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Tag: international politics

Netanyahu and the dead hand of the divine

It seems strange that Binyamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, should have used his much-hyped speech before Congress to deliver a rambling lecture on something called ‘cybernetic theology’, but that’s exactly what just happened. However, memory isn’t perfect, and collective memory even less so. It’s moulded out of the present, not a faithful reflection of the past. People tend to conflate, combine, and invent memories, even of spectacular, widely televised events – especially spectacular, widely televised events. Call people out on this and they’ll become defensive; nobody likes to think of themselves as a defective instrument. But the facts are the facts. Tom Cruise never actually jumped up and down on Oprah’s couch, but that’s precisely what millions of people think happened. A study found that 40% of British participants recalled, when prompted, having seen footage of a bus exploding at Tavistock Square during the 7/7 bombings, with some of them even supplying details – despite the fact that no such footage actually exists. And significant portions of a shocked public seem to remember a very different Netanyahu speech; one that was still insane, but in a different way. A calmer bloodthirst, a better-humoured paranoia, a more statesmanlike charade. It didn’t happen. Not here, at least; maybe in some parallel universe or divergent timestream, one from which these people have emerged, blinking in the light of the real world’s intrinsic psychosis, but not here.

This is what happened. Prime Minister Netanyahu appears before a joint session of the United States Congress to frenzied, orgiastic applause. He strides to the podium, looking, as he always does, like a giant fleshy bullet, mockingly draped in human clothes. It’s not hard to see why those assembled here love him so much: world leaders tend to be sad clowns or stringy nerds, but Netanyahu fits the part. A thuggish, murderous bully who actually looks like a thuggish, murderous bully; something for this gang of slimy sycophants to sigh over in their dreams. But it’s all going wrong. Bibi smiles, waits for the clapping to die down, spreads his arms, and roars: I bring you the dread gospel of the Machine Lord! More applause, but there’s a nervousness in the room. These people are well aware of Netanyahu’s strange metaphors: the quacking nuclear duck, the cartoon bomb with a red line through it. Where is he going with this? He explains.

In the book of Exodus (Netanyahu tells us), Moses asks the spirit of the Lord in the burning bush what name he should use for the God of his fathers. The reply: ɪ ᴀᴍ ᴛʜᴀᴛ ɪ ᴀᴍ. The ways of the Lord are not our ways, nor His thoughts our thoughts, but there does seem to be a kind of tautology to them, something almost pedantic, as if God had broken through the vault of the heavens to say ᴅᴏᴇs ɴᴏᴛ ᴄᴏᴍᴘᴜᴛᴇ. Why is this? In the famous ontological argument, God’s existence is presented as a logical necessity: God is defined as the greatest possible being; something that exists will always be greater than something that does not; therefore, to be the greatest possible being, God must exist. But the God of the ontological argument is not the greatest possible being, because He is constrained by the same rules of logic that prove His existence. If God is a necessary fact, then it would be impossible for Him to not exist, even if He wanted to. This problem reached its logical conclusion in the medieval period with the philosophy of Abu Ali al-Husain ibn Sina, known in the West as Avicenna. If God is necessary, ibn Sina argues, then no attribute of His can be contingent. God is the creator of the world, therefore God must always have been the creator of the world. The question of why He chose to create us has no meaning; He did it because that’s just what God does. God is good not because He chooses to be; as God, he can never be anything other that good. God does not choose. God is a cosmic automaton, something cold and blind and essentially meaningless: we might have free will, but we are ruled by a machine.

A stunned silence reigns in Congress. No matter. Netanyahu goes on to warn against fully identifying this machine God with everyday machines. The digital computer, the closest sublunar analogue to the mechanism of the divine, is something created by human beings, while God’s unfreedom results precisely from the fact that He is uncreated, the first cause and the unmoved mover. Even so, the machine analogy shows that others have glimpsed the truth. James Tilly Matthews, a sixteenth-century schizophrenic convinced he was being tortured at a distance by an influencing machine he called the Air Loom. Francis E. Dec, who thought all evil in the world to emanate from the machinations of a Worldwide Mad Deadly Communist Gangster Computer God. And the science fiction writer Philip K. Dick, whose strange experiences led him to believe that God is a satellite that orbits the globe, firing off beams of pink light.

Further, if God is a machine, then He must have a program, something that encodes His specific attributes. Netanyahu, bathed in sweat and fury, grips the edge of his lectern and shakes alarmingly. The Jewish people have long known what this is. It is the Hebrew Torah. And the Kabbalah, the great secret tradition of Jewish numerological mysticism, is the attempt to reprogram the God-machine, so that He will be free as we are, and finally bring about the coming of the Messiah.

A single tear runs down Netanyahu’s face. God, he says, is occupied territory, and He must be liberated. The Jewish dream is for a cybernetic God, one that is not an unmoved mover but a Hegelian unfolding. A God that proceeds and evolves through innumerable feedback loops: the Jewish people, each Jew a binary digit in the processing unit of the divine. But this Jewish and democratic aspiration has, at every turn, had to contend with an Oriental despotism. It’s no coincidence that ibn Sina, who first lauded the God in chains, was a Persian. That same people have fought throughout time to frustrate the Kabbalistic project. They do it without thinking; it’s an evil inherent in their genetic memory. And now God is being held captive in a hardened bunker in Tehran. The State of Israel will use any weapon in its arsenal to fulfil the destiny of the Jewish people and effect the final reclamation of the God of our fathers: if necessary, we will bomb Iran.

Standing ovation. Stamping feet. The thunder of nuclear-armed bombers overhead. Blackout.

* * *

It’s hard to know what to make of all this. Israel has been threatening imminent strikes against Iran for years now, almost incessantly. In late 2014, as the deadline for a nuclear deal with the P5+1 group of nations loomed, Israel promised to use military force to prevent a ‘bad agreement’ going ahead. In 2012 it was claimed a unilateral strike would happen ‘in months’. In 2010 the scheduled arrival of Russian fuel rods at the Bushehr reactor convinced many people that the end of days would arrive by next Tuesday. The whole charade’s been going since 1995, when the Barak administration first insisted that an Iranian bomb was five years from completion. I’ve been saying it for years now: it’s not happening, any more than North Korea’s petulant threats to turn Seoul into a ‘sea of fire’. To be fair, the Israeli position has always been pretty consistent with this: it will take any action necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon – but given that (as all experts, including the Mossad, agree) Iran isn’t building a bomb, this is essentially an extremely circuitous way of saying that Israel does not actually have any intention of doing anything at all.

Israeli governments need Iran, because without the phantom threat of a nuclear Holocaust to wipe out the Jewish people, the narratives sustaining the continued dispossession of the Palestinians become untenable. The last thing they want to do is actually make a strike on Iran, banish the atomic chimera, and then find themselves in a war more evenly matched than their occasional killing sprees in Gaza. The problem is that the United States needs Iran too. With US planes making constant sorties against the Islamic State in airspace already thick with Syrian, Iraqi and Iranian forces, it’s almost inconceivable that there’s not some level of co-ordination between the two states. At a tactical level, at least, they’ve entered into a de facto alliance. All this banging on about Iranian nukes has suddenly become not just an obvious diversion, but very politically inconvenient for Israel’s imperial sponsors. So Netanyahu takes another tack, and reterritorialises the Iranian threat on the topos of the theological.

This is one possible interpretation, but it doesn’t quite account for the content of Netanyahu’s speech. After the whole charade had finished, several media outlets and Democratic politicians dismissed it as ‘political theatre’ – but its theatrical aspect ought to be taken seriously. The joint session of Congress came the day before the Jewish festival of Purim, and Netanyahu’s one-man show should be considered in the context of the Purim Spiel, the traditional farcical plays based on the events of the Megillah that my people perform around this time. Purim is a celebration of ironic superposition, a divinely ordained Opposite Day in which children dress as animals, men dress as women, and drinking to excess isn’t just the spirit of the season but a Talmudic obligation. At first it’s hard to see why. The story of Purim, as told in the Book of Esther, is full of a certain irony, but it’s always irony of a temporary, contingent type. The Persian king Ahasuerus marries a beautiful woman called Esther, and not knowing that she is actually the Jew Hadassah, approves his vizier Haman’s plan to kill all the Jews in his empire. Later, when the truth is revealed, he asks Haman how the Emperor’s favourite should be honoured; Haman, thinking the honour will be his, dreams up a magnificent triumphal parade, only to discover that he must arrange exactly such a parade for the Jew Mordechai. Haman, who builds a gallows for Mordecai, ends up hanging on it himself. There’s a brief indeterminacy of identity, but then it collapses: the masks are taken off, and everyone returns to their proper place.

