative of an emergent trend in the media which forges a relationship between celebrity and child-sex perversity. (It may be that there is a genealogy of these recent narratives to be found in the earlier history of Hollywood and the notorious crimes of stars such as Fatty Arbuckle.)
However, it is not just conventional celebrity that is at issue here: it's not simply about stars, it's primarily a question of media visibility. When the two Soham children were abducted and murdered in the late summer of 2002, the unfolding media coverage culminated in the revelation that the police spokesperson (who had anchored much of the TV coverage) had been named in an FBI report on UK-based, internet child pornography viewers. As has happened many times before, a public image of civic and moral probity and a private 'truth' of perversity collided. This collision took place in the, arguably already pornographic, context of a daily news narrative of trauma. (A trauma that was made over into soap opera by a news industry apparently starved of other hot content during the August holiday period.) The extra charge of sensation generated by this case was the proximity of the compromised police officer to a massively exploited story of child-murder.
Media exposure becomes, in these cases, an integral aspect of the narrative of paedophilia: the paedophile is in a sense already famous and becomes infamous, is already exposed in the media and is then subsequently further exposed, outed as a pervert.
Central to this renewed currency of paedophile stories is the trope of 'child pornography on the internet' and the organised networks of child abuse. Certain cases in the US and in Belgium were given international media prominence in the 1990s and thus established a very strong relationship between the internet, consumption of child pornographic imagery and organised networks of child abduction, trade and sexual abuse. In 1996 the FBI established its Innocent Images programme which addresses child porn on the internet. This programme has garnered international media coverage because of the exchange of information about consumers of child pornography with other governments and police forces. Thus child porn has become the object of international police collaboration, similar to earlier initiatives to collaborate internationally around drugs trafficking and terrorism. This is indicative of the perceived scale of the threat.
In one famous exposé of the threat of the internet as a medium of paedophile activity a group of North American Police Chiefs were presented in a seminar with an FBI agent posing as a twelve-year-old girl in an online chat room. The 'girl's' cover story was that she was away from school with the flu. Very quickly, she became the target of enquiries from ostensibly older men who made enquiries about her sex activities and requested pictures of her. One interlocutor sent a digital image of his genitals. In other versions of this story the interlocutor arranges a meeting with the child under the pretence of being a same-age-group peer only to emerge as a middle-aged predator. A key trope in the discussion of organised networked paedophiles is the description of their ability to engage with the child in the child's domestic sphere, since the internet-enabled computer is in the bedroom or sitting room, and is thus a gateway into the home, a gateway that can often be unpoliced and unprotected. It is important to note that these scenarios of adults recruiting younger children and teenagers online, are cited as examples of child pornography. The argument thus made is that there is a smooth and uninterrupted continuum between the consumption of imagery and the actualising of predatory sexual assaults on children. The smooth continuity of this spectrum is guaranteed by the figure of the paedophile: only a paedophile would look at such images, and a paedophile by definition is one who actively sexually assaults children. (There are interesting parallels with earlier concerns for the deleterious effects of the cinema on children, especially as these pertained to perceived sexual threats to the child in the darkened space of the cinema, and the presumed inherent promiscuity of the cinematic image itself (See Hansen, 1990). )
It is noteworthy also that these recent narratives of paedophilia have become, not just part of 'news' and 'documentary' programmes, but also the stuff of explicitly 'entertainment' TV production (accepting that these distinctions are slight anyway). Thus the US TV series Law & Order Special Victims Unit in its 2002 season featured a preponderance of storylines centred on child-sex offenders. (This series signals its remit as a considered commentary on the moral and legal dilemmas of contemporary US society by referencing specific topical social issues in the storyline and providing context setting dialogue. Thus it echoes and reinforces the broader currency of the paedophile narrative in the media.) Interestingly these storylines generally entail murder scenarios as the logical extension of the child-sex offence. The abuse stories are generally situated in the context of non-biological family relations or of state care and welfare initiatives. In one instance the victims are non-US citizens imported as part of an organised trade in children-for-sex, in another instance the victims are children from dysfunctional families where the primary carer is a drug addict or otherwise incapacitated. There is in one storyline a specific address to the North American Boy Love Association, an advocacy group for paedophiles. This organisation is cited in the course of a standard context-setting aside by one character. The effect of this device is to reinforce the topicality of the theme and underline the broad social urgency of the issue.
These narratives of child sexual abuse, whether in the news or in detective shows, refer ultimately, and however heavily mediated, to actual events in the world. What they describe does in some critical sense take place. On the other hand these are not the only stories that might be told about child sexuality or child sex assaults. These narratives clearly service a moral panic reflex. These stories narrate child sexual violence by forging a series of linkages between child sexual assault and several key themes: the individualised, pathological type 'the paedophile'; the extra-familial networks of these otherwise remote, isolated types (enclaves of clerics or networks of tech-savvy online predators); the pervasive threat, yet extraordinary nature of the pervert; the danger of new technologies (digital imaging, digital networks) as vehicles bringing these, otherwise externalised, threats into the home (the putatively safe place of childhood); the vulnerability of non-traditional family constructs. These stories tell us that child sexual assault is a pathology of the contemporary, of modernity. It should be remembered that when feminist authors began to produce narratives of sexual assault on children, among the key themes were the family, male authority, incest, the construction of femininity as child-like, and the collusive societal repression of these stories of abuse. For earlier feminist accounts child sexual abuse was thus a pathology of patriarchy, of authority.
Returning then to the moral panic interpretation, it appears that the paedophile scare is overdetermined. It is symbolically operating many and various anxieties but also displacing and obscuring other dilemmas. It obscures the simple fact that children are primarily vulnerable to sexual exploitation in their family homes at the hands of their parents, their carers, their siblings, their relatives and other figures of trust. It obscures the simple fact that children, internationally, are subject to all manner of chronic and fatal abuses, under systems that are collusively maintained by a whole host of international players. It displaces our profound ambivalence for this historically recent construct, the child, and does not allow us to ask why the child can be so sexually charged, for so many 'ordinary people'. It obscures that which is arguably the primary locus of most violence, of most sexual pain and dysfunction, the family. It services the recurrent anxieties that have traditionally emerged in the face of technological change. And indeed, as Bauman notes, it does seem to enable a fleeting sense of community, identity and belonging in the face of horror.
The paedophile scare appears to brook no dissenting positions, no hesitant critique or even anything that obliquely suggests that the whole spectrum (from internet imagery to child-murder) is not an absolute, integral and uniform evil. Indeed if the child-sex question was properly a question, a topic on which publicly reasoned exchange and dialogue could proceed, the moral panic would be punctured. It requires the quenching of all and any ambiguity, all and any scruple, so that an absolute and binding consensus may hold. It may be that this is the one point at which moral panic responses and some feminist accounts of child sex offences converge: there must be no confusion, the juxtaposition of sex and the child is always and everywhere monstrous. But of course historically children have not been listened to, or believed in respect of these matters, while adults have often been protected by family collusions and the support of other social structures, and so the fear of slippage is understandable. Ambiguity in these matters, it is believed, will accrue benefit only to offenders and predators.
1. Foucault, Michel (1988) Politics, Philosophy, Culture: Interviews and Other Writings 1977-1984, L. Kritzman [ed.] New York: Routledge. p. 273.
Bauman, Zygmunt (1999) In Search of Politics, London: Routledge.
Bell, Vikki (1993) Interrogating Incest: Feminism, Foucault and the Law, London: Routledge.
Cohen, Stanley (1972) Folk Devils & Moral Panics, McGibbon & Kee.
Hansen, Miriam (1990) "Early Cinema - Whose Public Sphere?" in Thomas Elsaesser (ed.) Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, London: BFI.
Parker, John (2000) Total Surveillance, London: Piatkus.
Watney, Simon (1987) Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS and the Media, London: Cassell.
Solway's Silver Bullet
"Unborn children of the region are being asked to pay the highest
price, the integrity of their DNA."1
Ross B. Mirkarimi
A new kind of nuclear war is being waged. It's already being fought
in Scotland and the combatants are you and me. Our attackers are the Ministry
of Defence, a force which has already poisoned its own soldiers and threatened
the health of the civilian populations of the former Yugoslavia, Kuwait
Why is this happening? The threat comes from 'the coalition'
of the perceived need to re-use uranium left-over from commercial production,
and a military 'need' for a strengthened shell casing. The result
is Depleted Uranium, nicknamed 'the silver bullet'.
In 1996, the UN Subcommission on Human Rights classified Depleted Uranium
(DU) ammunition as an indiscriminate 'Weapon of Mass Destruction',
and a 'Crime Against Humanity'. Grant Wakefield, of opposition
group 'The Fire Next Time', says: "The use of DU, and the
subsequent massive efforts to downplay its after-effects represents one
of the most stupendous and outrageous lies ever told by Western governments."
What is Depleted Uranium? DU is used to make projectiles which can penetrate
armour, for example in anti-tank missiles. After penetration the DU forms
a powder which is 'pyrophoric', burning to form a fine dust
of uranium oxides. DU is a by-product from the production of enriched
fuel for nuclear reactors and weapons, and used to manufacture shells,
bullets and protective armour of tanks. This excess uranium, composed
mainly of the uranium isotope U-238, is called "depleted" because
it has a lower than normal content of the fissionable material. But it
has one very "excellent" property - it is extremely dense
and capable of penetrating heavily armoured vehicles.
DU spontaneously burns on impact, creating tiny aerosolized particles
less than five microns in diameter, small enough to be inhaled. At least
70% of the uranium in these weapons is released in this form on impact,
and these tiny particles travel long distances when airborne. Today's
precision bombing headline is tomorrow's contaminated landscape.
Poisoning The Populations of Kuwait and Iraq
A minimum of 940,000 rounds of DU were fired by US forces during the
Gulf 'war'. An estimated 300 metric tonnes of DU material was
deposited over vast tracts of land, primarily in Southern Iraq. A letter
was sent to the Royal UK Ordnance on April 21st 1991 by Paddy Bartholomew,
Business Development Manager of AEA Technology, the trading name for the
UK Atomic Energy Authority. Enclosed was a 'threat paper', marked
'UK restricted' which set out the true nature of the contamination:
"US tanks fired 5,000 rounds, US aircraft many tens of thousands
of rounds, and UK tanks a small number of DU rounds. The tank ammunition
alone will amount to greater then 50,000 lbs. of DU. [...] If the tank
inventory of the DU was inhaled, the latest International Committee of
Radiological Protection risk factor calculates 500,000 potential deaths.
The DU will spread around the battlefield and target vehicles in various
sizes and quantities. [....] It would be unwise for people to stay close
to large quantities of DU for long periods and this would obviously be
of concern to the local population if they collect this heavy metal and
The people of Basra have just received their second dose of missiles tipped
with depleted uranium in 12 years. They're still reeling from the
Scott Taylor, the editor of Esprit de Corps magazine, writes: "For
the past 10 years the medical staff at the Basra Pediatric Hospital have
compiled a very disturbing photographic record which catalogues thousands
of patients born with 'congenital anomalies'." Due to its
strategic location - just north of Kuwait - Basra was one of the
most heavily targeted Iraqi cities during the Coalition Forces' aerial
bombardment during what's being called 'Gulf War I'.
In the decade since Operation Desert Storm, the lethal legacy of that
conflict continues unabated in the form of widespread cancer, an epidemic
of renal disease and a tremendous increase in genetic birth defects. The
collection of photographs which line the walls of the Basra Hospital "memorial
gallery" are horrific: grotesque babies born with two heads, tiny
infants with internal organs protruding through their chest cavities,
numerous limbless children, and an alarming number of newborns who reached
full term without developing any skin.
"To find similar congenital anomalies we have had to research the
radioactive aftermaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki", said Dr. Khalid
Al-Abidi, Iraq's Deputy Minister of Health. But as the Campaign Against
Depleted Uranium says: "The risks of Depleted Uranium are not only
present during wars, or far-off conflicts, but affect us much closer to
home, where the weapons are manufactured and tested."
Scotland: Birthplace of The New Warfare
As depleted uranium shells rained down on Iraq, the Scottish people
could take pride in the fact that the weaponry has been developed and
tested in and around the Solway Firth for the past twenty years. We simply
couldn't have brought them this level of liberatory democracy if
we hadn't already tried it out at home.
Many thousands of DU tipped shells have been test-fired from the Dundrennan
range, though the MoD insist that the environmental contamination caused
by the shells is negligible as "they were fired into a cloth target"2
and there was no known risk to public health.
This process, which sets up the Dumfries countryside and its local population
as an open air medical experiment, was halted recently, ironically, because
of restrictions over access to land due to foot and mouth disease. But
now they're testing again.
While the after-effects of depleted uranium are shrouded with expected
secrecy, the bald facts are made plain in several key reports. A frank
admission from the US in 1990 stated: "Short-term effects of high
doses can result in death, while long-term effects of low doses have been
implicated in cancer."3
But while the suspected connection between Gulf War Syndrome and DU has
galvanised a movement to oppose this scientific experiment in America,
it has been slow off the ground in Scotland. In the US, the Depleted Uranium
Citizens' Network began its work in 1992 and introduced itself to
the public in March of 1993 with the release of a report entitled 'Uranium
Battlefields Home and Abroad'. This report was written by DU Network
members, the Rural Alliance for Military Accountability, the Progressive
Alliance for Community Empowerment, and Citizen Alert. The DU Network's
membership consists of people living near uranium enrichment plants and
near facilities where DU munitions are made, former workers at those facilities,
people living near where DU weapons are tested, and both Persian Gulf
and Atomic veterans.
In Scotland there is little opposition. It's difficult to tell why
not. Maybe it's the geography of Dundrennan. Certainly culpable are
the failed Scottish Labour Party, the useless Scottish Environmental Protection
Agency (SEPA) and the opportunistic Nationalist agenda that plays to a
pro-military sub-agenda. Unfortunately, also true is that the softly-softly
approach of Scotland's Green MSP, the multi-coloured scarf-wearing
Robin Harper, has been ineffective. Perhaps Kevin Dunion, in his new role
as Scotland's Secret's Supremo, can uncover some of the truth
about the military in Scotland? But the more likely reality is that we
shall have to uncover the truth ourselves.
Elsewhere the anti-DU movement has grown out of disaffected soldiers'
own politicisation. Their legal and medical cases - and a growing realisation
that they are the dispensable pawns of the military - have fuelled
rather than quelled an investigative spirit that's lacking in Scotland.
In the US this has been enhanced by a radicalised veteran's movement
and a decade of enquiry into Gulf War Syndrome. Scotland wears its military
history on its shoulder with pride. It's part of some strange nostalgic
affection with our violence. Scottish regiments, long bought by the British
to wage wars abroad (be it Ireland or Iraq) carry this notion of romance
with them through the centuries. So, the nationalists would rather bristle
under regimental pride than look into the filthy secrets of experiments
on the civilian population.
Like Dounreay, also left unanswered, unresolved and unwanted, the rural
positioning of the Dundrennan Range suits the Generals and the career
politicians busying themselves with the defence of the realm and the creation
of micro-policy at Holyrood.
Manuel Pino, an environmental activist from the Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico,
sees links between the geography and the placement of radioactive military
sites in the US: "In remote areas of the Navajo Reservation there
are still over one thousand unreclaimed uranium pit mines open, filled
with water, inviting children to swim and animals to drink."
Uranium development on indigenous people's land parallels the history
of the nuclear industry in the United States. When the race to build atomic
weapons began in secrecy during World War II, nuclear weapons research
had been established in New Mexico. Six Pueblo nations in northern New
Mexico are within thirty miles of the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory,
where the first atomic bomb was developed. The remote desert spot called
Trinity, New Mexico, where on July 16, 1945, the first atomic bomb was
tested, is within sixty miles of the Mescalero Apache Nation. The Grants
Mineral Belt - which would ultimately become the largest uranium belt
in the world - was located on or near the Navajo nation and Laguna
and Acoma Pueblo lands.
It's said that the MoD were asked to identify a UK site for nuclear
testing - Caithness. The only factor that stopped it was the levels
of rainfall rather than the population.
