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Tag: middle east

Sisterfucking up the Euphrates

In German, the prefix ur- is used to indicate the now deeply unfashionable sense of an originary, primal form of a thing, which is also its end. Something ursprünglich is the first of its kind, so you’ll have the Uraufführung, or the début performance; the Urtext, the lost first draft of the Hebrew Bible that supposedly existed before all the various priests started fucking around with it; the Urwald, the dense dark forest that once covered the whole of central Europe. The word itself is of good Old Germanic stock, and it’s probably just a coincidence that this caveman’s grunt of a syllable is also the name of a city: that built by ‘Ara son of Kesed, where he made graven images and unclean simulacra, where evil spirits seduced him into wrong and sin, and where the sons of Noah first began to make war on each other. It’s a word from the oldest of the old histories, from when the world was still new; the brutal hoary infancy of civilisation. Before the Romans or the Greeks or the Persians or the Babylonians or the Egyptians, there was Ur, the city on the mouth of the Euphrates where Abraham smashed the idols of his father.

Freud tells a nice parable about the origin of the superego, what could be called an Ur-über-Ich. Once, among a band of squatting cannibal ape-men that would one day become the refined intellectual circus of Vienna, there lived a great and powerful father. This father had many wives, and he took many wives for himself: some were the captured daughters of smaller bands, some were his own daughters. Such was his power that his sons were left with neither food, nor loot, nor wives, and were reduced to contesting among themselves for what scraps they could gain. Eventually, in the face of his unbearable potency, the brothers grouped together, overwhelmed their father, and clubbed him to death. That night they held a great feast, at which their father was the main course. At this moment, the superego was brought into the world. The brothers were jealous of their father, but at the same time they still loved him; out of their guilt the rapacious greed of the father became internalised as a moral code, with its first commandment being a restatement of his paternal rights: Thou shalt not fuck thy sisters.

Like most myths of the land of Ur(-), it doesn’t really matter if any of this actually took place or not. Hobbes and Rousseau were both happy to admit that their states of nature never really existed; Marx was equally unconcerned by the historicity of primitive communism. Freud has a particularly good get-out clause – as he has his ‘exasperated reader’ exclaim, so it’s immaterial whether one kills one’s father or not! While some fathers might have a different opinion on the matter, Freud concedes the point: wanting to kill your father and actually doing so both produce the same psychological effect; the same guilt, the same internalisation. It’s in this context that the story of Abraham begins to make sense. When he lived with his father Terah in the city of Ur, the family sold graven idols; Abraham destroyed these unclean simulacra and went with his wife Sarah into the desert. It doesn’t matter that Terah died peacefully at the age of two hundred and five: the idols, rooted in the paternal totem of the victorious brothers, represent what Lacan calls the name-of-the-father; the Symbolic father that maintains the prohibition on incest. It’s possible to advance an alternate reading of Abraham’s flight to Canaan: when he lived in Mesopotamia he was married to Sarah but still he couldn’t fuck her, not in the house of his father. The book of Genesis explains their childlessness by claiming that Sarah was barren, but the book of Genesis was also written by men, who are always a little squeamish when it comes to male impotence. Sarah was the daughter of Terah by his second wife: she was Abraham’s sister.

Lacan’s concept of the name-of-the-father is a triple pun: le nom du père recalls le non du père (the ‘no’ of the father, the prohibitive function of the superego) but also les non-dupes errent (the non-dupes err). Those who refuse to be ‘duped’ by the process of castration and induction into the Symbolic order – the kind of person who might, for instance, take it upon himself to smash the idols of his father – are not in fact seeing the world as it really is; they’re stuck among the horrors of the Imaginary. The book of Genesis is full of hints towards Abraham’s singular neurosis. Several times in his journeys, as he comes across various unfriendly peoples, he has Sarah pretend to be his sister – in other words, pretend to be what she really is – so that kings and pharaohs will try to sleep with her. For this God punishes them with plagues and nightmares: none shall disrupt His holy incest.