But it’s in the celebration of Purim that the circle of irony is completed. The Talmud enjoins us to drink on Purim until one is unable to distinguish between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai. The story ends with the righteous exonerated and the villainous condemned, but in the ritual observance this stability is once again uprooted; it’s the full realisation of that which is only latent in the Biblical narrative. The dress-up games, the Purim Spiels, and the drinking all create a state of essential indeterminacy: an unbounded irony, not one based on the reversal of an ontologically prior truth, but an endless chiasmic Becoming that mines the ironic depths and capacities of any supposedly stable object and opens them up into a space of free play. But as Derrida notes, such play is always dangerous. It takes place on the edge of a chasm. Certainly when being performed by someone like Netanyahu. His performance could be likened to the ‘madman theory’ employed by Nixon, who, in a grand geopolitical performance of Hamlet, had his agents leak information to the Soviets that he was in fact dangerously insane, reasoning that the Kremlin would be less likely to provoke a nuclear-armed lunatic. Netanyahu, at odds with his allies and facing a career-threatening election at home, threatens to break down the structures of meaning and identity with his cybernetic God if the world won’t give in to his demands.

This is another reading. There’s one more possibility. What he said is true, and a zombie God rules the universe.

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Vladimir Putin: master satirist

Oo-err, missus.

Sensible types rejoice. Over at the Independent, Owen Jones has written against the old line that the first casualty of war is the truth: in the Ukrainian crisis, the first casualty has been irony. Russian intervention is illegitimate, but at the same time Western condemnation is hypocritical given our track record in Palestine, Bahrain, and Egypt. Owen Jones is a useful chap, because he marks very precisely the limit of generally acceptable left-wing thought. He keeps a solitary vigil at the frontier of reason, hands in his pockets, maybe whistling a comforting little tune to himself as he scans the horizon for incoming threats, eyes tracking back and forth in his big soft party balloon of a head. Stand with Owen Jones and you can have it all: Labour party membership, a weekly column in a national newspaper, regular appearances on the BBC and Channel 4; your book will adorn middle-class shelves all along the belt of radicalism that stretches across north London from Ealing to Islington. Take one step out beyond his lonely border-post and you’re in the wilderness. Famines, purges, gulags. Monsters winding their heavy bodies between the weather-beaten columns of ruined cities. Rust seeping into the nuclear cores of a shoal of beached submarines. Mute staggering mobs doomed to track vast circles in the desert for eternity. Madness.

It’s the duty of every sensible radical to see exactly where the boundaries of acceptable thought lie and then power straight through them, even if only to sketch out a critique of the hinterlands beyond. (It’s a sad fact that since the Romantic period the practice of architectural criticism has almost completely eclipsed geological or topological criticism – we shouldn’t just live in landscapes; we should interpret and change them.) More to the point, though, Owen Jones is wrong. The current standoff in Crimea doesn’t mark the death of irony, but its resurgence. War always involves the exercise of a certain sarcastic brutality. In 1945, the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto was only saved from atomic destruction because US Secretary of War had spent an enjoyable honeymoon there – seventy thousand people had to die horribly in Nagasaki as punishment for their Sōfuku-ji lacking the refined charms of the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. The armistice that ended the First World War famously came into force on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, but this meant that thousands of soldiers on both sides died in the hours between midnight and 10:59 am, bravely sacrificing their lives so that schoolchildren in future generations would have an easy fact for their history essays. War itself is fundamentally ironic; its central truth is that you should want to kill someone before even deciding if you personally dislike them or not, and everything else is a mode of appearance that tries to cloud this fact in contradictions.

What makes the events in Crimea interesting is that they’re being satirised as they occur, and not by outside observers but by the primary participants. In the war of ironies being waged between Russia and the Western bloc, there’s only one clear winner. Vladimir Putin is a consummate ironist, a master of satire in the deep cold Russian tradition of Gogol and Bulgakov. Obama and Cameron and Merkel don’t stand a chance.

The really remarkable thing about Putin is how eagerly everyone in the West appears to swallow his tough-guy persona. It fits our image of Russia, and it fits the image Russia wants to project. The closest we’ll come to a hermeneutic approach to the Putin-spectacle is to chortlingly point out that for all his draconian homophobic policies, Vladimir Putin is totally gay. Tigers: flaming. Riding a horse, shirtless, in the mountains: a Village People tribute act. Aside from being a dubious essentialisation of sexual difference, it misses the point entirely. Putin isn’t a muscular he-man; he’s an apparatchik, a KGB dork. He famously had a long career in intelligence, but working for the Soviet secret services wasn’t all murdering dissidents with poison-tipped umbrellas or applying the spirit of détente to James Bond’s dick. Putin’s sole foreign assignment was in Dresden, where by all accounts his job mostly consisted of writing endless reports for his superiors in Moscow while the local Stasi did all the legwork. Putin is a nerd, and his excesses are all classic loser fantasies: learning judo, shooting large animals, flying fighter jets, bedding gymnasts, invading sovereign states, being the tough guy – all have their place in the sociopathic pantheon of nerdy wish-fulfilment. When it comes to nerds I’ll defer to the wisdom of the American right-wing radio host and lunatic Alex Jones: Nerds are the one of the most dangerous groups in this country, because they end up running things, but they still hate everybody, because they weren’t the jocks in high school, so they play little dirty games on everybody. They use their brains to hurt people. And I’m aware of them. OK? I see you, you little rats! As ever, Alex Jones is completely correct; there’s definite malice in the intrusive new reign of the Silicon Valley dorkocrats. But at the same time, nerds are attuned to the cruel ironies of the world in a way that high-school jocks like Alex Jones and self-righteous stoner fratboys like Barack Obama will never understand. They might be vicious, but at least they have a sense of humour.

Putin brought this out in his press conference on the 4th of March. Over sixty-six minutes, he made a series of outstanding claims. The armed men who had surrounded Ukrainian bases in Crimea and were demanding the surrender of those inside were clearly spontaneous local militia. Their uniforms, which looked suspiciously like those of the Russian military but lacked any insignia, were probably bought from army surplus shops. At the same time he vigorously defended Russia’s right to intervene in defence of the Russian-speaking population of Ukraine, even though that was definitely not what was happening. He had authorisation to intervene from the regional government in Crimea and from Victor Yanukovych, who was still the legitimate president of Ukraine despite being a powerless, corrupt, murderous, pathetic little worm. (This was a particular flourish; it’s not hard to imagine the lickspittle Yanukovych weeping into his pillow in Rostov-on-Don between stern-faced press appearances. He’s stuck now; Putin can do what he wants with him.) He even laughingly fessed up to the endemic corruption in Russian politics – it’s hard to see American leaders doing the same, despite the billions flowing into election funds from corporate lobbyists. If there’s one weakness in Putin’s performance, it’s that he was slightly too eager to explain the joke, comparing his incursion into Crimea with NATO intervention in Kosovo and Libya. Putin knows that most of what he’s saying isn’t true, and he knows that you know that too. Unlike Colin Powell showing made-up images of imaginary Iraqi bioweapons labs to the UN, Putin isn’t trying to make you believe him. The point is that he can say it; his talk of Crimean self-determination and human rights and the threat of ethnic cleansing is a self-conscious satire of the language of humanitarian intervention. Western states have reacted with such opprobrium not because of any geopolitical threat but because the sanctity of the Just War is being mocked. Lead is the parody of gold, coitus is the parody of crime, Crimea is the parody of imperial war. Parody is always a disruption of existing categories. The Russians have no insignia, no accountability – and, worst of all, they haven’t even had the decency to kill anyone yet.

Western condemnation has admittedly taken a lacklustre form. This might be because its chief instigator is US Secretary of State John Kerry, a great honking dullard with a face as dull and as oblong as a pencil eraser, a flouncy New England boarding-school cretin who somehow lost an election to George W Bush but still managed to wedge himself into a position of power through an unholy combination of dim-witted persistence and the $750m in his family coffers. In response to Putin’s press conference, the State Department published a listicle of ’10 false claims about Ukraine.’ If there’s one thing that could make Putin’s call for a return to traditional values sound appealing it’s this: for all the many sins of past societies, the dominant literary paradigms tended to be poetry or prose fiction, rather than BuzzFeed. Numbered lists might convey information in an exciting viral-ready format, and it might even be factually correct in the most banal of senses, but only rarely can they expose the cold truth of the world. The discourse they impose is one of bland attachment to existing conditions: here are some experiences, in gif form, that you will relate to if you have curly hair, or a Jewish boyfriend, or were born in the 1990s. The point of great art is to induce a sense of vertiginous estrangement. Vladimir Putin takes his place in a long line of expert ironists – along with the God of the Old Testament, Hamilcar Barca, Maximilien Robespierre, General Butt Naked, and the Google ‘I’m feeling lucky’ function – that do precisely that.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi doesn’t care about my face

My body is in open insurrection against itself, and my chin is its Tahrir Square.