Fighting Military Occupation in Puerto Rico
Since 1938, the US Navy has been acquiring land in Vieques by expropriation.
The US Navy uses 75% of the Island's soil for war manoeuvres, and
bomb storage. Not surprisingly, the Puerto Rican population of 9,000 have
learnt effective methods to oppose their further colonisation.
Vieques' fishermen have been at the forefront of a courageous resistance
to military occupation confronting warships at sea several times. In February
of 1978, US admiral Robert Fanagan told the fishermen that they would
not be allowed to fish during 3 weeks. NATO countries had planned an intensive
military manoeuvre along all of Vieques' coastline. Carlo Zenûn
informed him that they would protest. "Imagine me, a Puerto Rican
fisherman, telling a US Navy admiral that we're going to cause problems
for them", he said. On February 6th, 1978, fed-up with the Navy's
arrogance, the fishermen took a desperate gamble. Forty fishing boats
'invaded' waters where target practice with live ammunition
was about to begin. They were successful in stalling the manoeuvres and
awakening the support of the entire Puerto Rican nation. This activism
at sea has won important victories for the people of Vieques during their
struggle against the US Navy.
After a civilian, David Sanes Rodrìguez, was killed by the navy
on April 19th, 1999, a group of civilians gathered in the "accident"
area to protest the bombardments. This show of outrage and civil disobedience
was a frontal challenge to the US Navy's ill-gotten authority. On
April 21st a group gathered at the place of the bombings, placed a large
cross and named the area Mount David, in memory of Mr. Sanes. Mount David
is peppered with live ammunition. In spite of this, many people organised
protests behind the gates of the Navy's restricted areas. All these
protests have successfully detained the bombings since Sanes' death.
"I know that there is a great danger", said Pablo Connelly,
one of the civilians that protested, "I know that the risks are great,
but all the risks are worth it. I do this for my children and for the
children of all Viequenses and I know that during the time that I remain
here there is not going to fall a single bomb in Vieques."
On May 8th, the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) established a second
campsite in Playa Carrucho. The president of the party, Senator Ruben
Berrios, vowed to stay in the campsite until either the Navy left or he
was arrested. A scenario of confrontation was set. Once again, David faced
Goliath eye to eye. Many other Encampments of Civil Disobedience were
established over the course of that year in the target range. At the beginning
of May 2000, there were about 14 of them with over one hundred people
living permanently in such harsh conditions.
On Thursday, May 4, 2000, at 5:30am federal authorities began to arrest
the people conducting Civil Disobedience in Vieques. This act was considered
an offence of the US Government against the will of the people of Vieques
and Puerto Rico, who took back their land for one full year to prevent
the bombing and shelling of the Island.
History Of DU Testing In Scotland
Regular test-firing of DU shells started in 1980 at Eskmeals in Cumbria,
and at the Ministry of Defence's firing range at Dundrennan, near
Kirkcudbright in South-west Scotland in 1981. In June 1993 the MoD, answering
a parliamentary question, in effect denied that there was any problem,
there being "only very low levels of radioactivity" detected.
But when radiation reports were made public in July (with some excisions)
these revealed serious levels of contamination outside the controlled
area at Eskmeals, and grass and soil samples at Kirkcudbright were "well
above acceptable limits." The test-firings had resulted in the accumulation
of radioactive waste at these sites. Currently 91 cubic metres at Eskmeals
is estimated to rise to 468 cubic metres by 2030.
At Kirkcudbright there is considered to be no nuclear waste as DU shells
are fired into the Solway Firth. All MoD efforts to retrieve them have
At Kirkcudbright a misfiring on 13th November 1989 involved a DU shell
exploding into fragments on impact with a stone bank. This resulted in
a local concentration of 1,692 mg/kg well exceeding the MoD's normal
limit of 72 mg/kg and upper limit of 300 mg/kg. Presumably, in investigating
this incident, military personnel inspected the site of impact and were
exposed to this concentration. Depending on wind and weather conditions,
local populations in Britain may be exposed to unknown concentrations
over prolonged periods.
So what is the present situation in Scotland? For SEPA's last statement
on the issue you have to go back to 12th January 2001, which simply noted
public concern and the MoD's inability to retrieve the shells. The
MoD's monitoring has not shown elevated levels of uranium, nor has
it found the specific DU 'signature'. However, if shells cannot
be retrieved it is impossible to demonstrate that the DU has dispersed
and been absorbed into the normal background radiation.
In his statement to the House of Commons, the Minister for the Armed Forces,
John Spellar MP, said: "The Environment Agency in England and Wales,
and the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency in Scotland also have
oversight of the firing programme." In fact according to SEPA: "MoD
activities are not subject to the Radioactive Substances Act so SEPA does
not have control over these activities, nor do we undertake monitoring
for depleted uranium. We are aware of the firing programme and, along
with the local Council, see the results of the MoD's own monitoring.
We also provide advice to the MoD."
It would be difficult to imagine how SEPA could be more discredited. With
the politicians disinterested, and the statutory body dissolute, the public
are left powerless, ignorant and contaminated. Drawing on the Vieques
Libre movement in Puerto Rico and the American people's legal opposition
to their own military, we need to build a national body which monitors
military operations throughout Scotland, and a movement against the occupying
Depleted Uranium is not just another weapon in the terrorist state's
arsenal; it defies all the protocol of international law. The fact that
Britain and America have used DU weapons in the present and past conflicts
shows them to be beyond redemption, and exposes the contempt they have
for their own civilian population as well as those abroad.
Every opportunity should be raised to move to shut down the Dundrennan
range and halt DU tests. As in Vieques, local fishermen can play a key
role and unity should be made with the people of Northern England, Ireland
and Dumfries and Galloway. It's degrading to remain quiescent in
the face of such assault.
For an update on the campaign against military abuses in Scotland contact
1 Ross B. Mirkarimi, The Environmental and Human Health Impacts of the
Gulf Region with Special Reference to Iraq. May 1992
3 From the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) report,
included as Appendix D of AMMCOM's Kinetic Energy Penetrator Long
Term Strategy Study, Danesi, July 1990.
Istanbul September/October 2002
A journey to understand why thousands of political prisoners were prepared to starve themselves to death in Turkish prisons
The moment you're born
they plant around you
mills that grind lies
lies to last you a lifetime
'A Sad State of Freedom', Nazim Hikmet
During twenty years of political activity I have come to the conclusion
that if we are serious about radical and eventual change then we must
do it where we are, at our base: the community we live in and our workplace.
That means speaking out against the injustices and poverty around us.1
For a long time I have criticised those who put all their energies into
struggles in far off countries. I have viewed many as latter day missionaries
and dismissed them as middle class do-gooders, finding causes in other
people's struggles while failing to see the issues and struggles
around them. For these personal reasons, it was with great reluctance
that I became involved in the struggle against the F-type solitary confinement
cells in Turkish prisons.
As an activist, initially I knew little about the situation in Turkey
other than it being an extremely repressive country2 and of
the atrocious treatment of the Kurdish population.3 During
the bombing of Belgrade I had developed a friendship with a Kurdish asylum
seeker here in Liverpool, but due to language difficulties it was often
difficult to comprehend his politics. He had managed to convey certain
things, though: he had been tortured, (held over Istanbul Bridge by the
police, amongst other things). Later, I understood he had been part of
the Leftist struggle which included both Turks and Kurds fighting for
self-determination for everyone.
On the morning of 19th December 2000 he arrived at my house, upset and
angry, and asked if our group, 'People Not Profit', could help.
Previously, he had told me about the hunger strikes in Turkish prisons
against the forcing of political prisoners into the 'coffin cells'
or isolation units, and that the prison guards continually attacked them
seeking to quash their protest. This time though the Turkish state's
actions were more extreme. In the cynically titled 'Life Saving Operation',
20 prisons were raided by state forces and the prisoners attacked. Hundreds
had been injured and 30 political prisoners (6 women and 24 men) massacred
through shootings, gassing and even by being set on fire. That afternoon
people from our group and from the Turkish/Kurdish community protested
in Liverpool city centre. We held placards and gave out leaflets to shoppers
calling on them to protest by phoning and faxing the Turkish Government
and Embassies. But even then, to me, an activist half my life, Turkey
still seemed a long way away and someone trying to convey to me through
basic english English the shocking reality about what had happened in
Turkey in the early hours of that morning did not have a shocking effect,
largely because I could not comprehend the full horror of the situation.
"They suddenly opened fire and threw bombs. The barricade that
they talk about was two wardrobes. Six women were burnt alive in the same
dormitory in one night."
Ebru Dincer, survivor of December 19th attack who ended up with 3rd degree
burns to face and body.
Following December 19th I heard the occasional story about the situation
in Turkey and attempted to search the internet for information but there
was little coverage in English, and then it was mainly sloganeering. Moreover,
it was hard to see the human side of the story or the people involved.
And so the hunger strike continued, and it still seemed a long way away.
Only when I began to meet more Turkish and Kurdish people arriving in
Liverpool did it begin to sink in. You can often presume you are aware
of certain political realities and ensuing struggles by reading about
them, but actually understanding and really knowing is different; behind
the slogans there are human beings, people with their own histories, their
own pain and humiliations and their own spirit of resistance.
"But this kind of freedom
Is a sad affair under the stars"
I received a Guardian article (2/04/02) about the death of Meryem
Altun, a young woman born in Turkey who had been a community worker in
London, who, frustrated and angry at what was happening in Turkey, decided
to join her comrades. She was arrested on her return to Turkey, immediately
sent to prison and became the 50th woman to die in the hunger strike.
Soon after, I saw two excellent documentary films made by the Turkish
film maker Metin Yegin, 'After' and 'Lifehouse'. We
decided that to raise awareness of the hunger strikes we would develop
a multi-media project using the poetry of Nazim Hikmet set to music4
and produce a film using images from life in Turkey and from the hunger
strikers themselves. We wanted to avoid using slogans, clichés
and terminology which people can't understand or relate too, and
instead present a very human story. Over the following months we researched
and developed the project, 'The Lemon Seed'5, which
was presented to a local audience who were both shocked and moved by what
Today is Sunday
Today, for the first time
they took me out into the sun
and for the first time in my life
I looked at the sky
amazed that it was so far
and so blue
and so wide
'Today is Sunday', Nazim Hikmet
Researching 'The Lemon Seed' gave me a deeper understanding
of the struggle. I read survivors' testaments, searched through thousands
of images, stories, interviews and much footage, looking for an overall
understanding. I discovered horror, naked brutality and a viciousness
inflicted by people, that I found difficult to understand. But I also
discovered that those on the receiving end of this viciousness were not
broken people, destroyed by the brutality of state officials, police and
soldiers, or by months on hunger strikes; instead I found courageous people
whose stories moved me to tears, who evoked inspiration through their
tales, their humour and their great resilience. These people, in their
hundreds, possibly thousands, labelled as 'terrorists' by a
murderous state had suffered torture to the extreme, seen their close
friends burnt and murdered, watched their loved ones die of starvation,
yet the state could not destroy their spirit. I can only imagine this
resilience. With all this in mind my Turkish friends suggested I visit
Istanbul. A month later, camcorder in hand, I was on a plane flying there,
still with my 'do-gooder' reservations.
A Turkish friend, who had travelled over a few days earlier, met me and
over the next few days I experienced the warmth and generosity of her
friends and family. I had yet to visit the supporters and the survivors
of the hunger strike, a number of whom had now been released6
and had established a live-in project called the Lifehouse where they
could support each other back to health.
You may proclaim that one must live
not as a tool, a number or a link
but as a human being -
then at once they handcuff your wrists.
You are free to be arrested, imprisoned
and even hanged
'A Sad State of Freedom', Nazim Hikmet
First I visited the Bureau of the Alinteri newspaper, a strong supporter
of the hunger strikers. Istanbul is a massive place and it took two hours
to get there. At the Bureau, to my surprise, I was met by six very friendly
women, all between the ages of twenty and thirty, who ran the paper. We
sat around in a circle, and my friend translated our conversations. All
of the women were awaiting trial; they had all been accused of working
on a 'communist' newspaper and were expecting a prison term.
These women, though, not only took it all in their stride, but made jokes
about it. The conversation was free and easy: they said there was very
little else the Turkish state could do to the revolutionary movement,
apart from killing them all. I was shown some artwork by an imprisoned
comrade of theirs, and asked my opinion on whether I understood it, and
what it said to me. I was shown around the office but most of their equipment
had been confiscated by the police so they were running everything on
two computers. They showed me their website and a site where their comrade
was displaying his art work - in spite of the consequences. Throughout
our conversations, despite our political differences, I was treated as
an equal and they were genuinely interested in my opinion. The work these
women were and are doing takes great courage, commitment and concern.
"Well after the December 19th massacre, we were dragged to the
F-type cells. After we entered Tekirdag F-Type Prison, hundreds of Guards
guards and soldiers attacked us. It was terrible; most of us had been
on hunger strike. I can't even describe it, you wouldn't believe
it. They tortured us, beat us, besides that they strip-searched us; some
were raped with truncheons."
We were then to visit the Lifehouse, the self-help project for survivors
of the hunger strike. Again, it took about two hours to get there across
the urban sprawl and chaos of Istanbul. It was in an anonymous apartment
building similar to all the others, with a grey door set in amongst a
number of shops. We were greeted by two very friendly women, Hulya and
Naile who welcomed us into the smoke filled parlour where there were about
six people. Amongst them, Cafer was a tall, slim, quiet man whose co-ordination
and memory had been affected by his 69 days on hunger strike in the prison
struggle of 1996. He walked slowly to maintain balance, and his head continually
bobbed too and fro. And Omer, whom I'd heard had been affected the
most, both physically and psychologically, was unable to maintain co-ordination
and had to keep an up-to-date diary because he had lost his short term
"I'd lived through 7 seven years of this, in 7 seven years
you can experience all kinds of things, torture, both physical, psychological,
After all the initial introductions of Who? What? Where? Why? everybody
relaxed and there was an array of banter with people laughing. They told
me they were used to visitors. A group of Italian doctors had just spent
three weeks at the Lifehouse making a film about Wernicke-Korsokoff, a
hardly known disease. Many of the survivors of the hunger strike were
suffering from this disease and it had also been found in survivors of
the Nazi concentration camps, partly caused, it's believed, by severe
I was not initially aware that almost everyone in the room had been on
hunger strike. Most looked physically unaffected, but actually half of
them were suffering from the symptoms of Wernicke-Korsokoff - a mixture
of balance and memory loss. Mustafa Yasar - a small, stocky, friendly
man in his 40s - asked me if I had been there before, he thought he
remembered me from the previous day. This was a common problem of Wernicke-Korsokoff.
After so long on hunger strike, the mind and the memory plays back on
you during real time; images from the past appear before you and the present
seems like the past. Mustafa had done over 250 days on hunger strike.7
"We tried everything to oppose the F-types, but after December
19th we had no choice. The only way we could resist was to offer up our
bodies, we had nothing else."
"Three years my trial lasted. In 1999 I lived through the Ulucar
massacre, 10 ten friends died there. Then I was forced into Burdur prison,
in this operation they snapped my arms, and then six months later there
was the December 19th attack."
My friend left me alone at the Lifehouse when Baris, a former student
at the Middle Eastern University arrived, as he was able to translate
for me. Baris had been on hunger strike for 211 days, though showed no
physical or mental signs of it. He was typical in many ways of the Turkish
political situation. He had been arrested for being a member of an illegal
organisation, the TIKB, and sentenced to 17 years in prison. He was found
guilty in a court with no jury, served 6 six years before going on hunger
strike, and then on the point of death was released for 6 six months,
like many others. We spoke all day into the early morning and continued
the next day well into the afternoon. I felt comfortable enough to ask
him highly personal questions. He said he hated the term often used to
describe the Turkish hunger strike, 'The Death Fast'. It was
a 'life fast' he said, a demand to live. The reason he stayed
alive for so long was that he loved life so much. Baris, like the others,
said the authorities had given him very little choice but to go on hunger
strike - otherwise the isolation cells would kill them. When forced
into the F-Type prisons they would not be able to mix and be with friends,
and they would be at the mercy of the authorities and the prison guards.
