If you don't know what that refers to, then you definitely need to read George Orwell's 1984. Of the two major dystopian books, I think Huxley's Brave New World is probably closer in its hyperbolic view of our society, but Orwell's work is also indispensible in its assessments of power, media, and language.
Today while working, I listened to NPR's constant coverage of the Bin Laden killing which virtually lasted the entire day. Rather than real analysis, the supposedly left-wing NPR gave endless "double-plus good's" to the Military Establishment, interviewed soldiers, militaristic generals, and an endless stream of Establishment media experts and think-tank gurus who are often the very people shaping the policies…at least they're the folks that are turned to for strategic thought and analysis. I was very disappointed with NPR today. Not once in all their discussions about the so-called War on Terror and American policy objectives in Asia and the Middle East did anyone really call into question the official Washington line of American Superiority and Dominance…the one perpetuated by the supposedly 'leftist' Obama.
And what responses from other officials within the American government? I heard the liberal Senator Chuck Schumer from New York regurgitate the same old lines about how they hate our way of life and our freedoms.
I heard at least two dozen times references to our soldiers protecting and defending our freedoms.
Al Qaeda has never been motivated by the fact that they hate our freedoms, and our military has in no way over the last ten years done anything to protect the freedoms American public. This kind of newspeak is straight out of Orwell, and repeated like a mantra in the public. The reality is we are constantly in more danger due to Washington's militarized foreign policy.
In addition to foolishly staying in one place for a long time, Bin Laden clearly never understood American culture or the American mind. I must confess back in 2002 I believe it was, there were reports of a drone hit in the mountains of Afghanistan…a large party of people surrounding one particularly tall person in their midst. The story floated for a few days and many speculated as to whether or not Bin Laden had been killed. Then the story just went away. I would not have been surprised to find Bin Laden had been dead all these years, many even in the Intelligence community thought so. Apparently we were wrong.
Bin Laden being alive was always a two-edged sword. On the one hand it made the American military look bad…on the other hand his continued existence allowed for the Emmanuel Goldstein effect. In 1984, Goldstein is the object of hate that the regime uses as propaganda. The people live in a state of hate and mystified fear of this figure. They're shown his picture and they rant at it. Empires need enemies, and the United States always makes sure it has a few lying around. It was easy during the Cold War…since then, Hussein and Bin Laden have largely filled the role. Ahmadinejad, and Kim Jong-Il, and now Gaddafi (for the second time) are filling the slot.
It was surprising he was in Abbottabad, far from the frontier region where he was supposed to be, and not a little embarrassing to Pakistan. Although in some respects it makes sense. In Abbottabad he would be far removed from the drone 'hot zone' and he would be near to a city for those who presumably had to supply him with what he would need for dialysis. That was always the big stumbling block to the notion of him hiding in a cave for years. Did somebody know he was there? It's likely. Apparently people in the town thought the house strange but the rumour on the street was that it was occupied by smuggler-types. It makes sense that they would stay away. The Pakistani ISI, like the America CIA often plays not just a double-game but a complicated multi-front one.
Pakistan is a very complicated country with overlapping and conflicting interests and as shocking as it is to the American Street….they think about themselves first. They have to worry not just about the multi-faceted Taliban/Pashtun insurgency, there are due to their long standing alliance with the United States, issues with Iran. They are both helped and betrayed by the United States with regard to India. The United States is also playing a complicated game that takes China, Russia, Central Asia, and Russia into the equation. This also affects peripheral issues regarding Burma and North Korea…really the whole question of Asia comes into play. Everything overlaps. It's no different for Pakistan. Allied with the United States under General Zia ul-Haq, they played a key role in the American support of the Afghans during the Soviet War. Pakistan not only became embroiled but they were left with a terrible refugee situation and through the early 90's….a state of chaos across the largely fictitious border. Eastern Afghanistan is dominated by Pashtuns, but so is Northwest Pakistan. America left them high and dry, and then in September 2001, Richard Armitage basically told them they were re-entering the alliance or would be destroyed. Suddenly Musharraf who had come to power in a military coup was now our new best friend at the backdoor of Central Asia.