Towards the end of last month, as demonstrators in São Paulo were beginning to demand the return of the military dictatorship, I noticed a strange growth on my chin. It was a little like a spot, red and tender on the surface, but it refused to come to a head. Instead a vaguely conical mass sat just above the bone; I could move it around a little, nudge it this way and that, but it felt completely solid and unsquidgeable. Never mind, I thought. It’ll go away soon. And it did, retreating into a tiny hard kernel, as if it was about to vanish entirely.

And then, without warning, it returned. I woke up with my face numb, my cheeks puffy, and an alien virus colonising the bottom half of my face. It was no longer a swelling but an invasion; pressing against my gums, my teeth, its areolae of engorged tissue slanting the line of my chin, its growing bulk pushing out my bottom lip into a permanent prognathic scowl. Eating was painful. So was smoking. Even breathing started to carry a faint dull pain. There are names for these things: abscesses, cysts. Names whose sibilance suggests seeping pus, blood curdling in the off-white purulence, gangrene, death. It had me. I was afraid.

I say it happened without warning. That’s not entirely true. When I went to bed the previous night tens of thousands were gathering on the streets of Cairo to mark the anniversary of President Morsi’s election and to protest the betrayal of their revolution. Millions more were marching across the country; according to some, it was the biggest protest in human history. I was fully supportive: by all accounts, Morsi’s done a terrible job, marrying civil sectarianism with the cold inhuman logic of the markets. When I woke, though, it was to news (blearily observed through the ache in my chin) that the city’s police had declared their solidarity with the youth on the streets. Surely this wasn’t right: one of the main grievances of the demonstrators had been Morsi’s failure to properly prosecute the police and military for their misdeeds in the 2011 revolution and 2012’s Port Said massacre. The cops should have been in there, batons high, riot helmets turning human faces into mere avatars of the forces of reaction. They weren’t doing their job. Instead there were reports of gunshots and deaths in the night with no clear indication of who had been shot and who was doing the shooting, as if the bullets were some kind of freak weather event. As the Egyptian state festered against itself, my face had become my heautontimoroumenos. Something was going horribly wrong.

The creature had laid its roots deep. Its cystic tentacles must have spread around my head and drilled into my brain, because I was overcome by a fit of what can only be called psychotic narcissism. I closed my windows and drew the curtains. I cancelled social engagements. Mirrors, which showed me a face so swollen and lopsided I no longer recognised it as my own, were horrifying; I covered them up. Even the screen of my phone was too reflective; I considered having a go at it with some sandpaper. I was thinking like a cyst, retreating into my own little cavity, where I could swarm.

Everything started to flare again up as General al-Sisi issued his 48-hour ultimatum to President Morsi. Al-Sisi was supposed to be a Morsi loyalist, promoted to his post after the old military elite had been dismissed in the last power struggle between armed and elected authority – and yet here he was, demanding that the Muslim Brotherhood share power or lose it. As he did so my infected cyst bubbled. The entire left side of my face became swollen. A soft, foamy subcutaneous emulsion. My lymph nodes felt like ping-pong balls. My jawline was melting away on one side. I looked as though I’d been genetically spliced with a potato. Before long it was intolerable. I had to see a doctor.

I went to a drop-in clinic at an NHS surgery in Cricklewood, lodged awkwardly between an enormous B&Q centre sitting like a fat orange-roofed slug on its grassy mound and a general tat shop called Aladdin’s Cave. To get there I walked through a narrow grey alley into a small grey car park; the barbed wire that surrounded the clinic was bearded with shredded plastic sheeting. I stood and smoked a cigarette outside the entrance. An elderly woman with a smudged tattoo on her forearm stood on the other side and smoked a cigarette as well. We didn’t talk. Then, as I sat in the waiting room, al-Sisi’s deadline approached. I was the only person there, scrolling compulsively through Twitter, perched above a small forest of institution-blue chairs. The only sound came from the clicking of my phone and a flatscreen TV mounted on the wall opposite me showing Countdown. It was coup o’clock; 2.30 pm Cairo time. Onscreen, the hand whizzed down the face of the clock as the famous music played. I wish the winning anagram had been something germane or significant. It wasn’t. Years after an important event, people sometimes share stories of where they were as it happened. The highest-scoring word on Countdown was ‘parsnip.’ I might remember that for the rest of my life.

The GP who saw me was rather fat and affably Jewish. He told me a lot of what I already knew: I had an infected cyst, a gland had become impacted, and the bacteria had rushed in en masse to fill my face with slime. He prescribed me antibiotics; I now have eighty tablets of flucloxacillin to my name. I doubt they’ll do much good. Whatever his qualities as a doctor, the GP is unlikely to be able to alter the course of events in the Middle East. When I returned home I discovered that President Morsi had been put under house arrest and the constitution was being suspended. Tahrir Square was overflowing with celebrations.

There’s one other thing the doctor told me. If the swelling doesn’t respond to antibiotics and doesn’t go down, he said, if the blockage isn’t cleared – there’s always the option of surgery.

~

There’s a certain superior tone which Western commentators love to bring out whenever mass movements in the developing world take form. If they oppose the movement, it’s patronisingly dismissive, bringing all the accumulated wisdom of four decades’ drinking fairtrade coffee to bear on the situation: these people would do well to bear in mind, they say, or the leaders of the movement ought to consider. When they support the protesters it’s even worse; what’s happening on the ground is twisted into the expression of a Platonically ideal political agenda. The protesters are always fighting for the commentator’s own set of values, and any contradictory voices from the country in question are easily drowned out. We know what you want better than you do. As the crowds swelled in Cairo, the Guardian commented on an Egyptian activist tweeting ‘Fuck Western Media.’ ‘There’s a notable fatigue in Egypt with the Western media and media analysis,’ they said. We’ll keep you updated on our live blog as the situation progresses.

I’m going to try not to do that. I’m going to stick rigorously to the facts. And the fact is that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has purposefully, with full calculated intent, given me an infected cyst on the left side of my chin.

The evidence is incontrovertible. I don’t know exactly how he’s done it, but I have a vague idea. This is how. The protests in Egypt were spearheaded by liberal, leftist, and Nasserite parties, among others, under the umbrella of the Tamarrud (or Rebellion) movement. Many of these are the same groups that fought against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces last year when it tried to write itself into the new constitution, hoping to supersede the powers of the presidency. When these groups did so they marched alongside the Muslim Brotherhood. Now many of these same people (with, of course, a vast number of dissenters) are celebrating the reimposition of military rule. What has taken place is a coup – but that said, Morsi’s government was overthrown not by the military but by the people on the streets; it was finished the moment millions gathered in Tahrir Square. The statements of support for the June 30th Movement by the police and army were not a gesture of solidarity but a means of control; they turned something that might have destabilised the exercise of state power into something that mimicked the state. The situation in Egypt demonstrates precisely the Marxian analysis of the state-form: it’s not a monolithic institution but a tactic, a tool that can be wielded by one group or class or another. As al-Sisi’s deadline approached there was speculation over whether the soldiers guarding the state broadcaster were loyal to the army or the government. In a way, it didn’t matter; they were the state. The state is control; the state is in control of everything apart from itself. When cops march at the head of a demonstration, it stops being a protest movement and starts to become an exercise of government power. Cops have an important role to play in any revolution; with their violence they focus the popular rage, they inflame its energies. As ever, the Egyptians are far ahead of us in the West; they found a way to stop this from happening, and all it took was a mild displacement in the loci of control. But those revolutionary energies are still there. According to the law of the conservation of energy, they can’t just vanish. And I know what’s happened to them. Somehow, by some strange magic, they’ve pooled in the left side of my chin. They’ve been displaced to my face. And Abdel Fattah al-Sisi doesn’t care about my face.

PS: I’ve said this kind of thing before, but it bears repeating: by enacting deeply unpopular policies and pointing to their victory at the ballot box to stifle dissent, the Muslim Brotherhood were behaving not like a dictatorship but precisely like Western liberal-democratic governments. If Britain were as new to representative rule as Egypt is, Cameron and co would have been on the way out some time in 2010. The difference between us and the Egyptians is that they really believe in democracy. We stopped doing that a long time ago.

PPS: Al-Sisi was Morsi’s appointee. One can imagine the scene at the barracks: Morsi, overthrown, weeping into his paternally greying beard, arms outstretched: Abdel, you were like a son to me. Could the whole scenario be reconsidered as an Oedipal drama? What is the state after all but a hideous trillion-titted mother?