It took me to visit the Lifehouse and talk, for a long time, with the
survivors themselves to really understand what the hunger strike was about.
It was the ultimate or the final form of resistance when there was nothing
left. It was either that or silence and death.
I discovered many things at the Lifehouse, the most obvious being that
you cannot truly understand a situation from afar, and that it is difficult
to take a word by word political analysis from one country and apply it
to another. Turkey is culturally different in many ways to the UK, thus
the people are also culturally different, there is much more emphasis
on social rather than individual activities. When you apply these general
facts to political prisoners, apart from their obvious fear of physical
torture - which everybody in the Lifehouse had experienced; Mustafa
also witnessed his friends tortured to death - their biggest fear was
of being alone and they saw isolation, followed by alienation as the most
terrifying form of torture.
I left Baris asleep when I was leaving the Lifehouse. I knew he was worn
out and wasn't as well as he looked. I spent part of the afternoon
with my friend and Omer, who apologised for his silence during my visit
but I knew he could remember very little. We sat in his room while he
read his diaries to us, reiterating that, although he was suffering from
Wernicke-Korsokoff, he was not a child and was trying his best to do things
independently. Metin, the doctor who seemed the more serious of the group,
had explained to me why the Lifehouse was so important to the survivors.
He talked about one hunger striker who arrived there in a bad state. He
couldn't walk and couldn't remember who anyone was. But after
a few months surrounded by friends, his health began to greatly improve.
He then decided to visit his family who treated him like a helpless child
and patronised him. Added to this he visited a doctor who told him he
would never walk again and shouldn't even try. "How does that
make someone feel? We know Wernicke-Korsokoff is a neurological problem",
Metin explained, "and we know that with exercise he will walk again,
but in that situation we had to start all over again." Metin emphasised
that very few people knew about the disease and that there was hardly
any medical literature on it. He himself was suffering from it after being
on hunger strike for 210 days. Nearly everyone at the Lifehouse had made
massive progress, and this had been brought about by encouragement, self-belief
and a certain amount of autonomy in a supportive atmosphere.
In your last letter you say,
"My head is aching
my heart is stunned"
"If they hang you
if I lose you,"
"I cannot live"
'Letter to My Wife', Nazim Hikmet
As the day progressed the rota changed; a number of people left and others
arrived. When Ozlem - a small, black-haired woman in her mid-twenties - left,
I suggested she come to Liverpool sometime - she had told someone earlier
that she always wanted to learn English. They all laughed, with Naile
saying, "If only she could leave the country."
I knew they were struggling financially to keep the Lifehouse going. Most
of the people there were too ill to work, and probably couldn't because
of their legal restrictions. The movement that supported them was economically
overwhelmed, and there was no way their families could keep them. Added
to the rent, fuel and food was the expense of the B1 vitamin tablets the
survivors needed to aid their recovery. We brought fundraising money over
but knew that wouldn't last long.
We caught a bus towards Taksin Square where the famous Saturday Mothers
used to gather (the mothers of the disappeared) before they were brutally
attacked and forced off the streets by the police. Did the Turkish regime
think that people would suddenly forget that their loved ones had disappeared?
Or would forget that they had a son or daughter beaten, tortured, raped,
murdered or on hunger strike in prison? I thought of the ordinary people
at the Lifehouse, who, because they had dared to question the tyrannical
system under which they were living under, had found themselves in extraordinary
circumstances. They were a strange mixture: Mustafa had been a textile
worker who joined the union; Cafer had worked in a show factory; Hulya,
a student involved in a campaign for free education, not unlike the people
in our group in Liverpool. I also realised how disconnected their struggle
was from the political scene throughout the rest of Europe - in fact
very few people knew about what had been happening in Turkey.
I was brought to research the Turkish prison struggle through reading
about people, what their pain was and what was in their hearts and minds,
not because of slogans. The major aim of this article is to present a
testament of my experience of being involved in politics, relating that
to the struggle for justice in Turkey and to the people I met there. And
to my friend who accompanied me who shall remain nameless for her own
safety. We have many commonalties and their struggle must also become
our struggle. The one direct solidarity we can show is in revealing and
distributing information on the truth of their struggle.
Nazim Hikmet, Selected Poems, 1967, Cape Editions.
If you would like to comment on this article contact:
If you would like to express or offer your support to the Lifehouse project
1. I am of course talking from a country where we are not yet thrown into
prison for expressing such opinions, though admittedly we now face many
other isolatory measures, such as dismissal or exclusion.
2. Turkey was described by Amnesty International in 1998 as having the
worst human rights record in the world.
3 Chomsky has pointed out that the real reason for NATO bombing Yugoslavia
in 1999 was not what Milosevic and the Serbs were doing to the Kosovan
Albanians, but rather, amongst other things, that they were potential
opponents of the economic plans of the West. If NATO and the politicians
driving them were really interested in stopping human rights abuses and
opposing ethnic cleansing, then why didn't they mention Turkey's
human rights atrocities against the Kurds, with some 15,000 people murdered
and thousands of villages destroyed over a 15 year period? Of course,
Turkey is not only a strategic member of NATO but is friendly to the economic
plans of the West.
4. Nazim Hikmet was not only Turkey's most celebrated poet but as
a communist he spent a considerable time in prison for his political convictions.
5. The title 'The Lemon Seed' was based on a story told by the
survivors of the December 19th prison attack. They hid lemon seeds in
their clothing after spending hours being dragged through the mud before
being thrown back into prison cells. They managed to scrape the mud off
their clothes, potted it and grew lemon plants from the seeds.
6. In Turkey there is a law stating that when a prisoner is seriously
ill they can be released so that their family can look after them. This
law was used by lawyers representing the hunger strikers, getting many
of them released for a six-month period. The government was also sensitive
to the bad publicity it was receiving on account of so many hunger strikers
7. In November, 1992, Remzi Basalak, Saban Budak and Mustafa Yasar were
arrested by the police in Adana. Saban Budak was killed on the spot. A
few hours later, Remzi Basalak and Mustafa Yasar were shown to the press,
heavily tortured. Remzi Basalak told the journalists that he was tortured
and he cursed the police. The press was immediately removed. Remzi Basalak
was tortured again and murdered.
There was a trial against 14 officers at the First and Second Criminal
Court in Ankara after Mustafa Yasar declared he could recognise the murderers
of Remzi Basalak and said he wanted to testify as a witness. However,
he was not allowed. The post-mortem reports state that Remzi Basalak "died
of cerebral haemorrhage". As in other trials, Saban Budak's
clothes were never found again. For appearances only, officers were put
on patrol-duty. But as always, the trial will end in acquittals.
Internationalism revisited or In praise of Internationalism
(Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri; Cambridge, MS: Harvard, 2000; ISBN
Although proceeding from very particular theoretical premises, the Hardt/Negri
thesis on the epochal shift from imperialism to the decentred and deterritorialized
terrain of 'Empire'1 impinges on contemporary debates
about globalization. Whether this is conceived as a break with capitalism's
pre-existing forms or an intensification of its inherent contradictions
and conflicts, will decide the deductions made by theorists about prevailing
modes and relations of production, the location and dissemination of power,
the actual or potential oppositional energies of classes, and the sites,
shapes and goals of revolutionary projects. On these issues the positions
of Empire reiterate and countermand those advanced by both Marxist
and postmodernist theorists, rendering the book's variable perspectives
consistent and discrepant with its declared ambitions as a manifesto of
A decade ago Michael Sprinker had observed that with the demise of the
Soviet Union, the disintegration of the socialist bloc, and the end of
the heroic era of liberation struggles, there had been a retreat of traditional
left intellectualism and the development of other intellectual formations
situated on the left but disengaged from Marxism2. Were Sprinker
alive and writing now he would have had the pleasure of noting the many
signs of Marxism's return to intellectual life, and amongst the numerous
glosses on Empire are those which consider whether a study that
situates itself as preserving/transcending Marxism, can be received as
part of this trend. Stephen Shapiro, for example while welcoming Empire
for 'inaugurating a long-overdue confrontation between contemporary
strands of neo-Anarchist thought ... and a reconstituted Marxism',
has observed that by 'refusing the geography of uneven development,
Hardt and Negri's work cannot align itself, in any meaningful sense,
with Marx's diagnosis on capitalism's need to appropriate new
zones of labour-power, the primitive accumulation that results in core/periphery
differences'3. In a less forgiving critique, Tim Brennan,
who traces the book's conceptual provenance to the autonomia
movements of the Italian far left, council communism, the theoreticism
of Continental philosophy and nineteen-sixties counter-culturalism, maintains
that this cognitive apparatus is translated into 'a gathering together
of positions that are substantively incompatible', the 'pattern
of reverential borrowings from Marxism' involving 'simultaneously,
its rejection and diminishment'4.
But if Empire is not recognizably Marxist in its methodology, eschewing
as it does the necessity of confronting state power, neither is it post-Marxist
since it has not relinquished economic and political explanations for
cultural ones, or subordinated class, however radically this is redefined,
to ethnicity, gender and sexuality, nor discarded class struggle, even
if this is abstracted from its accustomed usage. Moreover the authors
declare an idiosyncratically articulated allegiance to communism. In this,
Empire remains outside of the current consensual ideology, retaining
as it does a commitment to a revolutionary transformation that is beyond
capitalism5. A mode suggesting an aufheben6
rather than an abandonment of Marxism may predispose some on the left
to give Empire a cordial reception, and I for one am able to sign
up to much of the book's recapitulation of capitalism's historical
development, its indignation at the system's iniquities and its undimmed
hope in an emancipatory politics. All the same there remain for me problems
with a dizzying conceptual promiscuity induced by the heady cocktail of
Marxist, autonomist and postmodern paradigms. In particular because the
Deleuzian notion of lines or paths of flight, of flows and borderless
continuums is used as a trope of thinking processes and invoked as a template
of real world conditions, these disposals converge in an insouciant disregard
of the actually existing circumstances in what the authors insist is a
post-imperialist era. A mismatch between a retrospect resting on received
Marxist narratives and delivered with sober mien, and the fantastical
prospect on the present and future enunciated in an euphoric rhetoric,
makes the reading of this book a lesson in the difference between intimations
of a reasoned Utopia, and wish-fulfilment presented as imminent event.
As troubling are the consequences of transposing the localized theoretical
heritage of the autonomia movement onto a world arena. Elsewhere
Hardt had written that 'Laboratory Italy refers no longer to a geographic
location, but ... to a specific modality now available to all of us,
of experimenting in revolution'; and having surveyed the economic
and political shifts unique to western Europe, and more particularly as
these were played out in workers' struggles in Italy during the nineteen-seventies7,
he goes on to insist that 'Italian revolutionary thought ... can
now be recognized as relevant to an increasingly wide portion of the globe
in a new and important way'8. So insular a vision of spaces
that once constituted the empires of Europe is, I suggest, contingent
on the authors' neglect of the heterogeneous socio-economic formations
existing within capitalism's global system, and it is salutary to
contrast the indiscrimination of the fuzzy world-outlook pervading Empire
with the close analyses of geographical terrains, institutional structures,
modes of production and class forces undertaken by Marxist theorists in
the colonized world when devising their own experiments in revolution.
There are moments when it could appear that it is an extravagance of style
which distinguishes Empire from previous attempts to detect a radical
rupture within capitalism's forms, and in this sense the book has
received proleptic replies. For some time now Neil Lazarus has argued
against 'discontinuist historico-philosophical assumptions'
and 'endist' logic, insisting that the intensification and reconfiguration
of capitalist social relations do not represent a new era of capitalist
development9. Also writing prior to the appearance of Empire,
David Harvey had asked whether the quantitative changes that have occurred
within capitalism's global process did indeed constitute a qualitatively
'new era of capitalist development', to which self-posed question
he initially gave a qualified 'yes', which was immediately countermanded
by the assertion that because globalization entailed the profound and
uneven temporal and geographical reorganization of capitalism, 'there
has not been any fundamental revolution in the mode of production and
its associated social relations'10.
This unevenness, according to Samir Amin, intensifies capitalist social
relations on a world scale even though the South is now being differentiated
between those peripheral societies that are undergoing industrialization
(East Asia, Latin America, India and South East Asia) and those (Africa
and parts of Arab world) which are not11 - the last including
nation-states where in world terms the whole nation is the active and
reserve army of labour. Amin goes on to observe that with the erosion
of the great divide between industrialized centre and non-industrialized
periphery, there has emerged 'new dimensions of polarization'
defined by a country's capacity to compete in the world market'12,
resulting in 'a new hierarchy, more unequality than ever before,
in the distribution of income on a world scale, subordination of the industries
of the peripheries and reducing them to the role of subcontracting'
(Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, pp. 3-5)13.
Thus although an enthusiast of Empire has claimed that Hardt and Negri
'do insist on the unevenness of capitalist development'14,
it would seem that the 'rhizomatic method' which they favour,
together with their passion for decentring, contrive to inhibit adequate
attention to the structural hierarchy and polarization endemic to contemporary
capitalism15. And where inequalities persist, so do borders
remain in place and so are flows of populations, cultures and socialities
At stake in the argument advanced by Hardt and Negri is the question of
whether autonomous struggles that have dispensed with class organization
and party formations can mobilize an effective 'counter-globalization'.
To doubt the efficacy of spontaneity is not to dismiss the significance
of the proliferating 'New Social Movements'16, or
what John Holloway, who is sympathetic towards autonomist or operaismo
/ workerist theories, has called the lived struggles against invisibility,
'the hidden world of insubordination' and anti-power - even
if, as he concedes, these remain in the absence of class consciousness
and interconnectedness, harmless to capital17. Nor is it to
minimize the importance of anti-capitalist protest directed at the regulation
rather than the transcendence of the global system. Such movements command
the critical support of Ray Kiely who in refusing a 'reform-revolution'
dichotomy, advocates a position 'somewhere between on the one hand
Leninist vanguardism, where struggles are subordinated to the will of
the Party that holds the "correct knowledge", and on the other
direct action and autonomist perspectives that uncritically celebrate
struggle without attempting to analyse the efficacy and progressiveness
of such struggles'18.
But this too, I suggest, rests on a false dichotomy since it misconstrues
the Marxist conception of a dialectical interaction between revolutionary
spontaneity, or the voluntary and active agency of the masses, and a central
vanguard party. As Ernest Mandel has written, it was understood by the
theorists of the Russian Revolution that the leading role of the party
'had to be continuously fought for politically and won democratically;
the majority of the workers have to be convinced, they have to give their
consent ... the party is an accompaniment to the self-activity of the
masses'19. In Gramsci's exposition the relationship
is posited as an institutional dialogue with the subaltern classes where
the work of the party must be structured by 'the formation of a national-popular
collective will, of which the modern Prince [Gramsci's coded word
for the Communist Party] is at one and the same time the organiser and
the active, operative expression'20. Rejecting the twin-errors
of intellectuals who either display contempt for spontaneous struggles
or extol spontaneity as a political method, Gramsci endorsed as exemplary
those movements where the leadership set out to mediate, organize, educate
and direct spontaneity rather than to lead it: 'This unity between
"spontaneity" and "conscious leadership" or "discipline"
is precisely the real political action of the subaltern classes, in so
far as this is mass politics and not merely an adventure by groups claiming
to represent the masses' ('The Modern Prince', p. 198).
We could also consider Georg Lukács' gloss on Lenin's
concept of party organization: 'the group of professional revolutionaries
does not for a moment have the task of either "making" the revolution
or - by their own independent, bold actions - of sweeping the inactive
masses along to confront them with a revolutionary fait accompli. Lenin's
concept of party organization presupposes the fact - the actuality - of
the revolution (italics in original)21. Thus, Lukács
maintains, when Lenin urged that the role of revolutionary intellectuals
was to bring socialist consciousness to the workers' movement 'from
the outside', this should be understood as providing theoretical
knowledge about the regime as a totality. The relevance of this perception
surely persists, for without understanding capitalism as a system, spontaneous
struggles are limited in their capacity to challenge its institutions,
threaten it globally, or offer the prospect of a different social order.
