"Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one." - Charles Mackay
Sunday, March 12, 2006
Islam, Empire, and the Left
Resistance to Imperialism

By tariq Ali

Looking at the empire, which is the other side of this Clash of Fundamentalisms work that you've given us, where do you see countervailing forces to America's power in today's world? Is Europe the possibility? Or is it some evolving consciousness emerging within the United States that could ultimately lead to a protest movement within the United States?

There is no single center of resistance. As far as the Middle East is concerned, what will determine the future of that region will be resistance in that region itself. In my opinion, over the next ten or twenty years, it's not impossible that you will have a wave of pretty classical revolutions to transform those countries. The people are fed up. They might go through an Islamist phase. They probably will. They may not. It's difficult to predict. And that resistance is very necessary as a wake-up call for citizens in the United States.

The Europeans are very angry about this recent war in Iraq, but by and large, they have never succeeded in opposing the United States since the collapse of communism. Prior to that, they did. The French were completely opposed to the Vietnam War, and no European country was involved in that war. The only backers the United States had on the battleground in Vietnam were a few South Koreans and Australians. No European country was involved, and it's worth remembering that.

So there has been opposition before. The opposition this time, relatively speaking, is very strong on the ground, very weak above. The French and Germans opposed the war. Once the war began, they wished the United States Godspeed and said, "Finish it quickly"; allowed airspace and bases to be used. No attempt was made to stop it, except on a verbal level before it began.

So I am very dubious about the capacity of Europe, certainly at the present time, to develop an entity which can be an economic political rival, which would be very important, because that creates the space in which people like us breathe and live. But I don't know whether that will happen. The United States, of course, is determined to diversify Europe to such an extent that it becomes a meaningless entity, bringing in all these Eastern European states. Whoever coined the phrase for them in the old days, "satellite states," was very prescient. That's all we can say. They remain that.

So then there is political activism. We've talked about consciousness, how it can evolve and can exist underground in situations of oppression. But how do we get back to the link to political action, to political activism? What will be the fuse, so to speak, that will create a situation where a consciousness that's evolving, that may be underground now, that is shown in demonstrations, actually has political consequences that will change the direction, say, for example, of U.S. foreign policy?

The fuse often comes in ways that are unpredictable. The big fuse which stopped the Vietnam War was the inability of the United States to win that war -- the fact that it was suffering defeats on the battleground, and the body-bag factor. Sometimes when I'm arguing with hard-core fundamentalists, Islamic ones, I [ask] what threatened the Pentagon more: a few idiots throwing bombs on it, a building which can be repaired within two weeks? Well, I think that did not threaten anyone. It's just an act of stupidity, foolishness, politically. Compare that to the seventies when you had a quarter of a million GIs who had fought in the war -- veterans on their crutches, with their medals, marching outside the Pentagon and chanting that they wanted the Vietnamese to win. What affects them more? Obviously, the latter, because that shows that the core of that state apparatus is infected with ideas which challenge the empire. Ultimately, that has got to be the route.

I've been reading about this lately, that when the United States occupied the Philippines at the end of the nineteenth century, a group of intellectuals led by Mark Twain, and Henry James, and William James, and Thomas Dewy, and the cream of the American intelligentsia, organized the Anti-Imperialist League. There was a massive gathering in Chicago in 1898 or '99, and within a year and a half, it had a quarter of a million members. So, that's necessary for educational purposes.

What is necessary for what you are asking is a political party, because if these movements, whether it's the Anti-Imperialist League or anything like it, are not reflected on the level of politics, then they will be ineffective, in my opinion. What is very noticeable is that this giant antiwar movement which erupted before the war in Iraq, which is unprecedented in world history, wasn't reflected on the level of politics. The anti- Vietnam War movement was. I remember vividly the Senate Foreign Relations Committee under William Fulbright putting pressure to get the truth, and a whole wave of politicians, Democratic politicians, challenging the official view. Since 9/11, it's been the silence of the lambs. They've given up, the Democrats, you feel. And sooner or later, if they can't do it, something will have to emerge in this country which does reflect the view of a sizable section of the people. Unless that happens, I think we're doomed. We have to find ways of doing that.

Will it be some failure of the American capitalist economy that is the ignition here?

It could be. It could be. Though, in my view, an economic failure becomes a radicalizing force only when an alternative exists. If there is no alternative way of functioning, and people know that such an alternative doesn't exist, economic failures, recessions can lead to total demoralization, and also see the emergence of very, very xenophobic currents, where you find solutions for the economic crises in seeing which is the minority that we can crush, and blaming the problems of the system on ethnic minorities. That's happened before.

So I think an economic crisis for the United States would certainly shake the system, but if a political option or an alternative to it doesn't exist, they will recover and pull back. There are no final crises for these people unless there's an alternative. The big difference from the twenties and the recessions and the economic crises of the twenties and thirties is that at that time, rightly or wrongly, people saw there was an alternative in the socialist or communist economic system. Now that is not seen as an alternative, because there is no alternative. So that's the problem we confront. Many people are working to find an alternative to this way of functioning, the capitalist economy, which can win over broad support.

Where is the beginning of that agenda being written?

The beginning of that agenda is being written in the big mobilizations of the movements for global justice, which grew up in Seattle, then traveled across the Atlantic to Europe, then across the Panama Canal to Latin America. I mean, Latin America is the one continent which is in complete revolt against neoliberal economic policies. Virtually every country in Latin America has a movement, It is interesting that that's where it's happening. The World Social Forum, which meets once a year, is the place where many ideas are being hammered out.
posted by R J Noriega at 3:44 PM | Permalink |


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