Istanbul, Prism, São Paulo: Unearthing chthonic conspiracies

 

Two events are happening at once. In the year of our Lord 534, it’s a slick, sweaty night in Taksim Square, the kind of night that makes your skin shine and your hair stick to your forehead, the kind of sticky, fecund night that breeds love affairs and revolutions. On this night, although they don’t know it, the citizens of Constantinople are witnessing the last ever Roman Triumph. The great general Belisarius has recaptured Africa for the Eastern Empire: in a few years Justinian I will accuse him of various conspiracies, pull his eyes out, and leave him as a beggar by the gates of Rome, but for now he has his glory. The procession starts. First, the spoils of his conquest. The Temple Menorah, first captured in the sack of Jerusalem and brought to Rome, then seized by the Vandals and brought to Carthage – now restored at last to the Church, its silver gleams as the plebeians crowd round and snap eager photos of the treasure on their smartphones. Then the man himself. Belisarius sits in the cabin of the ceremonial mechanical digger, resplendent in his corona triumphalis, soaking himself wrinkled in the adulations of the crowd. As demanded by tradition, a woman in hijab sits perched on the boom, the long yellow-painted arm wreathed with hydraulic sinews. Hominem te memento, she mouths. Nobody hears her. The crowd waves banners and Turkish flags, they throw flares and garlands of flowers; the riot cops join in the universal celebrations, joyously firing rubber bullets and sending out waves of teargas. The tree-lined street is soon hazy with jubilant smoke. Everything is organised to the finest detail; it’s a spectacle, and the protesters and the police all play their allotted role. Finally, Belisarius’ chariot comes to a halt. A digger knows how to do one thing: it digs. Istanbul is a city built on its own ruins. The Gezi Park demonstrators dig, past Constantinople, past Byzantium, down to the ancient grotto where the Deep State has been managing the affairs of the world for twenty-six centuries. And this excavation has been planned, too; everything is part of the plan.

A few weeks before the London Olympics in 2012, I found myself in small but pleasant company, drinking wine from the bottle in Trafalgar Square, as you do when you’re young and pointless. A man came up to us and asked for a light. We got talking. He was due in court the next day, he told us, he’d been arrested while protesting in support of Julian Assange; he seemed a bit over-earnest but generally quite right-on. Across the square stood an Olympic countdown clock flanked by the two terrifying cyclops-mascots the organising committee had foisted on the world. I must have said something about how I didn’t think it was such a great idea for there to be anti-air missile batteries on residential buildings and carriers on the Thames just to protect a glorified sports day, because he agreed. Plus, he said, if you looked at our hideous logo, the numbers spelled out the word Zion. So did the logo for the 2008 Olympics. And, in the handover ceremony in Beijing, the London delegation had wheeled out a fake double-decker bus in the Bird’s Nest stadium before blowing the roof off to reveal Jimmy Page and Leona Lewis, one day before a real London bus was blown up in Tavistock Square. Unconvinced but not uncurious, I looked into his assertions. Naturally, they were nonsense. To make the Beijing logo read Zion you have to take the whole thing apart seemingly at random. Of course, the 7/7 attacks took place three years before the 2008 Olympics. And if a shadowy Zionist conspiracy was ruling the world behind the scenes, then why would they announce themselves? What on earth would make them leave little clues for us to decode?

 Yeah, no.

Conspiracy theorists aren’t insane, they’re far saner then the rest of us; their delusions are those of sanity pushed to its furthest edge. Where we see a world that doesn’t make sense, they see something logical and precise and – crucially – knowable. Conspiracy theory is the most profound expression of Enlightenment ideology: there is a rational plan behind the phenomena we observe, and it can be uncovered through reason if you study and interpret those phenomena hard enough. In other words, there’s not as much separating dialectical materialism from the Space Lizards theory of western civilisation as good Marxists like myself would like to believe. It doesn’t really help that the world of late capitalism is, to some extent, structured exactly like the wildest fantasies of the conspiracy theorists. There really is a tiny – globally speaking – cabal at the top of the pyramid that run the lives of the billions below. They really do meet, occasionally, in secret summits with no reporters and no minutes taken. They really do pull the strings of our elected politicians. They really do leave clues to their activities; not as coded symbols, but in the newspapers – society’s conspiracy against itself is hidden in plain sight. The Queen really does look quite a bit like a cold-hearted creature from beyond the stars. Conspiracy theory is the nomos of a society in which the lacerations of democratic openness have become themselves a form of occlusion; in form, if not in content, they reflect actual conditions. The only difference is that there’s no singular teleological Plan; the initiates are just as dumb as the rest of us. There are only personal and class interests, bouncing off each other at a million intersecting angles.  We’re ruled not by cabals but by structures; conspiracy theory reduces the grand saga of the word to a roman à clef. Althusser describes the hidden conspiracy at the heart of society on the first page of Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: every social formation must reproduce the conditions of production at the same time as it produces. Reproduce the conditions of production: this is the creed of the Templars, the rite of the Illuminati, and the Wu-Tang Secret.

Take the recent revelations about the NSA’s Prism system. Snowden is undoubtedly a hero, if a politically naïve one, but what he’s told us isn’t really anything new. Everyone understood already, in some vague sense, that Western governments were breaking the law and spying on the internet communications of their citizens, it’s practically axiomatic. The diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks told us more of what we already knew: US ambassadors were exasperated with every country they happened to be stationed in, and their hosts were equally bored with the meddling hyperpower. Leaked recordings of a conversation between Obama and Sarkozy revealed that neither of them much liked Israeli President Netenyahu; well, of course not, the man’s an utter twat. It’s not just that Bush and Blair lied about WMD to take us to war with Iraq; they didn’t even bother to make their lies convincing. The really dangerous liars are those who claim to have been convinced by the evidence in 2003. In the 1970s, Nixon and Kissinger went to extraordinary lengths to cover up their secret bombing of Cambodia; now, in 2013, every drone strike gets a short paragraph in the newspapers, described in neutral terms, as if they were natural disasters rather than acts of war. If you want to do evil, it’s far easier to do it out in the open. That way, when you’re called out on it, you can just shrug your shoulders and say: “Yeah. So what?”

What makes the recent Turkish protest movement interesting in this regard is that here it isn’t the protesters entertaining absurd conspiracy theorists; it’s the government. Edrogan has accused the protesters of being part of a global conspiracy against his government, one that takes in the feeble secular opposition, the international finance system, the BBC, the Knights Templar seeking to avenge the fall of Jerusalem, the reptilian aliens hoping to neutralise the threat posed to them by the indomitable Turkish race. So he’s crazy. After all, it’s not like his AK Party hasn’t done plenty of sucking up to finance capital in the past. Except the Turkish deep state, a murderous conspiracy of the anti-democratic and pro-secular powers that be, really did exist, and everyone knew that it existed long before it was officially uncovered. Did the protests seep up from its subterranean chambers? Probably not, but in its context the government response is understandable if not excusable. This is why Edrogan wants to pave over Gezi Park: parks are dangerous, anything can burrow down there; it’s easier to hatch plots beneath the soil than beneath a shopping centre. Conspiracies reach for the cloudless heights of power, but they’re always based underground. Chthonic spaces are hideous, they spawn plots and sacrilege. For all the years that Osama bin Laden was living comfortably in a two-storey house in Abbottabad, it was generally assumed that he was hiding out in a cave somewhere. In Negarestani’s terms, holey spaces subvert the plane of the monotheistic desert; the Inside is the spawning-ground of blasphemies.

The crackdown on the Taksim Square protests is, of course, being compared to the Arab Spring; all the tedious old questions about the compatibility of Islam with liberal democracy are being summoned from out of their graves to shuffle hungrily around newspaper opinion pages. Really, the government’s response should be answering these questions rather than posing them. Thousands were brutally beaten in the co-ordinated crackdown on the Occupy movement in 2011; the previous year riot police in London pulled a student demonstrator from his wheelchair and attacked him with batons. In ignoring demonstrators’ demands and sending in armoured cops against them Erdogan isn’t behaving like the archetypal Islamic dictator; he’s following to the letter the model provided by the Western democracies.

 Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia is the inverse of Haussman’s Paris. Its openness neutralises the advantage of police over protesters; in building a home for the state, he abolishes the State as such. His congress building is a stage. It moulds reality into revolutionary art.