Meanwhile, as the United States has destabilized Pakistan and brought it to the brink of civil war, the Americans have also signed nuclear power treaties with India and facilitated their regional expansion. This of course has much to do with China and America's dangerous containment/engagement policy toward Beijing.
Is it any wonder, the Pakistani government seems schizophrenic? And this is a state in which the military wields real political power, in some ways is a real rival power to the central government. And within that military, like any large organization, there are factions.
With regard to Bin Laden if he really hoped that his terrorist operations would either generate fear and withdrawal or reflection on the part of the American public he made a major miscalculation. Fear yes, but that fear doesn't result in retreat. Instead it translates into handing sweeping power to the government do to anything…anything…just protect them. Save us from the terror. So rather than weaken the American state, the people are weakened, but the government gets to do what every power-bureaucracy dreams of….expand.
In an earlier post I talked about how Americans would see the Carabinieri, the Italian police standing on street corners with machine guns and shake their heads in disapproval. They didn't like seeing that kind of power displayed. Yet, after 11 September 2001, Americans cheered to see tanks on their streets and heavy military presence. Fear can quickly change the landscape.
The American public was and continues to be completely ignorant of why the American government is so often detested in other parts of the world. They are completely unaware of the effects American diplomatic, military, corporate, and cultural power and influence in their respective lands. And so rather than engage in a little introspective reflection, they are genuinely shocked that 'evil' people would come and attack us. Yes, we the 'good' who were just minding our own business, when weren't busy spreading goodwill around the globe.
If Bin Laden thought his actions would lead to a removal of American forces from Saudi Arabia, a withdrawal of support for Israel, and a cessation of backing regimes like Egypt's Mubarak…then he was just plain ignorant and naïve.
At the same time, Americans have reveled in their ignorance of that part of the world and the grievances some might have with the United States. Cowed by fears of the Caliphate they cheered on the troops as they spread death across the globe and the government expanded both domestically and imperially.
Neither side is learning anything from this.
There has been little reflection concerning America's long term policies, and the consequences of actions during the 1980's when Reagan backed the Mujahideen and then abandoned Afghanistan to chaos after the Soviet withdrawal in 1989. We're on the verge of doing the same thing in Libya today.
As some authors have written, no one thought about the fact that someday, a group of people or a conglomeration of groups would want revenge, to strike back at the power that wrought destruction to its own ends and then had the audacity to package its deeds as goodwill and humanitarian. One wonders if in ten years we'll have Iraqi's attacking the United States? Saddam was terrible, but their country has been destroyed over the past 20 years directly or indirectly by American policies. I realize America's former ally Saddam Hussein shouldn't have invaded Kuwait, but what America did to Iraq after the war was condemned by many in the International community as painfully close to genocidal.
And Iraq's hardly a closed book. America's millions have literally bought the peace….for now. But why were the insurgents fighting?
Because they hate our freedom.
And consequently there's little understanding of why many in the Middle East while not exactly thrilled about Bin Laden, were in some sense supportive of him. They didn't and still do not share his goals, but just the fact that he was standing up to the Empire made him something of a mythic figure, one worthy of a begrudging respect. And some of the youth have certainly become radicalized. Whether they share in the Salafi vision or are just frustrated and angry? It's not always clear.
What does his death mean? Not a whole lot. It's just a symbolic end to a chapter…a quite tumultuous decade.
It won't change the dynamics on the ground, the motivations of multiple groups in multiple locales fighting for slightly different reasons…the great Empire which strides across the world.
Nor does it change the central power structures in Washington, the same people that need an enemy, that benefit from war and fear. These are the same people that celebrating the fall of the Soviet Union but then apprehensively entered a new century unsure of the mechanisms by which they would maintain and expand American power. They needed a mandate, moral imperative for both the domestic and international audience…and a new super-Emmanuel Goldstein sure helps. Authors from Brzezinski to the architects of the PNAC (Project for the New American Century) recognized the need for a new Pearl Harbour type event. Only such an event would prove a strong enough catalyst to launch the massive paradigm shift that would solidify American dominance and insure it for a long time to come.