How then does Empire conceive a project of 'counter-globalization'
that in ideology, composition and method is distinct from the traditions
which envisaged nation-based proletarian movements joined within a socialist
international? Post-Marxists appear to be agreed that proletarian class
analysis is exhausted, received notions of class agency and organization
anachronistic, and the nation-state no longer an adequate framework for
opposition to contemporary capitalism. As a consequence all declare internationalism
obsolescent. One such instance is a blunt rejection: 'Proletarian
and socialist internationalism ... have become embarrassments to contemporary
socialists ... if the old internationalism is dead, then the internationalisms
of the new social movements (women, ecology, peace, human rights) are
alive and kicking'22. A less blatant case for 'rethinking
... the older Marxist notion of internationalism' within the current
global restructuring and heterogeneity of contemporary capitalism, has
been made by Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd who challenge 'class antagonism
as the exclusive site of contradiction', and fault those movements
which prescribe political and state-oriented goals, proposing instead
the equal importance of cultural, feminist and anti-racial struggles 'that
do not privilege the nation and are not necessarily defined by class consciousness'23.
But the most elaborate obituary of proletarian internationalism is to
be found in Empire.
Proceeding from the supposition that the supranational operations of capitalism
have rendered an international proletarian formation inconceivable, Hardt
and Negri are able to pay their retrospective respects to proletarian
internationalism for having 'constructed a paradoxical and powerful
political machine that pushed against the boundaries and hierarchies of
the nation-state', while pronouncing that its time 'is over'
(p. 49). For, according to the authors, 'the restructuring and global
expansion of capitalist production' has in 'the absence of a
recognition of a common enemy against which struggles are directed'
(p. 55) caused the death of class solidarity and given birth to a new
proletariat which 'is not a new industrial working class'
but 'the general concept that defines all those whose labor is exploited
by capital, the entire cooperating multitude' (p.402, italics in
original). If the categories of 'a new proletariat' and 'the
multitude' here appear to be conflated, they are elsewhere differentiated.
Concerning the new proletariat, the authors relegate industrial, artisanal
and agrarian labour on the grounds that 'the figure of immaterial
labour power (involved in communication, cooperation, and the production
and reproduction of affects) occupies an increasingly central position
in both the schema of capitalist production and the composition of the
proletariat' (p.53)24. This paradigm, dubious even when
restricted in its application to Western Europe and North America25 - where
manual labour, wherever its operations are located, remains the ground
on which communicative and affective labour can exist and flourish26 - is
offered as a universal model and therefore relevant to those parts of
the world subject to combined and uneven development where pre-nascent
and 'classical' capitalist conditions remain prevalent.
Having redefined the composition of the proletariat, the authors then
implicitly differentiate this constituency from 'the multitude' - the
dispossessed masses who while certainly exploited by capital, are certainly
not coterminous with those 'involved in communication, cooperation,
and the production and reproduction of affects'. This introduces
a category that could appear to be pre- or non-Marxist - a subset akin
to populist notions of the people or the poor, classifications from which
class self-understanding is absent - but which claims to supersede
Marxism. As used by Hardt and Negri, the multitude, now exceeding its
original Italian connotation27, signifies all who by engaging
in fragmented and dispersed forms of resistance are the actual and potential
agents of global revolution. It is they who moved by deterritorializing
desires had dismantled imperialism's structures and called empire
into being; and it is they who by '[p]roducing and reproducing autonomously',
construct both 'a new ontological reality' (p. 395) and a new
historical moment. Where the international cycle of struggles 'based
on the communication and translation of the common desire of labor in
revolt seem[s] no longer to exist', and communicable solidarity in
struggle is impossible, it is the multitude who inaugurate local, specific
and immediate events which 'blocked from travelling horizontally
in the form of a cycle ... are forced to leap vertically and touch
immediately on the global level' (pp. 54-5). Thus through spontaneous
struggles without programmes, strategies and party, the always mobile
multitude is destined to construct 'a counter-Empire, an alternative
political organization of global flows and exchanges' (p. xv).
That this assertion is repeated does not mean that it is substantiated
or even elucidated (see pp. 55, 58, 60, 61): consider the labyrinthine
enunciation of an elusive case premised on a perception of globalization
as a depthless body invisibly undermined by the microscopic and poisonous
circulation of disaffection: because 'Empire presents a superficial
world, the virtual centers of which can be accessed immediately from any
point across the surface', the multitudes, by ' focusing their
own powers, concentrating their own powers in a tense and compact coil',
initiate 'serpentine struggles' which 'slither silently
across [the] superficial imperial landscape ... [and] strike directly
at the highest articulation of imperial order' (p. 58; the order
of phrasing has been rearranged). Although conceding that political alternatives
to empire do not yet exist, Hardt and Negri confidently proclaim, and
in the present tense, that '[d]esertion and exodus are a powerful
form of class struggle within and against imperial post-modernity'
(p.213)28. And they go on to prefigure a luminous future: 'A
new nomad horde, a new race of barbarians, will arise to invade or evacuate
Empire', a species which will destroy 'with an affirmative violence
and trace new paths of life through their own material existence'
(pp 213, 215). Gone is the political and economic battle of organized
revolutionary subjects against the state power vested in a ruling class.
And given Hardt and Negri's modest proposals for the Right to a Social
Wage and Global Citizenship, gone is a real politics of insurrection29.
The sheer academicism of the Hardt/Negri pronouncements on appropriate
forms of struggle against what they refuse to name as imperialism, emerges
when two articles, one by Hardt, the other by an activist in the Brazilian
landless movement, are juxtaposed. In his report of the World Social Forum
at Port Alegre in Brazil, Hardt identifies the political differences cutting
across the forum: the anti-globalization position which 'poses neoliberalism
as the primary analytical category' and looks to 'national sovereignties,
even if linked by international solidarity ... to limit and regulate
the forces of capitalist globalization'; and that position which
'is more clearly posed against capital itself ... opposes any
national solutions and seeks instead a democratic globalization'30.
For Hardt both stances identify the same sources of the crisis; however
each implies a different form of political organization, the one adhering
to traditional parties and centralized campaigns, the other working via
vertical networks of the multitude in a global democratic movement.
If we look at how the fight against global capitalism is narrated by an
activist in the land occupations taking place in Brazil, the Hardt/Negri
strictures on the limitations to an anti-globalization position appear
inconsequential for in this account the perspective of centrally organized
local struggles of agrarian labour conducted within and against the regime
of a nation-state is one directed 'against capital itself'.
Nor does usage of the term 'neoliberal' suggest anything but
an understanding of and a will to counter and overcome the capitalist
system. The story of the Movimento Sem Terra told by João Pedro
Stedile31 is about a planned and organized mass social movement,
independent of but not detached from left political parties; a movement
acknowledging that 'the comrades with the greatest ideological clarity'
have played an indispensable role in organizing, educating, and promoting
class consciousness; a movement which has forged relations of solidarity
with the Zapatistas - despite considering that this remains a national
struggle not yet able to broaden into a class struggle (p 99); a movement
perceiving its own activities as part of an international network of farmers'
movements with a presence in eighty-seven countries ('Landless Battalions',
In response to his interlocutor's question on the help that groups
in North America and Europe could give, Stedile, reiterating the axiom
that internationalism begins at home, replied: 'The first thing is
to bring down your neoliberal governments. Second, help us to get rid
of foreign debt ... Third fight - build mass struggles. Don't
delude yourself that because you have a higher living standard than us,
you can build a better world. It's impossible for you to maintain
your current patterns of consumption without exploiting us' ('Landless
Battalions', p 103). What emerges from Stedile's revisions of
the analysis and strategies of the older communist movements and his sophisticated
political grasp of what internationalism might mean to-day, is that his
stance is more insurrectionary in fact and revolutionary in prospect than
Hardt's nebulous 'vertical networks of the multitude' destined
to build 'a democratic globalization'.
Hardt and Negri's theoretical aversion to nation-based struggles
replicates that of the postnationalists for whom all nationalism, at all
times, is a tainted form of oppositional consciousness, and the nation-state
always a doomed site of resistance32. This tendency chooses
to overlook that in traditions which gave theoretical and political sustenance
to socialist and internationalist anti-colonial movements, the nation
was regarded, as Neil Larsen puts it when describing Lenin's position,
'from a consciously historico-political, even strategic perspective'33.
I will not here rehearse the powerful arguments made by Neil Lazarus and
Tim Brennan on the need to distinguish between the different historical
forms of nationalism; and in response to the assertion that nation-state
has effectively been superseded, I will do no more than refer to those
who, writing from various vantage points, observe that 'although
contemporary globalization has complicated the nation-state form, it has
not rendered it obsolete as a form of political organization'34;
or maintain that the nation-state remains 'the only concrete terrain
and framework for political struggle'35, or locate it
as the singular site on which international solidarity can grow and the
one way under modern conditions 'to secure respect for weaker societies
Despite conceding the historical role played by what they call 'subaltern'
nationalism, and even while saluting 'the freedom fighters of all
the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist wars' (p. 412), Hardt and
Negri are adamant in castigating the outcome of these struggles:
"The very concept of a liberatory national sovereignty is ambiguous
if not completely contradictory. While this nationalism seeks to liberate
the multitudes from foreign domination, it erects domestic structures
of domination that are equally severe ... The postcolonial nation-state
functions as an essential and subordinated element in the global organization
of the capitalist market ... From India to Algeria and Cuba to Vietnam,
the state is the poisoned gift of national liberation. (pp. 133-4;
italics in original) "
This adamantine stance disregards the distinctions between the programmes
of bourgeois and Marxist currents within liberation movements, the first
seeking to inherit an intact colonial state and appropriate it to promote
their own class interests, the other aspiring to abolish the state apparatus
and replace it with democratic institutions. Furthermore, not only do
Hardt and Negri appear uninterested in the circumstances that have culminated
in the retreats of almost all left post-independence regimes, but they
overlook that where the postcolonial nation-state is complicit with the
capitalist market, this is a consequence not only of capitalism's
universal power but of an ideological choice made by the comprador leaderships
of many/most new nation-states who refuse any moves towards delinking
the local economies from the global system37.
Within postcolonial studies, the verso to the postnationalist recoil from
nation-based political struggles, is an affection for dispersal, transit
and the unhomely38. Although Empire does not situate
itself in this discussion where 'diaspora' is a privileged term,
the authors' discovery of new figures and new forms of international
resistance in the non-systemic mode of perpetual and irrepressible subjective
movement will be congenial to many postcolonial critics. And indeed it
is in the Hardt/Negri book that acclaim of dislocation and dissemination
takes manic form: 'Nomadism and miscegenation', Hardt and Negri
announce, 'appear here as figures of virtue, as the first ethical
practice on the terrain of Empire ... The real heroes of the liberation
of the Third World may really have been the emigrants and the flows of
population that have destroyed old and new boundaries' (pp. 362-3)39.
If those who concentrate on physical movement and cultural volatility
do draw a necessary attention to the acceleration of 'transnational
circuits'40, an embrace of geographical displacements
as the desirable norm pays little heed to the punitive barriers hindering
the passage of populations from South and East to North and West - restrictions
that are structural to an uneven capitalist world-system. Neither do they
address the material and existential conditions of the relocated communities
which include economic migrants, undocumented immigrants, refugees, asylum
seekers and victims of ethnic cleansing, and whose mobility far from being
an elective ethical practice, is to a large degree coerced41.
Most significantly, the focus on diaspora leaves in obscurity the vast
and vastly impoverished populations who cannot and might not choose to
migrate, who are not part of the reservoir of cheap labour in either the
home cities, the Gulf States or the old and new metropolitan centres;
who still engage in subsistence farming, or in extracting raw materials
and producing goods under pre-capitalist conditions for consumption in
the North, or who are economically redundant and constitute an underclass.
Without suggesting that such populations inhabit a timeless world, or
that their material and psychic lives, not to speak of the commodities
they produce as labourers, peasants and artisans, are invariably unaffected
by the penetration of the world-market42, I am proposing that
these communities do not have access to the pleasures of the multiple
consciousness available to those émigrés who occupy an agreeably
liminal location within a cosmopolitan environment. If such reservations
should not preempt recognition of the new energies that can be generated
amongst migrant populations, especially when relocated in protean urban
environments, the Hardt/Negri description of the multitudes in perpetual
and life-enhancing motion must all the same appear illusory rather than
visionary: 'In effect what pushes from behind is, negatively, desertion
from the miserable cultural and material conditions of imperial reproduction;
but positively what pulls forward is the wealth of desire and the accumulation
of expressive and productive forces that the processes of globalization
have determined in the consciousness of every individual and social group
(Empire, p. 213). Such optimistic projections are a reminder of
Empire's spectacular failure to address the substantive and
experiential situations of the settled populations of the nation-states
of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Paul Smith has drawn attention to theorists and critics seduced by '[m]agical
notions such as that of fully global space replete with an ecstatic buzz
of cyber communication, or of an instantaneous mobility of people, goods
and services, or of a global market place hooked up by immaterial money
that flashes round the globe many times a minute'43. Without
suggesting that Hardt and Negri advance this facile case, the delivery
of their thesis on 'perpetual motion' and 'the processes
of mixture and hybridization' generated by Empire, (p. 60) is all
the same as resonant of a specious exhilaration:
"The passage to Empire emerges from the twilight of modern sovereignty.
In contrast to imperialism, Empire establishes no territorial center of
power and does not rely on fixed boundaries or barriers. It is a decentred
and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates
the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers. Empire manages
hybrid identities, flexible hierarchies, and plural exchanges through
modulating networks of command. The distinct national colors of the imperialist
map of the world have merged and blended in the imperial global rainbow.
The Hardt/Negri definition of 'Empire' as decentred and deterritorialized
coincides with others that also circumvent the might of an actually existing
colossus which has aptly been described as 'an empire ... predicated,
like past empires, on political control for the purpose of economic control,
and resource and surplus extraction44. For as Peter Gowan argues,
'[A]ny prospect of bringing humanity towards genuine unity on a global
scale would have to confront the social and political relations of capitalism
with a clarity and trenchancy from which most representatives of this
current shrink; and any hope of altering these can only be nullified by
evasion or edulcoration of the realities of the sole superpower'45.
Significantly when Samir Amin urges the building of a global political
system that is not in the service of the global market, he looks to the
creation of anti-comprador fronts within the old and new nation-states
that would be capable of preparing 'the ground for a people's
international, robust enough to deal with world-devouring appetite of
capital' (Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, p.150).
This is a reminder that Old Internationalism offers an inspiration to
those engaged in reinventing programmes, structures and strategies in
the fight against contemporary global capitalism46. The backing
of institutionalized Internationals is no longer available; nor are the
histories of past Internationals invariably edifying. But those who regard
themselves as anti-imperialist should surely acknowledge the urge towards
and the practice of a borderless resistance to capitalism's unbounded
oppression. It therefore seems imperative that Internationalism and the
Internationals, for long objects of study in the social and political
sciences47, become part of a broader interdisciplinary discussion48.
If this happens, then the concrete and refined historical analysis of
Lenin and Trotsky on the national question and internationalism is essential
reading; as is the need to become acquainted with the paradoxical programmes
and strategic interventions of the Third International under the Stalin
regime, during which the project of building socialism in one country
and the immediate interests of the Soviet Union deformed the commitment
to international solidarity49. This is not to deny that for
whatever byzantine reasons, the USSR did render military and financial
assistance to embattled colonial populations, and did by its very presence
stay the armed fist of the United States.