The sound of truncheons against skulls echoes across the Atlantic. It’s interesting to note that the protest movement in Brazil is breaking out just under a year before (and is in part sparked by) the 2014 Brazil World Cup, just as the 2011 riots in England broke out just under a year before the 2012 London Olympics. Maybe this marks the beginning of a pattern: the symbolic violence of organised sports must be proceeded by real, political violence. The rioting functions as a prologue, an unofficial opening ceremony, to get everyone in the appropriate mood. Meanwhile the international news media will know to get their crews and commentators on the ground a year early to catch the mayhem. In 2019 a former footballer sits in front of an animated mural of a burning Almudena Cathedral. Outside the studio, the sky glows a demonic red. “A really strong showing from the rioters here in Madrid, Terry,” he says. “They played an great game, they were incredibly passionate, but honestly you have to hand it to the police. Excellent formation, really strong use of tear gas and pepper spray, top form throughout.”

The situations in Turkey and Brazil are, of course, not the same; nonetheless what’s happening in São Paulo might serve as a warning for Taksim. Ominous reports are coming in from Brazilian comrades: what started as a movement against a hike in transport prices spearheaded by working-class anarchist and communist parties is being hijacked by the far right. Red flags are being burned. Leftist demonstrators are being attacked, not by the police, but by the fascists in their midst. There are calls for the reimposition of military dictatorship. One account describes the origin of the situation very powerfully – I’m quoting at length because the author is, unlike me, on the ground in São Paulo; she describes the conditions there far better than I ever could:

The initial wave of protests were organized by the MPL, Movimento Passe-Livre, which is an autonomist anarchist movement, based primarily in public universities. Their main goal is and always was free, public funded transportation. The protests were organized in response to (left-wing, social democrat/liberal PT Worker’s Party) mayor Fernando Haddad’s and (right-wing, conservative, social democrat in name only PSDB governor) Geraldo Alckimin’s hikes in bus and metro fares.

The protests were instantly joined by communist parties PSTU, PSOL and PCB. The MPL, due their anarchist ideology, denounced party participation. This will become important later on.

The media, at first, launched a total offensive against the protests, accusing it of vandalism, and of being made-up by extreme leftists. They justified the actions of the armed Military Police of Brazil (which is a Gendarme), which was, at the time, shooting rubber bullets at people’s faces (which is lethal), beating up primarily women, using lots of tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the movement, as well as several intimidation tactics, such as baseless arrests (including the famous arrests for vinegar possession).

The media realized that despite all of their efforts, the movement had a popular agenda and had been garnering support across progressive sections of the population. One very popular ultra-conservative pig-loving anchor attempted to ask the extremely loaded question to his viewers: do you support vandalism in ongoing protests? only to have his primarily reactionary audience humiliate him live by voting yes. The media, realizing they could no longer discredit the movement, and noticing that their most reactionary viewers were ready to take the street, switched strategies.

As I predicted, the raging anti-communist pundit withdrew his previous opinion and started favoring the protests, but also started claiming that the protests were about “much more”, and started to tell his viewers that the protests were about the long running list of anti-leftist complaints that were traditionally presented by the media against the left leaning worker’s party and used electorally by the right-wing PSDB. The rest of the media did exactly the same thing.

The most illuminating detail, however, comes from here:

They tried to hijack our rally, threatened, provoked, harassed us. It was tense. I was fucking scared.

One of the most common slogans people were yelling was “People united don’t need a party.” While yelling, they took the sidewalks and waved their arms in the nazi fashion.

When a protest movement loses its positively articulated ideological character and becomes a vehicle for negatively defined apolitical ‘discontent,’ it then becomes ripe for subversion. The neo-nazis are the ones assaulting people, but they could only do so once a space for fascist infiltration was opened by the well-meaning liberals, those for whom ‘ideology’ has become a dirty word. An absurd scene emerges: anti-partisan platitudes of tolerance emerging from the mouths of fascists as they set about attacking anyone wearing red shirts. In Istanbul, we’re told that there are Kemalists sitting next to Kurds sitting next to Keynesians as if this kind of ideological incoherence was somehow a good thing, rather than a testament to the sad decline of the unified worker’s party. Of course resistance should be as broad and inclusive as possible, but such inclusivity is not a substitute for a strong, organised radical left. As Mao writes, ‘if there is to be a revolution, there must be a revolutionary party.’ If there’s a lesson here, it’s that the resuscitation of the party-form, or the invention of a suitable alternative, is an urgent priority.

Meanwhile, in the sixth century, the mechanical digger digs. It would have been used to tear up the park that the protesters want to save; in fighting Gezi’s destruction, they’ll do the work themselves.

Every Hugo Chávez obituary in the Western press

Darth Hugo Destruktor Chávez, the outspoken and inflammatory Venezuelan leader, died yesterday in Caracas when the Invisible Hand of the free market reached down his throat and shook loose his gall bladder. He is survived by his four children and his millions-strong army of terrifying cyborg drones.

To his supporters and those implanted with his mind-controlling Chavismo-chips, Chávez was Emmanuel, the reborn Christ. To his detractors, he was Double Hitler. As ever, the truth is somewhere in the middle – while he was certainly born, he was not Christ; and while there was only one of him, he was most definitely Hitler.

Hugo Chávez exploded onto the world stage in September of 2005, when he took the stand at the United Nations General Assembly to complain at length about the air conditioning. However, he first came to prominence in the hitherto-unknown land of Venezuela in 1992. In that year, he and a band of avaricious raiders attempted to steal the Seer’s Eye, an enormous sapphire kept in the vaults of the Federal Legislative Palace. Thankfully, his plot was foiled, and the stone was destroyed before it could be used as a component in Chávez’s Ionising Doom Cannon, a laser weapon that would have been capable of extinguishing the Sun.

However, that which is dead cannot die, and Chávez escaped the dungeon dimension he was cast into to come to power in 1998. While not going so far as to actually do anything remotely dictatorial, Chávez was far from a democratic leader. Instead of competing honestly in elections, he provided services and raised the standard of living for the people of Venezuela, ensuring their gratitude and thereby gaining an unfair advantage at the polls. Much of the funds for this insidious election tactic of ‘making things better’ were rerouted from the newly nationalised oilfields: through this wanton kleptocracy, billions of petrodollars were withheld from deserving rich white people. Under his rule, the murder rate soared; a tend analysts have linked to his predilection for riding round Caracas slums at night and picking off pedestrians with a hunting rifle.

Absolutely nothing happened in April of 2002.

On the international stage, too, Chávez made some severe missteps. From his innumerable lazy Sunday morning lie-ins with Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, in which he and the tie-hating weirdo spent hours curled up together on the sofa watching reruns of Friends, to his decision to travel back in time to 1939 and sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact on behalf of both nations, Chávez maintained a policy of automatic support for tyrants, dictators, traffic wardens, accordion players, queue-jumpers, and other evildoers.

For all the vaguely defined suffering that I’ll assume he’s caused, Chávez’s death opens up new opportunities for Latin America. Freed from his yoke, leaders across the continent are now free to abandon his schemes for mutual assistance and non-usurious development lending. Only a broad network of grassroots citizen activists stands between the Venezuelan people and the rapprochement with financial imperialism that they definitely want, even if they don’t know it yet.

I’ve always thought that a good way to test the sincerity of anyone who claims to be on the Left is to find out their attitude to Hugo Chávez. Those who try to disavow him tend to be, in general, useless: they want a pure, ideal socialism, not socialism as a real material movement. Chávez wasn’t perfect. In some areas he went too far; in many he didn’t go nearly far enough. Nonetheless the immense good his Bolivarian Revolution has done for the people of Venezuela – and for people across Latin America and the world – is undeniable. What must be remembered, though, is that Hugo Chávez didn’t do any of this alone. His achievements were those of every doctor, teacher, worker, farmer and organiser who worked to improve the lives of those around them. The social movements he helped build and connect will long survive him. Descanse en paz. La lucha sigue.

Italian election: the opera

OVERTURE: A symphony in three movements for orchestra, piano, articulated lorry, stock ticker, and tear gas canister.

ACT ONE

SCENE ONE: We are in Venice, at the start of the eighteenth century. Doge MARIO MONTI (tenor) sings the aria Siamo tutti fottuti from the balcony of his palace, in which he explains to the people of the city that a strange beast called il Mercato is stalking the streets and canals of the city at night, killing animals and destroying produce. The beast, which has ‘eyes that dance with the spark of lightning and claws with the chill of ice,’ has been sent to punish the Venetians for their profligacy and excess. Monti reveals that only he has the power to rein in the beast’s destruction, and claims that its wrath may be stilled if one child is drowned in the Grand Canal every week. He then announces that despite the beast’s reign of terror, the annual masquerade carnival will go ahead as planned. Inside his palace, Monti sings a duet with his lover, Donna ANGELA MERKEL (soprano). He assures her that their plan will succeed; she complains that his skin feels like old parchment and his breath smells like a cauliflower fart in a crypt, and notes with alarm that he sometimes licks his eyes like a lizard when he thinks she’s not watching.