They certainly got all these things and much more ten years ago. The War on Terror is window dressing for the masses. The real goals are always the same…power. And in a complex and dynamic world, you cannot just maintain status quo. You have to change and expand or die.
Has there been overreach in terms of foreign policy? Some…coupled with a serious overreach in terms of Economic policy and banking. Thankfully the architects make mistakes and stab each other in the back as they all clamour for the top. The dust will settle, policies tweaked…a few fall by the wayside or play patsy, and the march goes on. The bumps in the road offer opportunities for people to arise and challenge the system. The elections in 1960 and 2008 were bumps in the road, ones that allowed reformers to slip in. One ended up caving into the establishment paradigm, the other ended up with his brains in his wife's lap.
The logic that just kills me though is something I keep hearing from conservative circles and several of the military analysts today. They're trying to argue that Bin Laden had become irrelevant because of the present Arab Spring. To some extent I can agree with this.
But they're arguing that the Arab Spring is a result of American policies in the region. In what way? They're arguing….The people have seen they like our values and ways and want to emulate them.
The Arab Spring has indeed been precipitated by American Policy. That's true in a sense. After a decade people in the Middle East are learning you don't have to turn to Al Qaeda-type terrorism nor do you have to sit content under brutal proxy dictatorial regimes. The present uprising is an utter rejection of both Al Qaeda and the American Empire. After being down for more than a century, a massive cultural block of the world population is finally learning to stand on its own. America benefits in the rejection of Salafi and Wahhabi Jihadism, but they might not like the new regimes that come to power. They may not be supportive of America's interests. They may want to do business with China.
Every day it's becoming more clear that we're being set up for a new Cold War with China…..but the arrangement is far more precarious than the last one. The American enemy is also its bank and that might be why America doesn't come out on top this time. As we're celebrating the 50th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the rest of the world might be watching live shots of the American Border Wall being torn down as an impotent political structure in Washington implodes and collapses. Oh, and that might be Americans trying to get to Mexico. I doubt it, but…stranger things have happened.
To suggest youth and intelligentsia of the Arab Spring are emulating the United States while overthrowing its proxies is a little silly and I think the generals saying that know it all too well. They're used to misinformation. It starts on a daily basis with the troops and then extends to the press. I saw it occur on a regular basis. The average soldier is often more in the dark than anyone else. He might know something regarding what he's seeing right in front of him, but the average enlisted guy is generally not in the know, and is subjected to serious propaganda on a routine basis.
So while these folks want to claim the Arab Spring is a vindication of Bush's policy, it's quite the opposite. No one is sorry to see Hussein gone or Bin Laden dead, but they still feel like throwing their shoes at Bush.
At the end of the day in terms of body counts, George Bush is responsible for tens of thousands more dead bodies than Bin Laden ever was. Just a little perspective. Just because one guy wears a western suit and his foot soldiers wear uniforms in no way legitimizes his actions or makes him any less guilty of murder.
A wicked man has died and people take to the streets and rejoice and yet they would be genuinely shocked and offended if Bush was killed and there were celebrations in other parts of the world.
The real 1984-ish element to our culture is not that everything is controlled and monitored. No, on a voluntary basis, American's erect a cultural barrier that will not allow them to filter through any information that questions the status quo. I don't think most people in the United States are even capable of understanding why things happen around the world. There's nothing to work with. Most can't even find these places on a map.
Any attempts at asymmetrical warfare won't change this. The message will not get through and ultimately these attempts will fail. I wonder if Bin Laden ever really understood before he died that the message he hoped to convey on 11 September 2001 never got through?
A final item I'll mention just because I keep hearing it and I find it to be irksome. Analysts keep talking about the propriety of America's covert strike deep within Pakistan. First, it is likely that someone high up in the Pakistani government had knowledge of the strike. They have long been in the habit of publicly condemning drone attacks and cross border incursions while privately condoning them. But, for argument's sake, let's say they truly left Islamabad out of the loop for fear of the mission being compromised.