For some time Marxists had anticipated that the most immediate prospects
for organized mass class struggles against capitalism's dominance
lay in the once-colonized world where the urban and rural poor are experiencing
exploitation at the hands of recently empowered native ruling classes
and popular dissent is endemic. Writing now David Harvey claims that '[t]here
is not a region in the world where manifestations of anger and discontent
with the capitalist system cannot be found' ('Globalization
in Question', p.13), and he goes on to urge the necessity of systematically
coordinated struggles against capitalism, arguing that because local and
broad-based movements lack coherence, direction and a vision of an anti-capitalist
alternative, it is urgent that dispersed popular resistances which do
not immediately appear to be proletarian in the traditional sense, are
brought together. And although Harvey is not committed to an old-style
vanguard party 'that imposes a singular goal', he insists that
'[w]e still badly need a socialist avant-garde ... We need not
only to understand but also to create organizations, institutions, doctrines,
programs, formalized structures and the like' ('Globalization
in Question', pp.15,16). To embark on such work presupposes that
globalization is recognized as yet another reconfiguration of systemic
capitalism, that the theoretical repudiation of internationalist anti-capitalist
movements is dispelled, that the concept of the party is restored in a
form disentangled from its Stalinist distortions, and that the notion
of the engaged intellectual is again in place. If this perspective makes
sense, then the Hardt/Negri insistence on 'Empire' as a paradigm
shift from capitalist-as-imperialism will appear mistaken, and their trust
in the autonomous and spontaneous creative capacity of the multitudes
to deliver communism, must seem a mirage.
A longer version of this article is to appear in a special issue of
'Interventions, the International Journal of Postcolonial Studies',
dedicated to Empire. Interventions is published 3 times a year by Routledge
and is available via Taylor and Francis, PO Box 25, Abingdon, Oxon OX14
e-mail : email@example.com
1 Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire , Cambridge, MS: Harvard, 2000,
pp. 49, 50
2 'The National Question: Said, Ahmad, Jameson', Public Culture,
6:1, p 3-29
3 Shapiro 2002: 'Mythologies of Autonomy: Capitalist Space and Left
Institutionality', unpublished paper.
4 'The Empire's New Clothes', to appear in Interventions.
5 For a brilliant inveighing against those who hold positions under the
'spell of universal permanent capital', see István Mézáros,
Beyond Capital: Towards a Theory of Transition, London: The Merlin Press,
6 "Aufheben: (past tense: hob auf; past participle: aufgehoben; noun:
Aufhebung). There is no adequate English equivalent to the German word
Aufheben. In German it can mean "to pick up", "to raise",
"to keep", "to preserve", but also "to end",
"to abolish", "to annul". Hegel exploited this duality
of meaning to describe the dialectical process whereby a higher form of
thought or being supersedes a lower form, while at the same time "preserving"
its "moments of truth". The proletariat's revolutionary
negation of capitalism, communism, is an instance of this dialectical
expression of this movement in the method of critique developed by Marx."
7 For a critique of the theoretical thinking of this epoch see 'From
operaismo to "autonomist Marxism"' in Aufheben, No 11,
2003, pp. 24 40.
8 Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. Paolo Virno and
Michael Hardt, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1996, pp.
1, 4. Since it is impossible to follow the arguments in Empire without
some acquaintance with the concepts and esoteric vocabulary of the Italian
extra-parliamentary left, Hardt's explanatory introduction to Radical
Thought in Italy is an invaluable guide to the book's theoretical
assumptions. Asserting that the axes of revolutionary thought within the
Euro-American framework have now shifted from German philosophy, English
economics and French politics to French philosophy, U.S. economics and
Italian politics, Hardt claims that Italian revolutionary politics can
serve as a model 'for experimentation in new forms of political thinking
that help us conceive a revolutionary practice in our times ... the
experiments conducted in laboratory Italy are now experiments of our own
future' (p. 9).
9 See Nationalism and Cultural Practice in the Postcolonial World, Cambridge
: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 41-51
10 Globalization in Question', in Rethinking Marxism, Vol. 8, No
4, Winter 1995, pp 1 17, pp. 5, 12.
11 Capitalism in the Age of Globalization: The Management of Contemporary
Society, London: Zed Books, 1997, p. 147. Writing about China, Chinese
scholars have shown that 'about 80% of the Chinese people live either
at the bottom or the margins of society', some 14% of the total available
workforce or 100 million people are unemployed or pauperized, and the
implementation of market-led modernization has issued in 'a return
to conditions common during the Industrial Revolution of the nineteenth-century' - low
wages, long hours, absence of safety regulations, frequent disastrous
accidents. See He Qinglian, 'China's Listing Social Structure',
New Left Review, 5 Sept/Oct 2000, pp 69-99, p 85, 87; and Wang Hui, 'Fire
at the Castle Gate', New Left Review, 6, Nov/Dec 2000, pp 69-99
12 Amin defines this world market as dictated by the monopolies he names
as: technological, financial control of world markets; access to planet's
natural resources, media and communication monopolies, monopolies over
weapons of mass destruction.
13 According to the World Outlook Report of the IMF which appeared in
2000 'in the recent decades, nearly one fifth of world's population
have regressed. This is arguably ... one of the greatest economic failures
of the 20th century'. In the same year the World Bank reported in
frustration: 'One legacy of socialism is that most people continue
to believe the State has a fundamental role in promoting development and
providing social services'. Cited in Greg Palast, The Best Democracy
Can Buy, London: Polity Press, 2002, p. 50, 47. We can also consider the
case made by the sociologist Michael Mann who while acknowledging that
'North' and 'South' are not strictly geographical
designations, finds that the North continues to widen inequalities, the
most important divide being what he calls an 'ostracizing imperialism',
whereby 'one part of the world both avoids and dominates the economy
of the other', since 'most of the world's poorest countries
are not being significantly integrated into transnational capitalism',
being considered 'as too risky for investment and trade'. 'Globalization
and September 11', in New Left Review, 12 Nov/Dec 2001, pp 51-72,
14 Peter Green, 'The Passage from Imperialism to Empire: A Commentary
on Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri', in Historical Materialism,
Vol 10 :1, 2002, pp. 29 77, p. 43
15 In reviewing George Soros's book On Globalization, Joseph E. Stiglitz,
the economist who was fired by the World Bank for his measured criticism
of its policies, mused :'The world of international finance and economics
is astonishing. What would seem to be basic, and even obvious, principles,
often seem contradicted. One might have thought that money would flow
from rich to the poor countries; but year after year exactly the opposite
occurs.' New York Review of Books, May 23 2002, p 24-26.
16 See Leslie Sklair, 'Social Movements and Global Capitalism',
in The Cultures of Globalization, ed Fredrick Jameson and Masao Miyoshi,
Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. For some statements from the horses'
mouths on the new social movements and notions of a new internationalism,
see Naomi Klein, 'Reclaiming the Commons', New Left Review,
9, May/June 2001, pp. 81-89, John Sellars, 'The Ruckus Society',
New Left Review, 10, July/August. 2001. pp. 71-85, José Bové,
'A Farmers' International ?' New Left Review, 12, Nov/Dec,
2001, pp 89-109 and David Graeber, 'For a New Anarchism', New
Left Review, 13, Jan/Feb 2002, pp 61-73, all in Series entitled 'Movements'.
17 Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today,
London: Pluto Press, 2002, p.157.
18 'Actually Existing Globalisation, Degloblisation, and the Political
Economy of Anticapitalist Protest', in Historical Materialism',
Vol 10:1, 2002, pp 93-121, footnote 95, pp 115-6.
19 Trotsky as Alternative, trans Gus Fagan, London: Verso. 1995, pp. 80-1.
20 'The Modern Prince', in Selections from the Prison Notebooks
of Antonio Gramsci, ed and trans. by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell
Smith, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1971, p 133.
21 Lenin: A Study on the Unity of his Thought (1924), London: New Left
Books, 1967, p. 26.
22 Peter Waterman, 'Internationalism is dead! Long Live Global Solidarity',
in Global Visions, ed. Jeremy Brecher, John Brown Childs and Jill Cutler,
Boston: South End Press, 1993, pp. 257-61, p 257.
23 Introduction to The Politics of Culture in the Shadow of Capital, ed.
Lisa Lowe and David Lloyd Durham NC: Duke University Press, 1997, p 2.
24 On concepts such as "immaterial labour", "mass intellectuality",
and "general intellect" see also Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy,
pp. 2, 5
25 For a close reading of the flaws in their 'faddish version of
the technological and institutional changes in the sphere of production',
see Leo Panitch and Sam Gindin, 'Gems and Baubles in Empire',
in Historical Materialism, Vol 10:2, pp 17-43 pp. 34-5.
26 The Hardt/Negri recognition that 'the great innovative sectors
of immaterial production, from design to fashion, and from electronics
to science' could not function without 'the "illegal labor"
of the great masses', seems not to extend to acknowledging the dependence
on 'legal' manual labour.
27 Previously Paola Virno, in 'Virtuosity and Revolution : The Political
Theory of Exodus' had defined the multitude as a new species once
'radically heterogeneous to the state' but who as 'a historical
result' of the transformations 'within the productive process
and the forms of life', have become absolute protagonists obstructing
and dismantling 'the mechanisms of political representation'.
Radical Thought in Italy: A Potential Politics, ed. Paolo Virgo and Michael
Hardt, Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1996, p.201
28 Exodus as Hardt is party to explaining elsewhere, is a term 'that
might be understood ... as an extension of "the refusal to work"
to the whole of capitalist social relations, as a generalized strategy
of refusal or defection'. See Glossary of Concepts in Radical Thought
in Italy', no page number.
29 Although I hesitate to cite Slavoj Zizek because I lose my way in the
labyrinths of his arguments, I cannot resist quoting his call to 'repeat,
in present worldwide conditions, the Leninist gesture of reinventing the
revolutionary project in the conditions of imperialism and colonialism
... the key Leninist lesson today is that politics without the organizational
form of the party is politics without politics'. 'A Plea for
Leninist Intolerance', in Critical Inquiry, Vol 28: No. 2, Winter
2002, pp. 542-566, pp. 553 and 558. For an expanded version see Zizek,'s
Introduction and Afterword to Revolution at the Gates : A Selection of
Writings From February to October 1917, London: Verso, 2002
30 'Today's Bandung?', New Left Review, No 14, March/April,
2002, pp 112-118; p. 114
31 'Landless Battalions', New Left Review, No 15, May/June,
2002, pp. 77-104
32 Vilashini Coopan remarking on 'the ease with which hybridity displaces
race and nation' in the postcolonial discussion, has made a strong
case for locating these categories within other axes of social existence
(class and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, culture and community) and
theorizing the coextensiveness of the terms in a context that is both
comparative and historical. See'W(h)ither Post-colonial Studies?
Towards the Transnational Study of Race and Nation', in Postcolonial
Theory and Criticism, ed Laura Chrisman and Benita Parry, Cambridge: D.S.
Brewer, for The English Association, 2000, pp. 14 and 19.
33 Determinations: Essays on Theory, Narrative and Nation in the Americas,
London: Verso, 2001, p, 11
34 Pheng Cheah, 'Given Culture: Rethinking Cosmopolitical Freedom
in Transnationalism', in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond
the Nation, ed. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins, Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press. 1998, p. 291
35 Fredric Jameson, 'Taking on Globalization', New Left Review,
4 July/August 2000, p 65
36 'Cosmopolitanism and Internationalism', in New Left Review,
7, Jan/Feb 2001, pp 75-84, p 77. For an overview on the debate, see Crystal
Bartolovich, 'Global Capital and Transnationalism' in A Companion
to Postcolonial Studies, ed Henry Schwarz and Sangeeta Ray, Oxford: Blackwell,
37 For some discussion on revolutionary liberation movements, see my 'Liberation
Theory : Variations on Themes of Marxism and Modernity', in Marxism
and Modernity, ed. Crystal Bartolowich and Neil Lazarus, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2002
38 For articulations of positions which welcome diaspora for the enriching
experiences this affords, as the location from which to theorize the contemporary
condition, and as in itself engendering a mode of thinking that can roam
far and wide because liberated from the fixity of place and community,
see for example Homi Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London: Routledge,
1994; Arjun Appadurai, Modernity at Large, Minneapolis: University of
Minnesota Press, 1996; Ali Behdad, 'Global Disjunctions, Diasporic
Differences, and the New World (Dis-)Order', in A Companion to Postcolonial
Studies, ed Henry Schwarz and Sangeeta Ray, Oxford : Blackwell, 2000
39 It is sobering at this point to be reminded by Nigel Harris that 'Most
people are fundamentally rooted at home, and only the margin of the most
energetic, talented and ambitious move - if they can afford the high
costs ... And when they move, they do so specifically to earn money
with which they can then return home, not to go into exile.' 'Everybody
in?' Red Pepper, August, 2000, pp. 26-7, p 26.
40 See for example Manthia Diawara observation that in West Africa '[a]ll
sorts of merchandise from a variety of origins are on display in traditional
markets ... Everything from computers, fax machines, and brand-name
shoes to gold jewellery is found covered with dust in the market-place.'
'Regional Imaginary in Africa', in The Culture of Globalization,
ed Jameson and Miyoshi, Durham: Duke University Press, 1998
41 Consider the women from China, Bangladesh, Thailand and the Philippines
who 'have paid a recruitment fee in order to be shipped to Saipan,
a half-forgotton US island in Micronesia. On arrival they are crowded
into barracks where they have to work 70-80 hours a week without anything
but a floor to sleep on. Because Saipan is a US territory, everything
produced there is duty-free and without quotas, ready to be sold in the
mainland at The Gap, J. Crew and Ralph Lauren stores, proudly bearing
a "Made in USA" label'. See 'Sweatshops are everywhere',
in Red Pepper, Jan 2002, p 10
42 See The Cultures of Globalization, ed. Jameson and Miyoshi, Durham:
Duke University Press,1999
43 Millennial Dreams: Contemporary Culture and Capital in the North, London:
Verso, 1997, p 13.
44 Rahul Mahajan, author of The New Crusade: America's War on Terrorism
(Monthly Review Press) writing in Red Pepper, September 2002, 'Iraq
and the new Great Game', pp. 17-18, p. 18.
45 'Neoliberal cosmopolitanism', New Left Review, 11, Sep/Oct
2001, pp 79-93. p. 93. For another optimistic vision of globalization
from below, see Richard Falk. 'The Making of Global Citizenship'
in Global Visions, ed. Jeremy Brecher, John Brown Childs and Jill Cutler,
Boston: South End Press, 1993, pp. 39.
46 It is surely fitting to recall some recent and more distant manifestations
of a theoretical position and a political allegiance grounded in class
affiliation, and anti-imperialist partisanship: an Indian exiled by the
Raj who assisted in the formation of the Mexican Communist Part (N.N.Roy);
the participation in the Spanish Civil War of African-Americans volunteers
to the Lincoln Brigade; a Caribbean intellectual (C.L.R James) who involved
himself in both Pan-Africanism and metropolitan left politics; African
insurgents who during the nineteen-seventies greeted the popular anti-fascist
upsurge in the imperial homeland while engaged in fighting the Portuguese
army in Mozambique, Angola and Guinea-Bissau; an Argentinean (Ché
Guevara) instrumental in the making of the Cuban insurrection, subsequently
a combatant in the anti-imperialist Congolese war and then a prime mover
of the abortive revolution in Bolivia during which he was killed; a French
intellectual (Régis Debray) who was imprisoned for his part in
the same uprising; Cuban troops defending the newly independent regimes
of Mozambique and Angola against the military incursions of the then South
Africa acting on behalf of international capitalism.
47 See Alejandro Colás, 'Putting Cosmopolitanism Into Practice:
the Case of Socialist Internationalism', in Millennium: Journal of
International Relations, Vol.23, No.3, 1994, pp 513-534
48 This process has already begun: see Robert Young, Postcolonialism:
An Historical Introduction, Oxford: Blackwell, 2001, Tim Brennan, 'Postcolonial
Studies Between the European Wars: An Intellectual History', in Marxism,
Modernity and Postcolonial Studies, ed. Crystal Bartolowich and Neil Lazarus,
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002 and Perry Anderson, 'Internationalism:
A Breviary', New Left Review, 14, March/April 2002, pp 5-25.
49 The conduct of the Soviet Union towards the anarcho-syndicalists and
the P.O.U.M during the Spanish Civil War is one such notorious instance,
as is the failure of the PCF to support the colonial wars in French Indo-China
'Didn't the fox never catch the rabbit, Uncle Remus?'
asked the little boy the next evening.