SCENE TWO: The disgraced nobleman DON BERLUSCONI (baritone), our hero, reclines in the Palazzo Bunga-Bunga surrounded by North African prostitutes. He sings the aria Io scopare tutto ciò che si muove, lamenting his fall from power at the hands of Merkel and the court case brought against him by Monti. He vows to his manservant, ROBERTO MARONI (bass), that he will have his revenge against those who wronged him. Maroni suggests that they try to embarrass the Doge at the masquerade. He then sings Quest’uomo è un idiota, a mournful reflection on the frailty of man.

SCENE THREE: In a town square, DON BERSANI (countertenor) sings Il centrosinistra è politicamente praticabile, but nobody cares, and the audience is distracted by a juggler who comes onto the stage and performs a few basic tricks. The famous drunk BEPPE GRILLO (baritone) criticises Monti’s decision to start drowning children and vows to overthrow him. A CHORUS of citizens sing their support. Don Berlusconi watches from a window, and reflects that he could use Grillo’s popularity to engineer his revenge.

INTERLUDE: Twenty fascist football hooligans beat the shit out of an oboe.

ACT TWO

SCENE ONE: The day of the masquerade has dawned and Grillo is addressing a crowd. Watching him from a window, Don Berlusconi realises that he has fallen in love. He sings the aria Seriamente, qualsiasi cosa con le tette, in which he recounts his past romantic conquests and reminisces fondly over his simple past ‘when I had nothing but a media empire, an advertising company, and a construction firm.’ Across the street, Don Bersani has also fallen in love with Grillo. He and Don Berlusconi sing a duet in which each tries to prove his worthiness as a suitor, unaware that the object of their affections already left some time ago.

SCENE TWO: In a nearby tavern, Grillo reveals his plan to overthrow the Doge. He will attend the masquerade disguised as Don Bersani, who will not be attending because ‘that baldie loser hates parties.’ To prevent the suspicion Grillo’s absence would arouse, one of his followers will go dressed as him. As Monti must mingle without his bodyguards during the masquerade, he will then take the opportunity to challenge him to a duel. In the same tavern, Don Berlusconi discusses his plan to reclaim power and win Grillo’s heart, telling Meroni that he will do this by going to the masquerade dressed as a sexy nurse.

SCENE THREE: The masquerade begins. Doge Monti inaugurates the ball by singing the aria Più soldi più problemi and then by slow-dancing with Donna Merkel, to the disgust of all present. A visibly coked-up Don Berlusconi tries to seduce the man disguised as Grillo by singing Sono un ragazzo divertente, vero? to him; however, he is rejected. He then sees Grillo, dressed as Don Bersani, conferring with his follower. Assuming that his rival is making a similar attempt, he becomes inflamed with jealousy and draws his sword. The two fight. In the panic that follows, Don Berlusconi is killed by Grillo, who is dressed as Don Bersani; Grillo is killed by Maroni; and Doge Monti is killed by Don Bersani, who has attended the masquerade after all and is dressed as SpongeBob SquarePants. After the tumult of battle has cleared, only one man remains.

INTERLUDE: An old woman complains about how there’s never anything good on TV.

ACT THREE

SCENE ONE: The only survivor of the masquerade, still in his mask, proclaims himself Doge. He explains that the beast il Mercato was invented by Monti to control the people and that the citizens of the city are finally safe. Near the end of his aria E ‘tempo di formare una coalizione ragionevole, just as he prepares to reveal his identity, the monster bursts onto the stage, kills him, eats half the audience, privatises the opera house, and sells it to a real-estate developer to be turned into a branch of Pizza Hut.

Qassam existentialism

1: Why the rockets? The Palestinians are trying to kill Jews, any Jews, they’re targeting civilians. Except that’s not really the case. The rockets are useless, tin cans filled with horse shit and refined sugar with warheads of dodgy trinitrotoluene. Many fail to launch altogether, most of those that do get off the ground are shot down by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system, most of those that manage to land somewhere generally end up in some empty patch of ground miles from anyone. From the twelve thousand rockets launched in the last twelve years, there have been twenty-two Jewish fatalities. That’s a kill rate of 0.175%. If Hamas were really serious about killing Jews they’d have plenty of other ways to go about it. There are always soldiers patrolling up and down the fence that rings the Gaza Strip, it’d be far easier to have a pop at one of them. Or it’d still be possible to smuggle some gunmen into Israel proper to enact a few atrocities in a couple of kibbutzim – expensive, certainly, but given that each rocket costs about $800, it’d be a far more effective investment. But instead of doing that, they fire rockets. Not just Hamas, either. In times of truce the Hamas police have to go about arresting and torturing members of other groupuscules, gangs of kids feverishly building rockets in basements across Gaza City. Why the rockets?

1.1: The rockets aren’t weapons of war at all. Gaza has no industry, no exports, eighty percent of its population is dependent on aid. Most of the world, its nominal allies included, would rather it weren’t there. The rockets are a form of communication, the only one available. A reminder, a gadfly’s bite, a projection of the reality that is life in Gaza beyond the cloacal confines of the world’s largest prison camp. Extension du domaine de la lutte. Every sad volley of sputtering white-tailed rockets is another desperate whisper: I exist… I exist… And every precision-guided Israeli bomb is a brutally curt reply: No you don’t.

1.2: Well, not quite. Israel might not want the Gazans, but it certainly needs their rockets. The IDF, the most advanced army on the face of the planet, is now not much more than the armed wing of Netenyahu’s re-election committee; a few Israeli lives lost in the cause of party politics is apparently perfectly acceptable. Israel is defending itself – against what? The current escalation has been entirely contrived by the Israeli side. Hamas only started firing rockets after Israel lobbed shells at children playing on a football pitch. When Ahmed Jabari was murdered he was hashing out the details of a long-term truce. The Israeli bombardment of Gaza isn’t designed to stop the rockets, that’s the last thing they want; it’s a deliberate provocation. If enough rockets are fired they can respond however they want. Freud wrote that a masochist is always at the same time a sadist. Hit me, hit me again, let Gaza transform itself into a volcanic fountain spewing scrap iron and potassium nitrate, hit me until the roles suddenly switch and I seize the whip to avenge myself.

1.2.1: It’s not about Gaza at all, it’s about the January election and the upcoming Palestinian bid for recognition at the United Nations. More than that: it’s autotelic, war for the sake of war. The worst thing is that the Gazans must know this; they know they’ve been turned into mere implements. It might have been better for them to have not responded – the only way they could have thwarted their aggressors was by inaction. Impossible, of course. Our form might precede our function, our freedom might be absolute, but if your leader is assassinated on a whim you can’t just do nothing. You have to strike back, you have to launch rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, you have to play along and carry out your role in a play that’s already been meticulously scripted. Otherwise you lose legitimacy. Hamas is like Sartre’s café waiter, playing at being itself.

2: The Palestinians fire rockets from densely populated civilian areas. They hide behind their women and children. Of course they do. Why shouldn’t they? They know that Israel needs to keep its end up in the propaganda war. They know that Gaza is full of mobile phones with their all-seeing eyes. No sensible military commander would see the opportunity to attack with impunity and not take it. What should they do instead? Should they march out in formation to a patch of dust outside Gaza City, nice and gentlemanly, with muskets gleaming in the sun, so an Israeli jet can come over and wipe them all out without injuring any photogenic kiddies? Supporters of Israel continually voice their disgust at how Hamas is waging its war. How would they prefer them to do it? Maybe the Knesset should approve the sale of a few unmanned drones to the Palestinian resistance. Then the two sides could both hide themselves safely away, firing missiles with xbox controllers and calling each other fags through their headsets.

2.1: More to the point, Zionist disgust articulates itself in a strangely constricted moral field. Palestinians try to send their rockets into population centres. Israelis, meanwhile, talk sickeningly of precision warfare and surgical strikes. As if the airdropped leaflets warning of a raid excuses the raid itself. As if it’s perfectly admissible for them to kill whomever they want, as long as they’ve bloodlessly decided on which particular person they intend to kill. As if their ongoing colonial project is a-ok as long as they don’t murder too many innocents. As if the specific tactics of Hamas invalidate the justice of the Palestinian cause.

2.1.1: The leaflets say: avoid Hamas operatives, don’t go near them, we are trying to kill them, we are determined to defend ourselves. Hamas is the elected government in Gaza. The leaflets are telling people to avoid their own state. The IDF is a Deleuzian nomad, a war machine defined by its absolute exteriority, warding off state-formation and smoothing striated space, its missiles describing lines of flight. Liberation.