American's argue that because of the nature of the target they had the 'right' to launch a commando strike within Pakistan's borders and international law condones it…it wasn't an assassination. It was legal. In other words, if you don't like the fact that our military invaded your sovereign territory, that's just too bad.
Imagine if it were 1979 or 1980 and the Shah of Iran was sitting in a villa somewhere outside of Annapolis which I think culturally is analogous to Abbottabad. Let's say Iran's Revolutionary Guard launched a commando assault and shot the Shah in the head. Would the American public be upset? Of course they would. But why? The logic is the same. If the Americans have every right to be upset, so do the Pakistanis.
But I just stepped outside the paradigm, because I'm supposed to put America first and assume what we're doing is right and for a good motive. Other nations are not allowed this consideration. This is a nationalistic paradigm, and all our major media outlets without exception operate under it. Yes there's bias in the media….American bias.
The fact that Pakistan is a quasi-ally, or ally at the point of a gun doesn't have much to do with it. There's a fundamental legal issue, and on this one like many others the United States exercises a consistent double standard. If you don't want International law, fine. But then you can't hold others to it either.
It's the same with cluster bombs, chemical weapons, nuclear weapons, or even the language of diplomacy. Just the other day, the State Department condemned the Assad regime for its brutal crackdown.
The Assad regime is brutal and Syria is probably one of the more politically repressive countries in the Middle East. Nevertheless, considering America's track record and their support of Tunisia, Mubarak's Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Shah's Iran, the former military state of Turkey, numerous repressive regimes in Africa and South America as well as South Asia…they have little in the way of moral authority. Even though some of these regimes were backed by the esteemed moral assessments of the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, America's judgments often ring rather hollow.
In conclusion, let me qualify what I'm saying. I'm not setting out to attack America and I'm certainly not trying to vindicate Al Qaeda or Bin Laden. But I'm concerned after ten years the arguments and rhetoric in the Christian community have only grown worse. I'm convinced that despite throwing the word 'Biblical' in front of the commentaries and news reports, it's nothing of the sort. Not only are the Evangelical arguments built on bad theology…Dominionist and Sacralist assumptions….but, even from just a historical standpoint, they're heavily biased and thus rather blind in their interpretations. Unless Christians wake up to this, it will just be repeated.
It's like the current uproar of Greg Mortenson's 'Three Cups of Tea.' I never could get through the book. His narcissism was over the top, and to my mind made the book unreadable. It was an endless account of 'look how great I am!' Aside from that, though I couldn’t factually dispute his claims, I did not believe them or at the very least, believed them to be exaggerated. If you've read much about that part of the world…NE Afghanistan/Badakhshan and the Pakistani Gojal, his account was not very credible.
Well, come to find out it was indeed mostly fabricated and his charitable organization has come into question. I just never could quite bring myself to recommend the book to anyone. Ironically, this book from what I understand has become required reading for American military personnel deploying to Afghanistan. Blind leading the blind. Just today as I listened to soldiers calling into the radio programme, some of them having done multiple tours, I thought how astounding! Even after years there some of these poor guys think the Afghans want to become Americans and they can't figure out why they don't want our help! These guys have learned nothing and they've been there, on the ground! But I suppose there's a real danger when you only read and listen to things that tell you what you want to hear. You only watch news that reports it the way you want it.
But I suppose we have the same problem in the church don’t we? I seem to remember reading something about people only wanting to hear words that tickle their ears.
Speaking of the Church, we have many at work who make Bin Laden look like an amateur. He killed a few thousand people. Some of these teachers today have thousands coming every Sunday. They tickle their ears and send them to hell with a smile on their face. They got the message they wanted and didn't realize they had been caught in a trap.
Emmanuel Goldstein is dead. Long live Emmanuel Goldstein. There will be another one.
Just a little perspective.