Another war is fought on the globe and again, all those opinionated journalists who couldn't even have identified Mali on the globe earlier this year, much less lose one word about its politics, now seem to know it all after the first French soldiers touched the ground. The coalition of self-righteous world explainers is, as usual, spearheaded by the speakers of a subcritical left which seeks to press the world into a black and white scheme, no matter what. I will take an article by Stephen Lendman from Chicago to point out many fallacies of the current anti-war movement, because it neatly summarizes all this lack of coherent analysis, ignorance in regards to facts and the tendency to imply wherever it lacks evidence - and it wraps it all in moralizing language.
Lendman doesn't mess around, he gets straight to his accusation: it's all about the ressources, stupid! Not just any ressources, but rich Africa's ressources, with some of the globes largest deposits of oil and gas, ores and minerals. His intention probably is to put the war in Mali into a greater regional context of a new "scramble for Africa", but all Lendman achieves is to reveal his view on Mali as "yet another part of Africa". If war is fought somewhere in Africa, it must have the same reasons as on any other place on that vast continent. Without hesitation he therefore continues to write about Malis great natural wealth and Mali seems truly blessed:
"They include gold, diamonds, phosphates, bauxite, lignite, kaolin, salt, limestone, gypsum, granite, marble, diatomite, hydropower, iron ore, manganese, tin, lead, zinc, copper, oil, gas, and uranium. Mali is Africa’s third largest gold producer after South Africa and Ghana. It’s rich in uranium. It has an estimated 5,000 tons or more. It’s neighbor Niger is the world’s fourth largest producer."
As Malinese blogger Bruce Whitehouse put it, "the truth of Mali’s >mineral riches< is rather murky". Mali has potential reserves of oil and gas, its proven reserves are zero. In other words, it may be there, but we're not sure, there may also be nothing at all. The only companies present in Mali as of yet are minor players in the petrol business with a high risk-tolerance, speculating on the big success with a surprise find. Hardly the ones who could muster enough influence with western companies to urge them to fight a risky - and costly - war. There a no known uranium ressources in northern Mali, the only known mining operation is deep in the south-west, at the border to Guinea. Claiming that Nigers uranium riches extend into northern Mali would be pure speculation. Similiar holds true for Malis mining operations in regards to Gold. It's all far in the south, away from the territories currently held by Islamist and Tuareg rebels. All facts considered, this doesn't seem like an invasion to secure untapped ressources on land owned by an unwilling population. What little ressources Mali had its governments had always generously given away in the past, because the country lacks the technology level and infrastructure to develope them on their own and thus is dependent on foreign investors. Africa isn't exploited with cannons aimed, it's exploited with the willing consent of its governments, no matter if left or right, corrupt or honest, because the alternative to leave the ressources untapped does not benefit the increasingly urban population of Africas nationstates either.
But Lendman has found an explanation fitting its scheme and without checking whether his facts match reality, he proceeds to identify the responsible factions. No surprise here, it's the USA. France, former colonial power of Mali - and most of western Africa - is played down to a mere lapdog, used by Obama to "keep a low profile". The question whether France has its own africa policy can't be asked in Lendmans dogmatic worldview and he's probably unaware that the different policies of former colonial powers, including France, have brought them into conflict with the USA in the past. For example, right before the genocide against the Tutsi and Hutu began in Rwanda, France was supportive of the Rwandan government and there are allegations that French special forces proceeded to support the Rwandan military even while it was committing the largest genocide since Cambodia. The Tutsi-Militia RPF - current ruling party of Rwanda after it ended the genocide and won the civil war - was seen as an anglophone takeover.
For Lendman, however, France must remain a puppet of Washington, because he wants the war in Mali to fit into the greater image he constructs. "Washington wants unchallenged African dominance," Lendman writes, without bothering to explain how Islamist fighters in northern Mali are benefitting Russia or China. Worse, Lendmans argumentation comes crashing down on itself when he correctly identifies Russia and especially China as rivals of the USA (and Europe, though Lendman doesn't seem to think of European interests as a factor of their own) for Africas ressources, but doesn't stop a second to consider the implications. If Washington, Moscow and Beijing are rivals in a new scramble for Africa, does Lendman believe that only the first of the three is trying to exploit the continent? And if the insurgents in northern Mali are fighting against the USA, are they allies of China or Russia? Lendmans attempt to transfer the coalitions of Syria into Mali very obviously doesn't work and only serves to reveal that his own kneejerk anti-americanism drives Lendman to the support of murderous regimes such as Assads Syria.
Without intermission, Lendman narrates a tale of the great puppeteers in Washington who send their armies out into the world to build an "Empire" and permanently occupy the rest of the world by force. Consistently, he sacrifices facts for his fiction of a repetition of 19th century policies. He draws parallels between the North-Ireland conflict, the 1982 Lebanon invasion or the Israel-Palestine conflict, to lend weight to his prediction that France seeks permanent occupation of Mali. But North-Ireland is considered a part of its national territory by the UK and the Israeli security situation is a complex issue, its occupation of Lebanese territory in the 80s and 90s more rooted in the fact that it could not find factions within the Lebanese society that were both willing and powerful enough to prevent the Lebanon from becoming a staging ground for Hezbollah warfare against Israel once their troops retreat. Similiar fear haven proven correct repeatedly in the Palestine conflict: once Israeli troops left Gaza to self-administration, Hamas used the new liberty to turn the city into a missile-base from which hundreds of missiles are fired into Israel each year.