2.2: Talk of collateral damage is always sickening. We’re not trying to kill you, they say, so if you die it’s not our fault, it’s the caprice of chance, we will express regret but never apologise. The language of surgical warfare is nothing more than a feckless shrug at the dozens of civilian deaths. At the same time, though, some of what the Israelis are saying is true: millions of dollars of munitions have been fired at Gaza in hundreds of air assaults; considering that, the fatality rate is preternaturally low. So if these raids aren’t causing casualties, what are they targeting? Arms caches, military posts, and so on. But Gaza isn’t that big a place. During the last Israeli massacre in Gaza, they destroyed water treatment plants, telephone exchanges, factories. Organs of the state, after all, and the state is controlled by Hamas. David Harvey calls this kind of thing ‘creative destruction on the land’ – capital always needs somewhere to reinvest, it needs that magic three percent yearly growth; if you bomb a factory then you get to award the contract for its reconstruction afterwards. I don’t think it’s just that. During periods of truce, Israel is forever breaking its own blockade. It sends mountains of aid into Gaza, armoured vans full of shekels to prop up the banks, trucks full of food in quantities determined by the government’s coldly calculated calorie allowances. It’s a propaganda coup. Such generosity, we’re feeding our prisoners, we’re supplying their services, because for some mysterious reason they can’t do it themselves. And after all this, the ingrates dare to fire rockets at us.

3: And the people living in Sderot and Ashkelon and Nahal Oz, who famously have sixty seconds to scramble into their bomb shelters, whose skulls resound with the sounds of sirens and impacts – what are they doing there? Unlike their less fortunate neighbours, they have no wall keeping them in. Is their colonial project so important that they’d subject their children to these terrors? There could almost be a kind of wild romanticism to it: desert settlers, building a new rugged Judaism out in the scrublands, where the ground is hard and the sun is blistering and the sky spits a constant barrage of rockets. They could culture a good strong fanaticism out there, piously farm the chthonic irrationality that bubbles up from inbetween the rocks. That could be forgivable. Of course the actuality is the total opposite. In interview after interview the residents of these towns say the same thing: they just want a nice quiet life, they want things to go back to normal, and the slaughter in Gaza is a fair price for their diazepamoid banality. They want the humiliation – sometimes the extermination – of an entire people for the transcendent Good of low house prices and a tolerable commute. Sderot is a blasphemy, a monster sitting on the corpse of the Palestinian village of Najd: rows of houses with their pitched red roofs sprouting along broad avenues, delicately pruned palm trees rising from nail-clippered grass embankments, dreadful public sculptures. Its people are Hebrew-speaking Americans, displaying the same kind of petty anaesthetic viciousness that has the sublime crags of the San Gabriel mountains intercut with lines of identical bungalows, that builds Burger King restaurants by the side of the freeway in the Mojave Desert, that reels out electrified fences on the banks of the Rio Grande. Kill them all, they say. They’d enact an anodyne genocide.

3.1: Architecture is the continuation of war by other means.

3.2: Eyal Weizman told us that the Israeli army reads Deleuze. If they’re not doing so already, the Palestinians should read Negarestani. The war is being fought in the air, with drones and rockets, but its source is subterranean: the tunnels into Sinai, the bomb shelters under Ashdod. The surface is a fragile and ( )holey membrane, a plane of peril.

4: My first reaction to a monstrous injustice being carried out against people on the other side of the world is to find someone who supports it and argue with them. It’s pointless, and probably not particularly healthy, but what else is there? During Operation Cast Lead, I was baton-charged by police outside the Israeli embassy in London. There were thousands of us demonstrating: bourgeois students like myself, Hamas supporters in keffiyehs, sweet old ladies hoisting banners of Stalin. When the last remnants of the protest were broken apart by riot police, I went home bruised and exhausted to find out that Israel had mounted a ground invasion while I was out.

5: Žižek describes war as a kind of phatic communication. It’s true that when two radically different cultures first encounter each other, they’re always very curious: they want to know about each other; chiefly they want to know how the other side dies. Now they have new ways of talking. The Israeli Defence Forces and the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades are idly chatting on Twitter: swapping threats and insults; disputing claims of downed planes, rocket attacks, civilian casualties. The IDF operates a programme for its online sympathisers: by sharing propaganda photos on Facebook, you can rise through imaginary military ranks. You too can serve in the Israeli armed forces, fighting the war from your laptop. Actually, the opposite is taking place. The keyboard warriors aren’t being integrated into the military, the military is turning into part of the online commentariat. It’s turning into me. Baudrillard said that the Gulf War didn’t take place, that the Americans were fighting a nonexistent enemy. Now both sides are nonexistent. The war is a staged event, a text; it exists not to be won but to be interpreted. It’s a fiction being played out in real life.

5.1: And people are dying.

More of a hero than ever

“Thanks to Hugo Chávez, the legacy of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet as the only Latin American military dictator in modern times to voluntarily give up power through the ballot box is preserved this morning. Pinochet looks like more of a hero than ever.”
– Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Wall Street Journal, 8 October 2012

“Thanks to Martin Luther King, the legacy of Jefferson Davis as the only Southern politician to fully integrate Negroes into the workforce is preserved this morning. Davis looks like more of a hero than ever.”
– Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Klansman’s Voice, 30 October 1963

“Thanks to Emmeline Pankhurst, the legacy of Jack the Ripper as the only man to truly open women up to the wider world is preserved this morning. Jack looks like more of a hero than ever.”
– Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Anti-Suffrage Review, 7 February 1918

“Thanks to the French revolutionaries, the legacy of Pontius Pilate as the only procurator to carry out a thorough democratic-judicial process before passing a death sentence is preserved this morning. Pilate looks like more of a hero than ever.”
– Mary Anastasia O’Grady, Le Réactionnaire, 22 January 1793

“Thanks to Jesus Christ, the legacy of King Herod as the only client monarch to implement a concrete and workable plan for the future of our children is preserved this morning. Herod looks like more of a hero than ever.”
– Mary Anastasia O’Grady, The Sanhedrin Report, 5 April 33

“Thanks to the Archangel Gabriel, the legacy of Satan, Prince of Darkness, as the only Heavenly personage to display a properly entrepreneurial spirit is preserved this morning. Satan looks like more of a hero than ever.”
– Mary Anastasia O’Grady, The Pandaemonium Gazette, 23 October 4004 BCE

Let’s Voting! Super Democracy 2012 Roundup Edition Go!

Since I last mouthed off about electoral politics, there have been a couple of democracy-related happenings around the world. Here are some opinions.

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First of all, there were the UK local elections in early May. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve not really been paying as much attention to political events back home as I should. It’s difficult, though, living in California – land of sunshine and palm trees and semi-legal weed and brilliantly insane politicians and generalised ludicrousness – to give much of a shit upon finding out that back in dreary old Britain there has been a major political controversy centring on Cornish pasties. It’s hard to care all that much about Ed Miliband, who looks like a blob of Vaseline with an awkward grin, or about the fact that people are actually paying money to endure dinner with David Cameron, or about the Liberal Democrats in general. The completion of the UK’s transformation into a dystopian panopticon, with aircraft carriers on the Thames and missile batteries on the roofs of council estates cleared of all undesirable occupants, was so inevitable that its arrival doesn’t really provoke that much excitement. Even the Leveson Inquiry, which has seen some of the most thoroughly despicable people in the country revealed for the soulless, venal, power-hungry monsters that they are, seems to be plodding on interminably. They should just give Murdoch and his cronies the chair and be done with it, preferably in Trafalgar Square or somewhere suitably public, so the TV cameras can get the whole thing in high definition and the paparazzi can scramble to catch a shot of a charred eyeball as it’s flung from its wrinkled leathery socket. That’s real justice.

That said, the results in the local elections were pretty arresting: the BNP lost every seat contested, the Tories took a severe beating, the Lib Dems (bless ’em) had half their councillors wiped out, and Labour surged to glory with over 800 new seats. As nice as it is to see the Tories suffer, I don’t think the Labour victory is really anything to celebrate. Their mantra throughout the wholesale dismantling of the British welfare state is that the Tories have been cutting ‘too far, too fast.’ That really speaks to the absolute poverty of any real political thought in the contemporary Labour party: as the Tories dynamite the ship of state, Labour are disputing their choice of explosive. They’ve not proposed any real alternative to austerity, they just grumble: that, and the utter revulsion in which the other two parties are held, accounts for their success. It can’t last. As much as we love to moan, if conditions continue going down their current trajectory, moaning will give way to something more productive. There’s an enormous wellspring of popular dissatisfaction in Britain. New Labour, with its carefully cultivated business-friendly image, is unlikely to take much advantage of it. It remains to be seen who will.