'He come mighty nigh it, honey, sho's you born.'1
One of the central conceits of 8 Mile - Curtis Hanson's (2002)
film about an aspiring hip hop performer, starring controversial rapper
Eminem - seems to have eluded the notice of critics and reviewers.
This adds to the levels of contradiction and irony in the way the film
tackles the subject of hip hop - which, if not ignored altogether in
serious debate and polite conversation alike, is generally condemned and
dismissed as one of the most scandalous, degraded and degrading forms
of contemporary popular culture. Partly this opprobrium results from rap's
refusal to practice the subterfuge usually necessary to sidestep sanctions
when bringing lower class vernacular into the public domain. But whatever
its significance in terms of social class, hip hop and rap music derive
from and draw upon the rich veins of African American culture, even if
in America itself and on a global scale young people of all races and
backgrounds have taken it to heart, and take part in it in their millions.
Even so, the musical forms, performance sites and conventions, expressive
styles and lyrical and narrative structures employed in rap are most usefully
seen as developments - in the context of today's social, cultural
and technological environments - of African American community and
artistic traditions also prominent in the blues, jazz, soul and funk,
and in Black oral folklore, storytelling and literature.2
Black and White and Read All Over
So despite its commercial success US rap is still generally perceived
as a predominantly Black artform, even if increasingly marketed to white
youth. What, then, does it mean for the main protagonist of 8 Mile not
only to be white, but also to choose the stage alias of 'B. Rabbit'?
In the script his friends affectionately clarify the 'B' as
the rather childlike 'Bunny'. This is appropriate given the
Oedipal conflicts experienced by Eminem's character, Jimmy Smith
Jr., and as a bonus also refers to cartoon trickster Bugs Bunny. But his
'official' nom de guerre as an M.C. who competes for
supremacy in lyrical 'battles' is not Bunny, but B. Rabbit - referring
to a figure from a different genre, but with similar levels of complexity
and ambivalence and a parallel degree of social and political significance.
Brer Rabbit, along with the predatory Brer Fox and other animals living
in the 'briar patch', is a mythic hero of children's stories,
and for older generations something of a lower class antidote to Beatrix
Potter et al. His origins lie squarely within fables and parables
refined and passed down orally in enslaved communities - as social
practice rather than literary form - educating Black youngsters in
the ways of the world, how to stay out of trouble and even, maybe, come
out on top.
From their humble beginnings (at the cotton-picking grass-roots, so to
speak), these cautionary and inspirational tales passed into acceptable
literature courtesy of Joel Chandler Harris, from Atlanta, Georgia, who
was the first author to publish such an extensive collection of 'Negro'
stories, as related by fictional narrator 'Uncle Remus' standing
for the realism, wisdom, benevolence and political savvy of Black elders.
In literary criticism starting from the 1920s Harlem Renaissance, Harris
is cited as an exemplary case of the appropriation by white people of
Black cultural resources. Now in 8 Mile we have the first Hollywood representation
of underground hip hop, but written, produced and directed by white people,
telling the story of a white rapper trying to get by. The choice of moniker
refers to this troubled history, and to the contemporary exploitation
of Black culture via the commodification of rap music and the ambiguous
presence of white people within this field.
Tourism, Tarzan and Toryism
To many critics, this presence is not ambiguous at all, but represents
straightforward colonisation - a view appealing to politically correct
liberals, who are already predisposed to rubbish hip hop (and any other
lower class cultural expression resistant to their moralising). So novelist
Jeanette Winterson sees Jimmy Smith as merely: "a tourist ... a white
man going into Black culture and, lo and behold, he does it better".3
This echoes Black separatist discourses aiming to maintain the purity
of hip hop as Black culture. In US rap magazine The Source, Harry
Allen invokes the figure of Tarzan to explain the success of both Eminem
and Jimmy Smith Jr.: "a white infant, abandoned by its mother and
father and raised by apes, who rises to dominate the non-white people
and environment around him", taking advantage of "the Black
facilitation of white development". This process is argued to be
pivotal to the contemporary "refinement of white supremacy"
where, for example, "hip-hop is valuable for one reason only: because
a lot of white people are into it".4
Both kinds of criticism are persuasive to a certain extent, arguing in
essence that any active involvement of white people in Black culture necessarily
implies theft and mastery - and, after all, the history of imperialism
and white racism (not to mention, more specifically, Western popular music)
has consistently led in that direction. Unfortunately, as well as entailing
a rather simplistic, static and closed conception of both Black culture
and hip hop, such judgements are extremely pessimistic about the potential
for meaningful interaction between Black and white people, whether in
culture, politics, or any other arena. However, Eminem's character
is not dubbed 'Lord Greystoke'; and the origins and associations
of Brer Rabbit have survived Joel Chandler Harris's colonisation
as well as Enid Blyton's bourgeois white supremacist erasure. Maybe
hip hop's Black roots are still hardy and perennial in the briar
patch, whatever their fate in the well-to-do garden.
If so, a distinction must be drawn between what happens at the grass roots
of hip hop among real live individuals and groups, and how this is mediated,
transformed and distorted in the public sphere. The film clearly wants
to straddle both realms in purporting to depict participation in a local
hip hop scene, while itself being a commercial product aiming for mass
consumption. Yet critical positions such as those outlined above
refuse to consider such complexity, preferring 'black and white'
caricatures which are just as crude, restrictive and downright unhelpful
as those found in the discourses of politicians, the media, elite cultural
institutions and all the other vested interests inimical in principle
to any of our subversive pleasures.
Into the Melting Pot
So, in a post-industrial Detroit suitably photographed by Rodrigo Prieto
(Amores Perros) as toxic and rotting, Jimmy Smith Jr. struggles
to carve out some autonomy and escape the rabbit's fate (to be tamed,
captured and eaten). The hostility and hopelessness of the ghetto offer
him only insecure drudge jobs, reinforced by his equally bankrupt family
dynamics and relationships with women. His crew provides a nurturing surrogate
family for its members, immersed since childhood in hip hop as part of
the popular cultural landscape. They have gravitated towards the local
rap scene, led by Future (Mekhi Phifer) who hosts regular nightclub events
featuring contests between aspiring MCs. Witnessing and encouraging his
emerging wordplay skills, his friends urge Jimmy to overcome his shyness
and insecurity and take part. The film covers the period in which he tentatively
enters and negotiates the contours of this vibrant public sphere, practising
and elaborating his lyrics in various settings - culminating in victory
over lead rapper of rival posse 'The Free World'.
8 Mile does capture, if sketchily, the atmosphere of grass roots underground
hip hop - and is thus one of very few representations in the mainstream
visual media of a phenomenon common in urban centres globally.5
It marks out the different interests and agendas of those involved, and
correctly emphasises the quintessential site of hip hop performance - the
party. Here boundaries between production and consumption blur as DJs,
MCs and the dancehall audience collectively interact in call and response,
bodily and aesthetic appreciation and ritual communal celebration.
Slaughtered, Skinned and Gutted
Beyond that, the meagre characterisations and backstory barely hint at
how Jimmy Smith's personal trials and tribulations have given him
the drive and energy (let alone the poetic skill) to craft the rap performances
that the film is structured around. Worse, B. Rabbit's lyrical attacks
as a battle MC are similarly one-dimensional. They do conform to some
conventions of the form, weaving biographical and local material into
references to popular culture, current affairs and the traditions and
history of hip hop - focusing on the socio-economic position shared
with his audience in the here and now. But he avoids deeper issues of
identity, difference, roots and origins, except when criticising in others
the commonplace discourses of racial prejudice and machismo's sexism,
misogyny and homophobia. So, pre-empting the recycling of 'poor white
trash' stereotypes, he acknowledges and embraces these, glosses their
injustice and external causes, and trumps them with well-rehearsed elaborations
exposing their lazy repetition.
Most seriously, the price of failure to invoke a positive presence of
his own is an inability to boast - that archetypal rapping device crystallising
one's rhetorical manouevres and stylistic prowess into a stage embodiment
of gravitas and purpose. Thus at one point he 'dies' on stage,
unable to respond to a Black audience's collective ridicule of his
whiteness. He can deal with it individually, though, using his smart mouth
to puncture his opponents' pretensions. He cuts The Free World adrift
from their roots in Black oral traditions, accusing them of empty posing
(by copying 2-Pac - a seminal 1990s MC), rather than engaging in a
genuine process of growth using the wisdom of the ancestors. Capped with
the revelation of their middle class backgrounds, this clinches the argument
for the crowd.
B. Rabbit's self-erasure is intelligible, given the historical status
of 'whiteness' as a badge of automatic (fictional) superiority
and (actual) domination over others. Flirting with the white racist denigration
of Blackness, he insists on the pathetic nature of whiteness, and is content
for the Black audience - as his social equals - to judge. Nevertheless,
his rejection of minstrelsy (pretending to be 'Black'), while
important, extends to a weak integration of style, lyrics and music - he
has no charisma, raps with a clumsy, fractured 'flow', and his
rhymes consistently miss the beat and work against the rhythm. All that
remains is linguistic trickery fuelled by disembodied anger, detached
from a coherent personality, historical anchorage and the sense of cultural
continuity implicit in African-American popular music. As it happens,
this recalls the passage of Brer Rabbit from subversive West African trickster,
via transgressive free-living slave, to sanitised cuddly toy.
White, Sliced and Wholesome
Having rendered its hero insubstantial, inoffensive and bland, 8 Mile
works as a safe, conformist narrative of 'poor boy makes good'
in that long tradition of conservative Hollywood films exhorting the popular
mass audience to keep their heads down, work hard and fulfil the promise
of the (white anglo saxon) protestant ethic. But if the talent to justify
success is now sacrificed to local ordinariness, hip hop's invention
and imagination are lost along with the complex, diverse artistry of its
practitioners. As usual, cinema can only represent the richness of lower
class life in reductive stereotypes. But the big payoff is that the main
attraction rap offers its audiences - a Black challenge to the hypocrisies
of mainstream society - is falsified. All signposted in the allusion
to Brer Rabbit.
Ritual naming as transformation is a frequent theme in Black cultural
visions of transcendence, yet this choice of name marks a space made vacant
by violation, exactly signifying a lack of progression. Drawing attention
to their own deceit is thus the film makers' alibi for viewing hip
hop through the lens of whiteness - because a biopic about any of the
Black superstar rappers would have required none of these levels of concealment
and evasion to guarantee healthy box office. But it would have had to
tackle an issue that the big money behind Hollywood blockbusters is terrified
of - the increasing centrality of race combined with class - a
theme familiar in the daily lives of the mixed hip hop nation of American
youth. Instead, 8 Mile counterpoises class against race, just as
all shades of reactionary and separatist US political discourse have consistently
done since the 1970s - mystifying deprivation with euphemisms of Black
deficiency in the former, and nailing the prospects of the Black poor
to the interests of the vanguard middle classes in the latter.
Convenience Food for Thought
Naturally, in its cynical exercise of postmodern irony, the film wants
to have it both ways, so the aspirational trajectory as well as the promotional
strategy devolve onto Eminem. But he has been eviscerated of his exhilarating
deployment of infantile excess, the shock tactics aimed squarely at respectable
society and hysterical cartoon exaggerations exposing the effects of poverty
and despair on the personal and social fabrics. Surely only the ignorance
of critics, the gullibility of consumers, and the complacency of power
could confuse this performer with this role. Now that is
an unsavoury alliance - albeit one very convenient for those to whom
culture is simply entertainment and hence profit.
For 8 Mile to fit Hollywood conventions and its own publicity, the most
salient features of both rap's Black heritage and Eminem are effaced,
so that the film hides its most serious flaws by trading on his reputation.
Hamstrung by their wholesale collusion in this, the reviews were able
to recognise neither the flaws nor the (limited) achievements.6
Now, the status of critics in the popular media is often predicated upon
the public's naive susceptibility to the commercial wiles of the
Brer Foxes of capitalism. But here they unwittingly reproduce it, obliterating
the distinctions between the marketing hype generated around a commodity,
and what the material used might mean to its audiences. No surprise, either,
that 8 Mile's most convincing stereotypes are the hustlers picking
over local rap for its juiciest packageable morsels, just as mainstream
record companies do with their raw material. With Eminem this means crafting
a celebrity brand image that isolates, fetishises and falsifies each of
his attributes as unique and unsurpassed individual achievements of (white)
genius, rather than the minor (if interesting) variations on well-established
hip hop themes that they undoubtedly are.
The Multiple Slim Shady
Eminem's vision starts from vicious infantile revenge fantasies,
switching indiscriminately among targets - his mother, wife, peers,
other MCs, the social environment, economy, media or government - attacked
for their various failures to support his needs and wishes, in moods veering
from depression and self-disgust to persecution mania and full-blown paranoia.
The rage is channelled into lyrical anecdotes in the familiar hip hop
registers of lower class teenage rebelliousness, abusive hypermasculinity
and gangsta rap nihilism, with video vignettes dressed in the lurid iconography
of exploitation film genres, comics, animation and a general wallowing
in trash culture, kitsch and bad taste. Ice-T - an original 'gangsta
rapper' - aptly describes him as the "Jerry Springer of rap",
practising the art of "saying the most wrong thing possible".7
This captures the sense of a community of grievances being played out,
but misses the psychotic core - a splintered and embattled self, deriving
purpose and energy in combatting the absence of unconditional love (e.g.
respect as an MC) with hatred, bile and malice.8
The comic artfulness of the rendering of nightmare into narrative, and
its catharsis as performance, positions Eminem as a tragic clown more
in the comedy tradition (from Lenny Bruce and Richard Pryor onwards) linking
pain, shock and mirth. Whereas the many talented hip hop jokers have tended
to play it just for laughs, the feelings Eminem expresses are audibly
and visibly heartfelt. And what takes the shock tactics beyond the adolescent
exuberance and sleaze of rap acts marketed as teenage rebellion, like
the Beastie Boys or Smut Peddlers, is the focus on the dire social implications
and circumstances of his existential misery, as well as the converging
political and economic interests that demand it. Put bluntly, the party
always goes (badly) wrong.
This configuration follows the 'deranged MC' subgenre - itself
derived from the urban mythic 'mad and bad' Black man. There
is even the occasional presence of producer and father figure Dr Dre,
or Detroit rap crew D12, as a social safety net, as with other famous
rap portrayals of lunacy and inadequacy. But Eminem is basically solipsistic.
Alone in his internal universe of conflict - not alienated from
others but within - he has no shared aim or project for successful
performance to embody. Unable to take solace and courage from a Black
heritage, he accepts that the self-destructive logic of his abjection
promises no escape.9 Thus the lyrics lay scattershot blame,
vehemently but without specificity or the explanatory power to convince,
at a system which is mad, or "politically incorrect".10
Hip Hop Hype
Just as the compulsive staccato processing of language in multiple alliteration,
rhyming and metaphor reproduces the obsessive repetition of psychosis;
so the integration of linguistic elements into spoken flow and rhythm
is likewise fragmented. Whereas what Adam Krims11 terms 'speech-effusiveness'
is now typical of the most skilful and innovative rap, many practitioners
of it are far more accomplished than Eminem - both in terms of the
musicality of the vocals (pitch, timbre, texture), and their meshing with
the antiphony and polyphony in the instrumental. Failing to align the
voice and poetic metre with the beat hinders the pleasurable experience
of the music with the body as well as the mind - hence the usual judgment
within hip-hop that Eminem is very far from being the best rapper around.12
But the publicity terms he has been saddled with - and which he consents
to for the sake of a career - say otherwise, because those who succeed
can then be held up as examples of 'the American Way' able to
transcend their backgrounds (of class and/or race) - exceptions which
prove the rule. So Eminem is produced and sold as universal (i.e. white)
novelty pop,13 even while coincidentally undermining various
racial stereotypes that neither he nor his commercial backers or critical
detractors, for their diverse reasons, dwell on. A foul-mouthed, drug-crazed
psychopath hardly fits the historic white 'genius' profile;
there is none of the middle class 'wigger's affected pose of
fashionable Black styles; and the depiction of family dysfunction and
moral failure turns on its head the politically-charged discourse of Black
pathology hiding behind class rhetoric - the latter being notable given
rap's reluctance to tackle this directly.14
However, Eminem's silence on his personal experience of racism - except
individual prejudice against his whiteness - shows that he is no 'race
traitor'15. This avoidance allows him to assert the irrelevance
of race, substituting the world view of the universal loser - just
a "regular guy"16 like millions of others. If challenged,
he projects back onto whoever is his enemy at the time - "I am
whatever you say I am" - where the simulacra of his personae and
their progress in the mediated world preclude any 'real'17.