All this is by way of approaching an understanding of the current instability in Iraq. The land of Ur is, for the Western powers that have been steadily clubbing it for the last century, a feared and hated father. All the paternal functions of society first sprung up in the area between the Tigris and the Euphrates: alphabetical writing, codes of law, economic class, monotheism. In the pre-Oedipal stages of infantile psychology there is no recognition of sexual difference and the fantasy of anal birth is common, so it’s no wonder that the Iraq-Father assumes a hemaphrodite form. One vast leg stretches down the Arabian peninsula, the other is cocked between the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea. Between these lie the damp muddy openings of the rivers, passages leading up into the womb of civilisation, while beyond their fertile banks the desert stretches for miles. An old, decaying parental presence that refuses to die. No wonder everyone from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan to Winston Churchill felt the need to invade Iraq.

On the plane of grand strategy, nobody’s Middle East policy makes any sense. Saudi Arabia props up the secular Sisi regime in Egypt, and has threatened to blockade Qatar over the latter’s support for the ousted Muslim Brotherhood. At the same time Sisi supports the Assad government in Syria, which the Saudis have spent millions trying to overthrow, and is making friendly overtures towards Iran, while his deposed predecessor Morsi tended to align himself with the Saudi-Israeli anti-Tehran axis. The United States is now considering intervention in support of Iran against Islamist movements in Iraq, fighting the same people it’s armed and funded (through Saudi proxies) to fight Iran’s allies in Damascus. The ‘war on terror’ was never really a consistent programme: while Western imperialism made some efforts against Sunni salafism (Afghanistan in 2001, possibly Iraq now) it’s mostly been used to attack secular Arab nationalist governments (Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011, Syria from 2012). This is diplomacy as a dialectic. Its model isn’t the Nile, with its divisions along the axis of a straight line, but the swampy chaos of Mesopotamia. There are no fixed power blocs, not even Sunni and Shia, only a series of fluid phases successively subsumed in their own contradictions. It’s a grand process of decoding, the untethering of signification, the struggle against the Symbolic, the denial of castration, the murder of the father.

In 2003, the occupying US Army set up Camp Alpha, a huge military base in the ruins of Babylon. Helicopters buzzed around the ancient bricks, Humvees rolled through the Ishtar Gate, defensive trenches were dug through the strata of five millennia. As symbolic erasures of the name-of-the-father go, it ranks up there with Abraham’s destruction of his father’s idols. Still, after the father is killed, it still remains to eat his corpse. Iraq must be consumed. In recent weeks a small armed outfit calling itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (or of Iraq and al-Sham, or of Iraq and the Levant, or Daash – such signifiers tend to only refer to each other) has captured a string of cities in the country and is advancing, or at least making a feint, towards Baghdad. Reports in the Western media claim ISIS funds itself from the territory it already holds and doesn’t require any state support. They’re known to be selling oil to the Syrian government forces they’re supposedly fighting, and (this is a nice touch) are reportedly profiting from the sale of looted antiquities from archaeological digs. All this is pretty dubious, but in any case the Saudis seem rather nonchalant about the peril to the Iranian-aligned Maliki government. Even if ISIS aren’t receiving direct Western support it’s almost certain that arms supplied to ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels are filtering through to them. The terrors and massacres in Mesopotamia are as Western-manufactured as Big Macs and banking crises. Of course, when imperial adventures cause chaos, the solution is more imperial adventure. There’s a growing clamour for intervention; aircraft carriers are heading up the Gulf, the hideous grinning hobgoblin that is Tony Blair returns to haunt the political discourse with its carefully considered opinion. There’s a very real chance that we might be about to enter a third Gulf War. In the face of this danger, it must be kept in mind that when imperialists press for action, all they really mean is that they want to be able to fuck their own sisters.

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.

Newt Gingrich is an invented person

Newt Gingrich is an invented person. How could he not be? His name sounds like something inbetween Charles Dickens and Dr Seuss, he appears to have been drawn by a failed caricaturist or an elephant holding a paintbrush in its trunk, he has, to my knowledge, never once done anything to suggest that he’s an actual living human being with the kind of moral and psychological complexities that only storybook villains seem able to go without. But for some unfathomable reason people allow this fictional character to hold political office, and to appear on TV so he can engorge his throat sac at the viewing public. And on Friday, Newt was happily croaking away on the Jewish Channel when his gular burps arranged themselves into a series of incredibly stupid words:

INTERVIEWER: Now on Israel, do you consider yourself a Zionist?