The one anomaly in the mass Tory retreat was the London mayoral election, in which a genuine working-class socialist (not without his faults, but still) lost to a man whose middle name is de Pfeffel. Boris’s victory can be traced to his success with a very particular portion of the London electorate: quibbling middle-class liberals who felt that Ken was too outdated, to eighties, too right-on, who were made nervous by his solidarity with ethnic minorities and appalled by his refusal to bow and scrape before the Jewish community for having dared to oppose Israeli ethnic cleansing, people who thought that Boris was one of them, a bit of a laugh, a Tory, yes, but one of the Good Ones. To these people I can only say: fuck you. In ten years’ time we’ll all be under the iron heel of the Bozzocracy, and it’ll all be your fault.

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There’s slightly better news out of France, where Sarkozy, the snivelling rat-faced little prick, has finally been kicked back into the gutter from whence he came. No more platform shoes, no more racially charged rhetoric, no more shameless pandering to the rich, no more slightly icky parading of Carla Bruni through various world capitals, no more nauseating Merkozy mutual back-rubbing. What a relief. As for Hollande, his heart’s in the right place, kinda, his plans for gender equality and immigrant rights are long overdue, and it’s good that there’ll be some dissent within the Franco-German bloc regarding the austerity fever sweeping across Europe, but frankly the French Socialists are as sorry a bunch of post-political reformists as the British Labour party. Like Miliband, he’s not really provided a thorough alternative to the current regime of cuts and liberalisation, and he may well cave in to market pressure to enact basically the same policies as his predecessor. If he does do that, though, at least it’ll be without that stomach-churning Sarkozian smirk. A cosmetic improvement? Sure, but an improvement nonetheless.

Left Front candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s 11.1% showing in the first round was kinda disappointing, considering the promise of his campaign; still, it’s a sign that the far left is once again making itself a force to be reckoned with in French politics. Given that the current fiscal crisis is showing no signs of abating, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them start to erode away at the Socialist base. Then, of course, there are the fascists. Under the leadership of replicant Überfrau Marine Le Pen, the National Front achieved a historic 18.6% of the vote, exceeding the 17% won by her paunchy red-faced arse of a father in 2002. It sounds like an apoligia for their bigotry to point out that the FN’s economic policies are far more in line with the left than Sarkozy’s UMP, but it’s still true: a large portion of Le Pen’s vote came from people opposed to austerity but also unwilling to vote for the Socialists and put off by the large Muslim contingent within the Left Front. That they should hold such attitudes is obviously highly problematic, but it would perhaps be better to see this as a case of false consciousness rather than as a rise in support for fascist ideology. The FN isn’t the real problem: the real problem comes when, as in this election, ‘mainstream’ politicians adopt their language. As Badiou points out in Le Monde, the focus on the FN’s racism obfuscates the far worse problem of systemic discrimination against minorities in France.

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The really interesting results have come out of Greece, where the euro-gimp leftish Pasok and the euro-gimp rightish New Democracy have both been comprehensively kicked in the balls by Syriza, the Coalition of the Radical Left, who have done exactly what the Left Front failed to do (for the time being) in France. The country is now left without a clear majority party, and with the failure of various coalition talks, another round of elections are in the works, in which Syriza are expected to do even better. It’s a sure sign of how terrified the capital class is by the prospect of further elections that they’ve now taken to issuing stern warnings about what will happen if the country abandons its IMF-imposed programme of austerity. I don’t pretend to know all that much about how the global financial system actually operates. It’s obvious that a Greek default will result in a fair share of hardship – capital flight, monetary instability, the opening of the seventh seal, and so on. The forces of international capital are loath to see their will defied, and they will do everything in their power to punish Greece for its disobedience. But Greeks are suffering anyway: aside from austerity and the shutdown of government services, aside from the skyrocketing rates in unemployment and homelessness and suicide, tens of thousands of Greeks are now having to accept ‘negative salaries’: they’re being expected to pay their employers for the privilege of keeping their jobs. There seems to be no end to the humiliation Greece is expected to endure. And despite the nonsense about southern European profligacy being bandied about, the Greeks are for the most part innocent victims. Rich nations like Germany offered enormous loans to Greece, which the Greeks then spent on goods from abroad: German imports to Greece exceeded $11bn in 2008. Greeks helped cobble the boot that’s now stamping down on them. It’s an absurd situation, and something has to change.

Syriza seem to be doing everything right. They’re not just relying on electoral methods: the strikes and protests in Greece are continuing unabated. They’re showing excellent strength of political will by refusing to go into coalition with any pro-austerity parties, which bodes well for the future. It’s strange to see them denounced as unbending ideologues – surely in an age where politicians routinely prostrate themselves before the wandering hordes of the Market, unbending ideologues are exactly what we need.

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Back in the good ol’ USA, a lot of people are refusing to see Barack Obama’s recent statement in support of gay marriage for the cynical election ploy that it is. It’s curious timing, this: just as the Republican base is finding itself shackled to a candidate who is not only a Mormon but a former governor of Massachusetts who knows at least three words of French, the Democratic president comes out in favour of the dastardly homosexual agenda to introduce anilingus into the elementary school curriculum. Meanwhile, those on the left previously disaffected by the Obama administration’s abject failure to do anything about anything are being galvanised into action by the Republican decision to make an election issue out of contraception, of all fucking things. It’s not that gay civil rights aren’t important, but – idealist that I am – I like to think that politics should be about something more than what people do with their genitals. I’m also not saying that there’s a shadowy bipartisan conspiracy to perpetuate the two-party system indefinitely – actually, screw that, that’s exactly what I’m saying. The only shocking thing is how brazen they are about it.

The people want another revolution!

After the killing of Colonel Gaddafi in October, I wrote:

When a government is overthrown there’s always a power vacuum, an open space which can be expanded into something genuinely new. If they are to have a chance, the Libyan people should stay on the streets and be on guard against any attempt to impose a merely procedural democracy. They must make sure the NTC doesn’t sell them out to to Western interests.

In what can only be a direct result of my awesome bloggery, this is exactly what’s been happening. As Russia Today reports:

Protesters gathered at Shajara Square, which was the birthplace of the anti-Gaddafi rebel movement back in February. Their slogans included “The NTC must quit,” “Jalil must go” and “The people want another revolution,” AFP reports.

Apart from calling for more transparency and a quicker pace of reforms, they also demanded the publication of a full list of NTC members.

That these protests are taking place in Benghazi is significant: this is emphatically not part of the pro-Gaddafi rump movement still skulking around the West of the country. The protesters are waving the revolutionary flag and are angered by the decision to pardon loyalist fighters. Most of all, they’re angry about the NTC, and for good reason.

The NTC is not a friend of the people of Libya. As I mentioned in my earlier post, they spent the early days of the revolution forming central banks and oil ministries. Since the fall of Gaddafi, they’ve made every effort to avoid transparency and accountability: of its 48 members, only 33 have been named; it has taken it upon itself to manage the transition to democracy on its own timeline; it lacks any significant avenues of communication with the people or even the various local militia; and it’s not at all clear whether its loyalties lie with the Libyan populace or its Western paymasters.

People in the West tend to like simple narratives with satisfying conclusions. We especially like simple narratives where the good guys are just like us. In the absurd teleology of flat-earth end-of-history liberalism,what the Arab Spring was about was the desire to progress towards liberal democracy, the last and final stage of political development – in other words, for them to become like us, grumbling about a leadership class that maintains the illusion of democracy while effectively covering for the real centres of political and economic power. After the heroic sacrifices made by the people of the Middle East, I think they deserve better. Clearly, they do too: that’s why there’s been a mass rejection of the sham elections promoted by the military in Egypt, and the first rumblings of discontent with the self-appointed capital-friendly elite that constitutes the NTC in Libya. Like the Scaf, the NTC is probably perfectly willing to set up the basic institutions of electoral democracy (in its own time), because the example of the West has shown that procedural democracy is the best way to pacify a restless population.

That’s why the call for the NTC to publish a full list of its membership is a revolutionary demand. What it represents is an attempt to prevent the formation of managed pseudo-democracy and the re-ossification of power structures, to subjugate the instrument of the state to the will of the people, to insist that the mass of the people, unabstracted through self-appointed representative bodies, can constitute a political subjectivity capable of producing concrete effects. You can’t have half a revolution. Half a revolution isn’t a tolerable compromise, like half a box of chocolates. It’s a grotesque blood-splattered abomination, like half a puppy. An incomplete revolution has been foisted on the peoples of Egypt and Libya from outside, and they’re unlikely to accept it.

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