His personal route to salvation is instead implied by the honesty and
humility of his engagement with hip hop. Against all the odds, this gives
the gratification of finding a voice and deploying a language - a conclusion
common to adherents of hip hop in all its manifestations across the world.
Hip Hop Hope
If Eminem's ravings lack the social embeddedness to provide historical
perspective or communal insight into the nature of the processes which
afflict people and make them mad - these are precisely the kind of
criteria which have consistently given Black artists the desire and wherewithal
to seek paths to redemption. This kind of ethics has been a preoccupation
of hip hop since the start - notable in Afrika Bambaata's Zulu
Nation; Grandmaster Flash ('The Message'); KRS-One, Public Enemy
and Rakim; through to hardcore via NWA, 2-Pac, Wu-Tang Clan and Nas (among
thousands of less famous examples). However, each new wave of rap styles
has been facilitated, amid accusations of dilution, by the steady growth
of relatively independent music industry sectors with a strong Black presence,
striving to influence and moderate commercialisation. In this climate,
class politics of any kind have rarely been prioritised, although a quietly
persistent strand alongside the much heralded Black nationalism and pride.18
So, Chuck D of Public Enemy is surely correct in saying that, being white,
Eminem can tackle "issues that Black rappers are encouraged to leave
alone for marketing and commercial reasons".19 But that's
not the whole story. The Black traditions have persistently militated
towards subverting oppression by wresting its adverse cultural and discursive
conditions into some form of social agency and control. Since the ideology
of Black capitalism - popularised by the Nation of Islam, Spike Lee
and Public Enemy, for example - came to be embraced by US hip hop entrepreneurs
(and reflected in the music), economic control has taken centre stage.
Thus record labels and management companies that are (at least partly)
Black owned and controlled have gained commercial footholds by deliberately
packaging the music to appeal to local Black community markets (in Atlanta,
California, Miami, New Orleans, etc.), pandering to corporate media (so-called
'hip-pop') and/or crossing over to white rock and heavy metal
(Run DMC, Ice-T, Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, etc). However, even the current
'ghetto fabulous' fairy stories of wealth and glamour, which
incorporate mainstream pop and R&B, still retain muted elements of
social critique in Blues laments and lower class sentimentalism. Similarly,
the Black Mafia subgenre could be interpreted as an oblique critique of
capitalism as crime, equating the competitive rivalry of the music
industry with mob families who were once mere street gangs. If so, gangsta
rap might represent an underclass corrective to the moral sophistry inherent
in a philosophy of uplift through the success of the few - but which
absolutely requires the continuing failure of the many.20
Sadly, if predictably, marketing imperatives work hard to hinder such
incipient political potential from clearing the space to develop. The
media, politicians and major record companies may have their pound of
institutionally racist flesh, but money sets the parameters. 2-Pac is
a typical case - his attempt to meld lower class manifesto ('Thug
Life') and Black Panther-derived social credo was sabotaged by the
commercial strategy of his label, Death Row, who progressively spiked
all but the most nihilistic material.21 On the whole, the transgressive
power of lower class vernacular retains the affiliation of core audiences,
but being presented solely in terms of Blackness sells more widely, engages
the pro-censorship Black and white middle classes, suits the scaremongering
of the media and conservative politicians, and fits various agendas of
racial essentialism and Black unity (hence the furore over Eminem's
casual disruption of these rhetorics). Paul Gilroy characterises the outcome
of this ideological tangle in the cultural compromise formation that is
contemporary hip hop as "revolutionary conservatism". He points
out that its utterly hybrid and syncretic nature, and the diversity (especially
in terms of class) of its producers and users account for both hip hop's
unprecedented global popularity and the consistent failure of public discourses
to understand it.22
Arts of Resistance
Russell Potter argues that the resistive potential of hip hop lies in
its continuing capacity to articulate contemporary vernacular subversions
of dominant cultures, in late capitalist conditions of increasingly global
and frantic commodification. The significance of African American traditions
is that their particular cultural trajectory from slavery till now has
enhanced the ability to creatively steal, mock, honour and re-present
ideas, words and sounds simultaneously, in order to convey experience,
history, pain and desire in artistic expression - and have thus been
especially well-placed to exploit post-modern forms of bricolage and revision.23
So from a core, or benchmark, of black practice, hip hop has mobilised
the whole range of cultural material at its disposal, using all available
techniques and technologies, to suit its own local and equally subordinated
expressive needs - including those of racially mixed and culturally
hybrid communities and scenes. This has enabled its worldwide dispersal,
through a commodified 'word of mouth', to overflow and sidestep
all of the clumsy and misguided attempts at policing and suppression.24
But while these vernacular cultures can provide the necessary grounds
for transgression, this can easily resolve into mere coping mechanisms
on the part of the oppressed, who remain contained by power. This danger
is acute given that the fetishised fashion accessory of superficial 'blackness'
in style without content is now offered unremittingly for consumption,
including the purely commercial manufacture of simulations of grass-roots
practice. Many marketed hip hop acts, black as well as white, could be
interpreted as domesticated Brer Rabbits in this sense, such as Puff Daddy/P.Diddy
(a bourgeois 'class minstrel' and rather bad MC), Vanilla Ice
(fake 'black' and fake 'street') or N'Sync's
Justin Timberlake (fake everything) - not Eminem, though, who is to
some extent honourable even if failing to outwit the Fox. Conversely,
various derivations of hip hop have virtually offered themselves up for
recuperation, taking themselves too seriously through pretension or elitism.
In the UK this might include the trip-hop and drum and bass genres, which
sought to legitimise themselves in terms of mainstream aesthetic values
and the accumulation of cultural capital; or the remnants of rave cultures
whose absorption into mere weekend recreation seems virtually complete.
Whereas in rap music the dense and sophisticated vernacular, the oppositional
stance and refusal of respectability, and grass-roots credibility, affiliation
and involvement combine in ways that, even after more than two decades,
still seem to completely confound the status quo - as the reception
of 8 Mile in clueless celebration or malicious dismissal suggests.
James Scott has revealed how colonised and enslaved subjects communicate
among themselves using 'hidden transcripts' in language and
cultural activities.25 These nurture resistance to domination
and keep hope alive, while the explicit versions in 'public transcripts'
purport to and seem to fit the demands of the ruling groups - to whom
the 'real' meaning is opaque. Scott concludes that when political
action does develop against domination, it is the hidden transcripts which
provide the discursive and cultural weaponry and ammunition which explode
into overt expressions of revolt. Maybe hip hop's enduring achievement
will be that, in terms of surface appearance in the age of Spectacle,
the hidden and public transcripts are the same - although the meanings
are worlds apart. The complacent networks of privilege try to suppress
the open expression of the vernacular, mistaking symptom for cause and
in the process revealing the stupidity, venality and complicity of their
cultural disciplinarians. But the politics of rap's reception provides
the younger, newer strata of colonised, enslaved, migrant and surplus
urban populations with the opportunity to bear witness to the obscenity
of the globalised New World Order and its neo-feudal military economy.
This isn't politics in the recognised formal, programmatic sense;
it's a set of cultural patterns which adeptly resist the hitherto
false promises of such straightjacketing - on the part of those excluded
from all other sites and systems of cultural and political expression.
By the understanding and generalisation of the details of specific experience
into actively shared anger, private dissatisfaction can be transformed
into a rap(t) productive engagement when, all around, defeatist cynicism
is a more intelligible response to today's most unpromising of circumstances
(and fostered as such as a deliberate tactic to shortcircuit opposition).
As Paul Gilroy stresses, quoting Rakim, "It ain't where you're
from, it's where you're at".26 The question
of where you want to go is still open.
1. From 'The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story', Joel Chandler Harris,
in Uncle Remus: His Songs and His Sayings, illustrated by A.B. Frost,
Appleton Century Crofts Inc., 1908.
2.. The best introduction to hip hop is still Tricia Rose, Black Noise:
Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, Wesleyan University
Press, 1994. Discussions of the African American genealogy of the Blues
and Black literature respectively can be found in: Houston A. Baker Jr.,
Blues, Ideology and Afro-American Literature: A Vernacular Theory, University
of Chicago Press, 1984; and Henry Louis Gates Jr., The Signifiying Monkey:
A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism, Oxford University Press,
1988. For the global reach of rap music see: David Toop, Rap Attack 2:
African Rap to Global Hip Hop, Pluto Press, 1991; and Tony Mitchell (Ed.)
Global Noise: Rap and Hip Hop Outside the U.S.A, Wesleyan University Press,
3.. In: BBC 2's Newsnight Review, 17th January, 2003.
4.. 'The unbearable whiteness of emceeing: what the eminence of Eminem
says about race', The Source, February 2003, pp.91-2.
5.. Other than music videos, of course. The nearest mainstream cinema
has come recently is the portrayal of a rap poet (Saul Williams) in Slam
(Marc Levine, 1999), and a documentary on hip hop DJing (Scratch, Doug
6.. For example Ryan Gilbey, 'In the ghetto', Sight & Sound,
February 2003, pp.36-7.
7.. In: Lock Up Your Daughters: Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll,
BBC 1, 2003.
8.. Most clearly seen in The Slim Shady LP (1999) and The Marshall Mathers
LP (2000, both Aftermath Entertainment/ Interscope Records); and D12's
Devil's Night (Shady Records/ Interscope Records, 2001).
9.. In 'Insane in the membrane: the Black movie anti-hero of the
'90s', The Source, May 1997, pp.36-37, Marcus Reeves shows how
this staple figure in Blaxploitation films relates social conditions to
behaviour rather than to being. See also S. Craig Watkins, Representing:
Hip Hop Culture and the Production of Black Cinema, University of Chicago
10. Eminem, in: Rhythm Nation, BBC Radio 1, 28th March 1999. His latest
release, The Eminem Show (Aftermath Records, 2002) leavens the shock tactics
with faltering attempts at serious commentary and some rather bland pop
and rock sentimentality parachuted in.
11. Adam Krims, Rap Music and the Poetics of Identity, Cambridge University
12.. Eminem freely acknowledges his shortcomings here, for example in
Angry Blonde, Regan Books/Harper Collins, 2000, and Chuck Weiner (Ed.)
Eminem 'Talking': Marshall Mathers In His Own Words, Omnibus
Press, 2002. Hilariously, Will Self mistakes this for a "white sensibility":
Newsnight Review, BBC 2, 17th January, 2003.
13. UK rap critics generally appreciate the wordplay skills (and little
else) in the Eminem "circus": e.g. Philip Mlynar's review
of The Eminem Show in Hip Hop Connection, July 2002, p.77. But again,
the final judgement still tends to come down to race.
14. Unless veiled by 'the dozens' or displaced into sex stories.
See: Robin D.G. Kelley's contemporary-historical analysis, Yo Mama's
Disfunktional: Fighting the Culture Wars in Urban America, Beacon Press,
1997; and Bell Hooks' painstaking and moving discussion in Salvation:
Black People and Love, Women's Press, 2001. Paul Gilroy examines
related questions of freedom, race and gender relations in Black music
in 'After the love has gone: bio-politics and etho-poetics in the
Black public sphere', Public Culture, Vol. 7, No. 1, 1994, pp.51-76.
15. In the sense of "treason to whiteness is loyalty to humanity",
Noel Ignatiev & John Garvey (Eds.) Race Traitor, Routledge, 1990;
and contrary to Tom Paulin's wish-fulfilment (ascribing to Eminem
sentiments like "I don't want to be white any more"), in
Newsnight Review, BBC 2, 17th January, 2003. For whatever reasons, Eminem
has scrupulously edited out of his lyrics all signs of the lower class
white racism and much of the Black ghetto vernacular he will have grown
up with. Incidentally in UK hip-hop, racism is also viewed depressingly
often as mere individual prejudice rather than a historical and institutional
16.. This is Eminem's mantra, repeated in countless interviews, apparently
unaware of the skin privilege giving him the luxury of asserting it. So,
receiving probation in April 2001 for a weapons offence, he stated that
the judge "treated me fair, like any other human being" (Mansel
Fletcher, 'A year of living dangerously', Hip Hop Connection,
January 2002, pp.59-61). Whereas a Black 'regular guy' would
get jail time - particularly pertinent given the new 'plantation
slavery' of US prisons and sentencing policy.
17. 'The Way I Am', The Marshall Mathers LP. Meanwhile, the
media's celebrity chatter remains oblivious to creative licence,
obsessing about the lyrics' literal truth, for example in Nick Hasted's,
The Dark Story of Eminem, Omnibus Press, 2003.
18. Nelson George's Hip Hop America (Penguin, 1998) gives a concise
account of the commercial rap industry's development.
19. In: Lock Up Your Daughters: Sex, Drugs and Rock 'N' Roll,
BBC 1, 2003. Apparently Dr Dre also expected less censorship pressures
on a white artist (Ian Gittins, Eminem, Carlton Books, 2001, p.17).
20. See Todd Boyd, Am I Black Enough For You? Popular Culture from the
Hood and Beyond, Indiana University Press, 1997. As well as the liberal-conservative
themes of films like Boyz N The Hood (John Singleton, 1991) and The Player's
Club (Ice Cube, 1996), there is now a sickening trend for hip hop celebrities
to publish self-help homilies and cliches about believing in yourself
and working hard to gain success (for example in books by Queen Latifah
and LL Cool J). Also note that 'gangsta' now conflates the earlier
terms 'hardcore' and 'reality' rap in a classic African
American Signifyin' move.
21. See Armond White, Rebel for the Hell of it: the Life of Tupac Shakur,
Quartet, 1997; and Michael Eric Dyson, Holler If You Hear Me: Searching
For Tupac Shakur, Plexus, 2001. Earlier, the inspiring political initiatives
from the 1992 LA uprising and subsequent gang truce were neglected in
commercial LA rap: see, for example Mike Davis, L.A. Was Just the Beginning.
Urban Revolt in the United States: A Thousand Points of Light. Open Magazine
22. Paul Gilroy, 'After the love has gone' (see note 14), and
Small Acts: Thoughts on the Politics of Black Cultures, Serpent's
Tail, 1993. The importance of hybridity and syncretic processes in the
development of Black culture is stressed in his The Black Atlantic: Modernity
and Double Consciousness, Verso, 1993. Many writers of the 'hip hop
generation' use this kind of analysis to avoid the critical impasse
which results from the assumption of a singular Black (or any other) identity - for
example in Mark Anthony Neal's superb Soul Babies: Black Popular
Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic, Routledge, 2002.
23. Russell A. Potter, Spectacular Vernaculars: Hip Hop and the Politics
of Postmodernism, State University of New York Press, 1995.
24. Including occasionally from within the rap industry: see for example
ex-The Source editorial staff member Bakari Kitwana's The Rap on
Gangsta Rap, Third World Press, 1994.
25. James C. Scott, Domination: the Arts of Resistance, Yale University
26. Paul Gilroy, Small Acts, see note 22.
For someone who claims to know the story, Daniel Jewesbury's account of Arthouse in Variant Winter 2002 is fairly out of touch.
Jewesbury talks about the closing of Arthouse by dwelling on its opening. The majority of his article produces opinions formed circa 1995, which at that time may have been relevant and informed, but reproduced today, are misleading. In 1995 there were real concerns. Few knew what the Internet was, and what role computers would have in art practice. He wilfully omits that over the next eight years artists began to figure that out, some quite effectively. Arthouse closed, that much is true. Jewesbury wants us to think a main problem was a lack of dedicated exhibition space. 'Where was its centre?,' he implores. According to him, 'the cafe became the only effective and frequented space in the building,' and Arthouse was 'ill-used' and 'ill-defined'. In fact, artists used Arthouse. They were the backbone of its activity, the majority of its public, and were members of its staff and Board. Arthouse always had dedicated exhibition space, three at the time it closed. Its programmes originated from many points of interaction, including exhibitions, residencies, production, and arts information, as well as from unofficial, informal and unmediated exchanges.