NEWT: Well, I believe that the Jewish people have the right to have a state, and I believe that the commitments that were made at a time- remember there was no Palestine as a state. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. And I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people, who are in fact Arabs, and were historically part of the Arab community. And they had a chance to go many places. And for a variety of political reasons we have sustained this war against Israel now since the 1940s, and I think it’s tragic.

I want to briefly address this idea, because besides being jaw-droppingly moronic, it’s also fairly commonly espoused by Zionists (who are, to be fair, always big fans of long-discredited ideas – I remember being constantly fed the old canard about Arab radio broadcasts rather than Jewish ethnic cleansing causing the mass depopulation of Palestinian villages during the 1948 war, and this at a relatively liberal peacenik-y synagogue; and Joan Peters’ From Time Immemorial is still cited as a source by Zionist commentators such as Alan Dershowitz despite its patent nonsense about a ‘country without a people’ being extensively debunked).

I don’t know what kind of definition of ‘people’ our bloated newty friend is using, but it’s a pretty weird one. Of course the notion of a Palestinian people is an invented one. So is that of an Israeli people, an American people, an English people, whatever. I thought it was common knowledge to everyone who hasn’t just stepped out of a time machine from the 19th Century that all ethnic identities are social constructs (although if Newt had just arrived in our time from the days of scientific racism that would certainly explain his economic policies). Unless you’re the kind of swivel-eyed lunatic that goes around measuring people’s cranial sizes it should be pretty obvious that ethnicity doesn’t have any real objective basis. It’s a matter of self-identification, and if a group considers itself to be a distinct people, then that’s exactly what it is. End of.

More to the point, though, even if there wasn’t a distinct Palestinian identity before 1948, so what? Is it then alright to ethnically cleanse them, occupy their ancestral lands, deny them self-determination, bomb them at sporadic intervals, tear down their houses and villages, shoot their peaceful demonstrators in the face with tear gas canisters, import and protect a population of settlers that burns their fields and abuses them on the street, subject them to an extensive system of apartheid, enact blockades that turn their meagre scraps of territory into the world’s biggest prison camp – all because their national identity doesn’t have the same long pedigree as yours does?

If the Incredible Newt is allowed to declare by fiat that the Palestinians are not a people, then I can do the same to him. Newt Gingrich is not a person. He’s a delusion, a collective hallucination. And, of course, invented beings can hardly claim human rights. They certainly shouldn’t be allowed to run for President.

Tragedy Khadafi

In the Middle Ages, criminals were hung, drawn and quartered, and a scrap of grisly flesh would be displayed over the gates of every major city. We’re much better than that now, of course.

We did it guys! We did it! We dragged an old man from a sewer and beat him to death while he pleaded for his life, and then left his body in a shopping centre for people to gawp at! Victory for human dignity and human rights! Gaddafi’s a gaddaver! The Colonel’s a corpse! Muammar’s going mouldy! A human being died, and isn’t it fucking brilliant!

We know it’s fucking brilliant because Gaddafi was a Scary Bad Man, and we know he was a Scary Bad Ban because that’s the narrative the media has shat into our eagerly cupped hands. How could he not be? He was a dictator who mistreated his own people and brutally massacred them when they tried to protest. Except he wasn’t, not exactly. Back in the early days of the revolution, before it broke out into full-scale civil war, every day brought another shocking revelation: the death toll from the crackdown was running into the tens of gazillions, Gaddafi was using anti-aircraft guns against peaceful demonstrators, he was sending fighter planes to attack protest camps, he was issuing his soldiers with Viagra to keep them raping into the small hours, he bit the head off a newborn infant and sucked out its spinal fluid like it was a Capri-Sun, every night he snuggled up under a quilt made from the scalps of bright-eyed young democracy activists, he wore sunglasses and had a strange beard and slept in a bedouin tent, the utter bastard. But then in June, by which time NATO jets were already pounding Tripoli and attacking anything flying the green flag, Amnesty International released a report demonstrating that there was no evidence rape had been used as a weapon by loyalist forces, no evidence that anti-aircraft guns had been turned on protesters, no evidence for anything like the level of atrocity claimed. And meanwhile, it emerged that the saintly rebels had been deliberately feeding false stories to foreign news organisations, that their uprising had been violent from the start (not that there’s anything intrinsically wrong with violence, but it doesn’t sit easily with the peaceful protester/psychotic dictator dichotomy we were presented with) and that they were systematically lynching and detaining sub-Saharan Africans on the grounds that they were all Gaddafi mercenaries.

We were brought into a war under false pretences. We got duped again. And in contrast to 2003, most of the Left bought into it. I did too. As the tanks rolled towards Benghazi I was hoping for a UN resolution authorising intervention; I was even prepared to support NATO provided no civilians were killed. I didn’t expect the humanitarian intervention to metamorphose into an all-out campaign to unseat Gaddafi by any means necessary. Really, I should have known better. The words were never used, but it was a pre-emptive strike as dubious as that which overthrew Saddam Hussein. We intervened based on what the Libyan army might do if it recaptured Benghazi. We were told that if the city were taken, it would be the site of a mass extermination. As Richard Seymour points out, its previous conduct doesn’t necessarily support this unquestioned assumption. And it’s something of a stretch to imagine that a canny operator like Gaddafi would have carried out such an atrocity with the world’s media swarming the city’s streets. Not that it’s OK to indulge in just a little massacre every now and then, but a potential massacre of indeterminate size is far from a reasonable casus belli. Needless to say, the West didn’t really care all that much about Benghazi – they just seized any excuse to finally get rid of Gaddafi, that perennial thorn in their sides, even after Libya’s supposed reintegration into the international community. We acted with the kind of capriciousness and unpredictability that would have seen a smaller nation branded a rogue state.

What the fuck is this cartoon it doesn’t even mean anything

The rebels didn’t win the war. NATO did. The interminable stalemate was just a matter of the rebels hanging skittishly along the front line, ducking in for the odd offensive and being pushed back while British, French and American air power neatly sliced up Gaddafi’s supply lines and battered any troop concentrations. And yet the war still dragged on for months, without any significant gains by the rebels before the big sudden push that took them to Tripoli. How come? Why didn’t the Libyan masses see that their dictator was fighting a losing battle and rise up to overthrow him? That thought police security apparatus must have been pretty scary, huh? Or, maybe, a lot of Libyans – in the west of the country, at least – actually still supported Gaddafi.

How could they? It’s rarely mentioned, but Gaddafi actually did a lot of good for Libya. He forced concessions from foreign oil companies, demanding a $113m fee for each contract – some of which, admittedly, went into his private investments, but much of which was reinvested in the country. He extracted reparations for colonialism from the Italian government – the only time any European state has been made to make remittances to a former colony. He presided over the creation of the Great Man-Made River, the largest irrigation project in the world, built without the help of foreign nations or world banks. Before the war, Libya had the highest Human Development Index in Africa, and the 53rd highest in the world, better than European nations like Bulgaria or Serbia. On average, Libyans live longer than Hungarians or Lithuanians. The revolution was not the mass outburst of a long-oppressed nation, but a manifestation of the east-west rivalry that has always been a factor in Libyan politics. Of course, Gaddafi was far from perfect. He was murderous and nepotistic, he inflamed tribal divisions, he promoted a frankly weird personality cult. But he wasn’t a cartoon villain either.

The rebels, meanwhile, are much more likely to follow the kind of economic policy the West prefers, to the detriment of the people. During the messy infancy of the revolution, when it was still fighting for its existence, the rebels nonetheless had the time to set up a new central bank, ensuring that there could be no question as to their allegiance to the forces of capital. In an unambiguous statement of solidarity with imperial interests, NTC chairman Omar al-Mukhtar has defended Italian colonialism in Libya – the same fascist colonial regime that murdered up to one third of the population of Cyrenacia in concentration camps.

What will happen now? It’s unlikely that we’ll see an Afghanistan-style Islamic Emirate emerge, despite the hysteria of the Right wing. While the various armed militia are already starting to squabble over positions in the new government, the core leadership of the NTC is probably strong enough to prevent Iraq-style social disintegration. Even so, it doesn’t look good. I hope I’m wrong, but for a lot of Libyans life is probably about to get a lot worse. They were shielded from the worst of neocolonialism by Gaddafi’s welfare state and his readiness to extract hard concessions from the West. Now our puppets are in control, and they know exactly who they’re beholden to. Sure, we might see a couple more five-star hotels sprouting up in Tripoli. There’ll be more luxury cars on the roads, more glossy malls, more channels on the televisions. But at the same time there’s every chance that shanty towns will start to spring up around the major cities, that food and education and healthcare will suddenly become cripplingly expensive, that working-class neighbourhoods will continue to echo with gunfire long after the supposed cessation of hostilities. I could be wrong. 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. The excesses of the Gaddafi era are in the past now, but the future is likely to hold just as much danger.