It's important to recognise that Jewesbury's position is fundamentally conservative. Echoing people who dismiss artists' practice while only having the vaguest understanding of what it involves, Jewesbury dismisses the activity at Arthouse and invents a place that was 'ill-used', with no effect. Whether he liked what was taking place there or not, one fact remains. An organisation in Dublin centred on artists at every stage of their artistic production, closed. As public space, Arthouse was artist driven. In missing this crucial point, Jewesbury plays right into the hands of those who need justification to continue curbing, censoring, and closing down our public space.
Sincerely, Sarah Pierce
Artist and former Artistic Director of Arthouse
Sarah Pierce's letter is unfortunate in that it dramatically misconstrues the editorial piece published in our last issue. That piece counterposed two stories, the closure of Arthouse and the spectacular failure of Belfast's bid to be European Capital of Culture 2008, in order to establish a basic argument, that artists continue to suffer from maladroit administration of 'the arts'. The very infrastructure which is meant to support artistic production, and to enable wide audience participation in that activity, is very often poorly devised and poorly administered; our piece made the point that this is usually because artists, the people who might be expected to know most about these issues, are so seldom consulted on or included in decisions which directly affect them and the conditions of their work.
We stand by this argument. We do not accept Pierce's assertion that latterly, artists had somehow appropriated Arthouse, wresting its control away from the Cultural Industrialists who 'managed' the institution. Our article did not attempt to describe in intricate detail the death throes of Arthouse: we did not consider it particularly relevant to analyse whether the Irish government, the Arts Council of Ireland, Temple Bar Properties or indeed all three were to blame for its demise. It's enough to be aware that someone clearly blundered, and that it's unlikely to have been the city's artists.
Projects initiated or run by artists usually consist of something other than the building in which they are housed (indeed they often have only an arbitrary connection with it). As a result they do not suddenly cease to exist when someone else takes the money away. This is the most important product of artists provisioning themselves with an infrastructure: autonomy. If Arthouse had genuinely transmogrified into an artist-run organisation, to where did its activities relocate after the evacuation of Curved Street?
It is ironic, to say the least, that Pierce should choose to carry the torch for the administration which put her out of a job. At the end of the summer of 2000, after the brief bedhop that was Tim Brennan's sojourn as artistic director, Arthouse was generally agreed to be at its lowest point. This was several years after its inception. Pierce's contention that Arthouse very quickly shed the ontological crises which beset its early days is therefore simply not true. We are quite happy to state, however, that with Pierce's appointment came a new clarity of purpose and a sustained level of activity. These were things that hitherto had simply not existed. We find it unfortunate, and unbecoming, that the person left to defend the institution is not one of those who made the decision to curtail this renewed activity, but she whose own ideas were aborted as a result.
A couple of Pierce's points demand specific responses. Refuting an argument made in our editorial, she insists that Arthouse had three 'dedicated exhibition spaces' at the time of its closure. This is not true. The word "dedicated" is clearly used by us to denote a space specifically designed for exhibitions. Arthouse never had one, let alone three of these. Pierce may have turned different parts of the building over to exhibitions (the basement had irregularly been used as an installation space before her arrival), but she could not somehow retrospectively include something omitted from the building in the first place. Ever since the 'new' technologies were first touted as tools for artistic production, there have been artists aware that the use of digital media would inevitably collide with the use of other media, and that new installational forms - requiring flexible and versatile spaces - would develop. Arthouse only accommodated these new forms partially, inadequately; this is inevitable given that it was prematurely conceptualised itself. Only now, a decade after vague plans for Arthouse were first mooted, and after both it and The Lux have ceased to exist, has FACT been able to open what promises to be a genuinely well-used and influential centre for the digital arts. (New media dedicated facilities in Scotland are noticeably absent from this discussion.)
Pierce maintains that artists formed "the majority of [Arthouse's] public." This admission is not necessarily something she should be too proud of. What happened to the idea that artists might communicate something to a wider community? Furthermore, her emphasis of Arthouse's "unofficial, informal and unmediated exchanges" deserves investigation too; how transparent and open were these "exchanges", and to what extent were they initiated by and for people already very familiar with the building's facilities?
Pierce indulges in some rather cheap invective at the end of her letter. Specifically, she accuses me of being "fundamentally conservative" and of having only "the vaguest understanding" of that practice which Arthouse was intended to illuminate. The latter point hardly merits a response, except to say that as a practising artist, critic, lecturer and theorist I have investigated the use and conditions of digital technologies in the broadest of contexts, and for several years. I maintain that Arthouse was not a facility that provided the "public space" Pierce describes. Indeed, I believe it's both naïve and self-limiting to suggest that my criticisms of Arthouse and of the manner of its closure somehow "play into the hands" of those who seek to curtail art's field of influence. Rather the opposite. Were Pierce to run (or, perhaps, were she to co-operate, as an unpaid volunteer, in the running of) an organisation that really had the interests of artists at its heart, no doubt she would achieve far more than was possible at Arthouse; and no doubt, given the opportunity, she would be able to acknowledge this.
Some light can be thrown on these arguments if we turn to look at recent developments at Catalyst Arts in Belfast (another organisation with a ten-year history, but this time one actually conceived of and run by artists). Having been evicted and temporarily rehoused on Donegall Street by Laganside Corporation in late 2001, Catalyst were due to move into new premises at the start of this year. Protracted discussions amongst the Catalyst membership ensued: the proposed new building, Cotton Court, is a centrepiece of Laganside's 'Cathedral Quarter' development, a predictably cynical instrumentalisation of 'culture' in the name of private interests. Members were concerned that Catalyst should not be implicated in the engineering of yet another ghetto in Belfast (albeit a middle class one that calls itself a 'cultural quarter'), particularly at a time when artists have an opportunity to reach out and be involved in the city's material and conceptual resconstruction. More importantly, the refurbishment of Cotton Court, an old warehouse that is apparently one of the oldest buildings in the city, was carried out with little consultation with the prospective occupants. As Catalyst themselves have pointed out, large amounts of public money were squandered on inappropriate work, both in the Donegall Street premises and at Cotton Court. Catalyst were told that the construction of an office space on the floors allocated to them in Cotton Court would be at their own expense.
Laganside's dual role as funding body and landlord was also proving problematic. Early on in the relocation, construction workers engaged in the demolition of part of Catalyst's old building spliced into the new gallery's electricity supply, running up a bill of more than £1,500. Catalyst refused to pay this and were subsequently disqualified from applying to Laganside for project funding. Interference in programming and difficulties regarding access to the temporary gallery further worsened the relationship.
In December last year, at a well-attended general meeting, the membership voted by a margin of eight to one not to move into Cotton Court. This was an extremely difficult decision to take for a number of reasons: Catalyst were breaking a contract that had been signed over a year beforehand and could conceivably be sued; there was no long-term venue available for Catalyst outside of Cotton Court; and whilst initial soundings had been made, it was by no means clear what the implications would be for the future funding of the organisation. Thus, on the basis of principle and in the desire to retain its autonomy, Catalyst took something of a leap into the dark. Subsequently, Laganside decided not to pursue legal action for breach of contract, noting that it might be in both parties' 'mutual interests' if their strained relationship to date was brought to an end.
It's refreshing, and not a little rare, to be able to report that an artist-run organisation has chosen not to move into a multi-million pound building in the centre of a new 'cultural development programme', but has opted instead to develop its role as a facilitator of events and exhibitions, in spaces and venues of all descriptions. Catalyst operates as only one of a clutch of artist-run organisations in Belfast which routinely collaborate with one another on every aspect of their activity.
While we're on the subject, it's worth noting that since Colin Darke wrote his article for this issue about events at the Orchard Gallery in Derry, the possibility of the building continuing to function as an artist-run space has emerged. It seems that the owners of the building would be very happy to see some form of artistic activity continue there now that the City Council has vacated the premises. The Orchard may have ceased to exist in its current shape, but it could yet be Derry's artists who decide what should replace it, at least until someone at the City Council can be a little clearer about what their plans are.
Queuing and waiting for success and recognition keeps artists tied to arts institutions in charge of distributing money and bestowing prestige. As with so many artists, Veroni's attempts to apply for grants through the Arts Council are taking him nowhere. Before a rarefied art scene, the lack of patrons, reliable or committed gallery owners, and a tight strand of neo-conceptual art as mainstream, Veroni's hopes of supporting himself through art are gone.
This series of mini-prints called 'The Lottery Project' are based on a survival plan: each print sold can buy a new lottery ticket.
With the money that you spent on each of these prints the artist will pay the gallery commission (£0.70), material and display expenses (£0.30) , and a new lottery ticket (£1.00). Through this regular exchange of art for hope the artist is expecting to win the lottery one day and then move to more ambitious projects, like making bigger and better artwork or having a family.
It is a well known fact that lottery money goes in part to the Arts Councils. In that way you and the artist are still contributing to the arts (like it or not).
For more information contact: Ral Veroni <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Derry on its Hobby Horse
Colin Darke, March 2003
Derry's artists got together with some friends on
7th March to make some art together. We collaborated to make a large sculpture
from art publications and carried out a performance piece which referred
with a touch of irony to Anthony Gormley's "Field for the British
Not the best art any of us has ever made, certainly, but we were still
delighted with our efforts.
The work was part of a day-long protest against the closure of Derry's
Orchard Gallery, organised by a group of artists living and working in
the city. We had just three weeks previously formed ourselves into a campaign
group, calling ourselves Derry's Artists for Derry's Art (DADA)
and this was our first public act, having previously written a letter
of protest to Derry City Council, with a couple of copies to the Arts
Council of Northern Ireland.
(Funny how a name can determine behaviour - when discussing the form
that the protest should take, we found ourselves arguing whether we were
being sufficiently DADAesque in our thinking. This approach to deciding
on stunts designed to attract the media is in itself, of course, very
unDADA; Tzara said in his Dada Manifesto, 1918, "The magic of a word - DADA - which
for journalists has opened the door to an unforeseen world, has for us
not the slightest importance.")
After more than twenty-four years as the central focus for contemporary
art in the city, the Orchard Gallery has become the victim of shortsighted
bureaucratic philistinism. The gallery's doors close at the end of
the financial year and from April Derry will be a city with just one gallery - the
Context, sited at the Playhouse Arts Centre. The Orchard will be replaced
by the "Orchard Agency", aiming to find alternative venues for
exhibiting work, along with commissioning public art works around the
city. A fine idea, and one which we of course support. We always have
supported this initiative, as the Orchard has included this approach almost
since its inception in October 1978. Dressing up an old and up-and-running
idea as something new and innovative is an old political trick, and it's
more than a little insulting to think that we might fall for it.
The Council published a 'Draft Cultural Strategy' last year,
written by the Orchard's first director Declan McGonagle (who has
also run London's ICA and Dublin's IMMA). McGonagle had previously
produced another report for the Council, relating specifically to the
future of the Orchard and outlining proposals for the development of contemporary
art in the city. The second report acted as the basis for a consultation
period, with public meetings held around Derry to discuss the proposed
As is so often the case with such initiatives, the consultation process
was poorly publicised, and few of us were even aware that it was taking
place. The Orchard's administration are claiming that artists simply
did not bother to involve themselves with the consultation process; yet
the gallery, which holds all of our names and addresses of in its mailing
list, never thought to canvas our opinions directly on the proposals made
in the Draft Cultural Strategy. Even if we had taken part, the information
contained in the second report was inadequate for any real discussion,
as its visual art element always referred, quite naturally, to the first
report. This would, of course, be fine, if this document were available.
Not so. Requests for copies of the original document, outlining plans
for the Orchard and the proposed expansion of visual art provision, were
met with the response that it was 'not in the public domain'.
Having commissioned a proposal for a cultural strategy from someone with
artistic development and integrity as the basis of his thinking, the City
Council has removed these qualities, in the interests of political and
At the time of writing, this report remains invisible, but we shall be
receiving our copy soon. We do know that it includes proposals for the
Orchard Agency, a new Orchard Gallery and a Derry Biennale. What we are
getting is the first - the cheapest and least innovative - and with
no information on what it will contain or how it is to be organised.
Derry City Council has behaved abysmally here. It has removed an institution
which has made an enormous contribution to the artistic identity of Ireland,
it has distorted Declan McGonagle's efforts at developing the arts
in Derry and it has alienated the city's art community from its visual
Arts Programme, BBC Radio Scotland, 6/6/03
Discussion on Corporate Sponsorship of the Arts
As someone engaged to take a critical stance on the corporate sponsorship
of art, I should stress that I wasn't the first choice to contribute
to this discussion.
That it has been difficult to find an artist to take part who might take
such a critical stance (especially one whose practice has not been dependent
on corporate sponsorship) shows the degree of influence such sponsors
have (in that many artists won't speak up for fear of jeopardising
their careers) and the extent to which artists are now reliant upon private
sponsorship, often as a mandatory requirement to lever public funding.
But rather than berate artists -- especially when the public funding system
is unambiguously compelling artists to secure such sponsorship and with
few other options available -- criticism first and foremost should be
levelled at the network of agencies that are responsible for pushing corporate
sponsorship: which includes the Scottish Arts Council and Arts & Business.
So what does it matter who sponsors our cultural institutions and why
should cultural production be publicly funded at all -- all in 5 minutes?
Firstly, we have to believe that democratic debate and cultural experimentation
is fundamental to our development as a progressive society, and as such
that we should assist and encourage it and that this should be undertaken
within the public domain and be publicly accountable.
Secondly, we need to acknowledge that all cultural production has a political
existence in that it either challenges or supports the dominant myths
a culture calls 'truths'. It participates in the circulation of relative
values and meanings and there is an unacknowledged struggle over who determines
these 'truths'. So that in the field of cultural production there are
sites of perpetual contestation over what goes on -- what gets shown,
what gets discussed, what issues get raised and taken out of the 'museum'
into the surrounding social institutions - and vice versa.
So we can see that much of what now purports to constitute the domain
of, say, the Visual Arts is an effect of other kinds of forces, and relations
With regard to corporate sponsorship of the arts in the UK, this can be
traced back to Thatcherite policies of the 1980s, as Chin-tao Wu has done
in her excellent book 'Privatising Culture: Corporate Art Intervention
since the 1980s', in which she interprets ABSA (the forerunner of 'Arts
& Business') as stating, unproblematically, that "arts sponsorship
is a corner stone of Thatcherite policy."
But since the '80s there has been a further shift away "from the
'something for nothing' arm's-length philanthropic [sponsorship] model
to a 'something for something' contract ..." , to quote Anthony Davies
and Simon Ford's 'Culture Clubs'.
What Wu documents and analyses is the relentless privatisation of cultural
organisations, and the excessive power that corporations have attained
as arbiters of contemporary culture, framing and shaping it while successfully
appropriating art museums and galleries as their own public-relations
vehicles, effectively using public money to enhance the prerogatives of
Which brings us to the reason I suspect these issues are being raised
now, that the BECK'S FUTURES 2003 is opening at the CCA in Glasgow.
I understand that the artists in the show had to sign a contract ensuring
that they would fully participate in all media events, and wonder if it's
more than just a myth that BECKs checks up that the artists are drinking
their product at the openings rather than some other brand. More worrying
though, is that I'm led to believe BECKs are looking to have even greater
influence over the actual selection of artists.
Similarly, Standard Life Investments intervened to have the title of a
show they were sponsoring at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh, changed
to something more appealing to their brand image. And as they were sponsoring
the Education Officer they participated in the selection procedure for
the post, meaning they were also able to influence the actual reception
and interpretation of the work.
I'd like to finish by saying that the nonsense peddled about Corporate
Responsibility is that these developments are taking place against a backdrop
of waning confidence and belief in the ability of governments to regulate
the growing power of corporations and their networks of influence.