The plot against Adel al-Jubeir

Given that the official narrative of the alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States is rapidly taking on the dimensions of a Hollywood potboiler thriller, it only makes sense that the real story would fall into a similar paradigm. As numerous experts have pointed out, it’s highly unlikely that the Iranian government, whose rhetorical ferocity is balanced by an extreme cautiousness in carrying out its foreign policy, would have made so audacious a move; and less likely still that the notoriously disciplined Iranian intelligence agencies would have entrusted such an important operation to an ex-pat opponent of the regime and a Mexican drug cartel riddled with informants. What actually happened, and where will it lead us? These are some possibilities:

– George Clooney and Jennifer Garner are two local FBI agents assigned to investigate supposed contact between Iranian intelligence and Mexican drug cartels. They begin to suspect foul play is at hand, and when it is discovered that the contact is in fact being arranged by US intelligence agencies, they find themselves on the run from the CIA. After a grisly torture scene, it is revealed that the conspiracy to kill the Saudi ambassador is being managed by a cabal of senators, generals and corporate lobbyists desperate to provoke war with Iran. Eventually, having exposed the corrupt generals and overcome both their shadowy assailants and the intensifying air of sexual tension, the two agents walk hand in hand along a pristine beach as triumphant music signals the indefinite continuation of the status quo.

– Jason Statham is a former assassin and Iranian expatriate with a moustache and an unconvincing accent. He is forced to carry out a hit on the Saudi ambassador when nefarious Quds Force agents implant a microchip in his wife’s brain that will, like, explode in twenty-four hours, or something. Once in Washington he decides to turn against his blackmailers and ends up having to fight literally everyone, including VEVAK, the CIA, MI6, the GIB, the Mexicans, random people on the street, his emotional detachment from his estranged daughter, a pervasive sense of existential ennui, etc. Includes a scene where Statham backflips over an exploding oil tanker while firing twin machine guns. Shot entirely in shades of orange and teal.

– Danny Trejo is a conflicted member of the Zetas drug gang. When he is commissioned by Iranian intelligence to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States he thinks he’ll be able to tell the US government what he knows and seek political asylum. However, it becomes apparent that the government is aware of the plot and anxious for it to go ahead. After bedding a series of sympathetic DEA agents and consulting a wizened yet serene curandero, Trejo learns that all world powers are controlled by a heretical Zoroastrian sect calling themselves the Sons of Angra Mainyu, who believe that by sowing war and terror they are providing a necessary antithesis to the natural goodness of humanity. Culminates with 20,000 Mexicans in pick-up trucks invading Tehran.

– In a comedy of errors, bungling Iranian second-hand car salesman Adam Sandler tries to enlist the help of Mexican gangs in assassinating the Saudi ambassador. Features an excruciating scene in which Sandler, dressed in low-cut jeans and a bandana, attempts to rap in Farsi under the stage name El Taco de Teherán.

– The ambassador of Saudi Arabia to the United States, depressed and guilt-ridden following a long period of alcoholism and a string of sexual infidelities, orders his own assassination under a series of false identities in the hope of taking the whole world out with him.

– What if the Iranians were actually being set up by the Russians? And what if the Russians have been infiltrated by a cabal of reptilian aliens trying to provoke global war to ensure there’s no resistance when they invade Earth? And what if reality is a prison and we’re all already dead?

– A frustrated mid-level US intelligence worker infuriated by the monotony of his job decides to inject some excitement into his life by fabricating an absurd conspiracy involving Iranian intelligence, Mexican drug cartels and the Saudi ambassador. To his alarm, this prank turns into a major diplomatic incident, and everyone he loves dies in the hellish blaze of a nuclear attack.

Of course, nobody would ever suggest the possibility of any Israeli involvement. That’s just absurd.

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