Meanwhile, the information that "Permanent Afghanistan and Iraq occupations are planned" is exclusive to Lendman and exists only in his brain. All NATO countries involved in the two countries are feverishly trying to reduce troop strength in Iraq and Afghanistan - and have developed timelines for a complete retreat of forces from the countries - without making it seem as if the protracted warfare against insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan were lost.
"Fighting terrorism, respecting Mali’s territorial integrity, and furthering democracy conceal dark intentions" Lendman claims ambiguously in regards to the French intervention, but reading texts such as this, it seems the part about "dark intentions" holds true more for their authors. The Islamist groups that control northern Mali only appear as "rebels" throughout his article - the Rebels and the Empire, makes you think of Star Wars, doesn't it? He manages to not once mention the acronym AQIM: Al Qaeda in the islamic Maghreb. During their attack on the In Amenas gas facility in Algeria, "hundreds of hostages were taken" and it almost seems as if Lendman cheers this on as a success report for the forces of good. What he doesn't mention is that these hundreds of hostages were seperated according to faith - many of the workers on In Amenas were foreign experts, technicians and engineers - and the Islamists then proceeded to kill those of their hostages who were not Algerian muslims.
"Contesting for the country’s north won’t be easy." Lendman predicts with apparent satisfaction. "It’s mountainous, rugged, and vast. It replicates France in size. It’s long enjoyed considerable autonomy. Protracted conflict looks likely. " This is wishful thinking on Lendmans part, because he desperately wants to see his rebel alliance win against the dark empire. Northern Mali is dominated by deserts, even the Hoggar mountains, which partly extend into north-eastern Mali, are relatively open spaces whereas Mali is concerned. Its vast size will work to the disadvantage of the islamic insurgents, because vast open areas, the deserts of the Sahara and the shrubberies of the Sahel, will favour the force that can bring more flexible and mobile units to bear. France fields a modern airforce, helicopters and mechanized ground forces.
Speaking of northern Malis autonomy is, by the way, a cynical joke. Enforced non-developement would be a more fitting description. The reasons for the sudden success of islamist rebels in northern Mali lie in decades long instability in the region due to the discrimination of the Tuareg minority in Mali and its neighbours. Hated for having been deeply involved in colonial forces and slave trade in the past, the independence of former French colonies marked the beginning of a prolonged campaign of impoverishment in the Tuareg areas, worsening in the recent past with the increasing hardships in the Sahel zone due to climate change. Tuareg rebels have long fought unsuccesfully for an independent Tuareg state, "Azawad", land of the Wadi's.
How the repeatedly unsuccesful Tuareg rebellions of the past turned into an islamist insurgency that routed the Malinese army and nearly conquered the country needs some explanation - read carefully, Lendman, you can learn something. The Tuareg were long known for living an especially moderate muslimic faith, with comparatively great rights for women. Their rebel groups are secular, but after the war in Lybia and the overthrowal of dictator Ghadaffi, many fighters from Lybia returned to Mali. Amongst them not just the Tuareg that had been hired by the Lybian government as reliable soldiers, but also islamist fighters that had participated in its overthrowal - and weapons from the stockpiles of north-Africas wealthiest oil exporter. Before that event, the suffocating poverty in the Sahel zone had already created a fertile breeding ground for the islamist ideology and especially young men are suspectible to the offers of a life as soldier of Islam, when the alternative is to cope with starvation.
Well armed, experienced and highly motivated the Tuareg-Islamist alliance could quickly overrun the north of Mali. But it remains an unsteady alliance. An agreement about the cooperation in the fight against the Malinese government, which also included a non-enforcement of Sharia law, lasted merely a few days. Their attempts to root themselves in northern Malinese society seem to yeild only mixed results, the majority of islamist fighters are foreigners. Wandering militias who have participated in other wars in the past. This points to another reason why Lendmans portrayal of the war as western invasion is flawed, because in fact, it's an invasion of northern Mali by organized Islamists. Lendmans refusal to even mention the wave of atrocities that followed in the wake of the Islamist advance, much less the broad support in Mali for the French forces.
Images of locals waving the flags of foreign forces to cheer them on are a staple of war propaganda to keep up the moral on the home front. But it would be ignorant to think those are therefore always false. There is a reason why Lendman hesitates to cite even a single voice from Mali itself, because those wouldn't support his view of the French operation in Mali as a forceful occupation. Quite to the contrary, the French forces were requested by the Malinese government and Hollande hesitate long to grant his support. French forces literally arrived on the last possible moment, as any day later, an important airfield that enables much of the current operation would have fallen to Islamists. There is one opposition party in Mali that rejects the French intervention, is the left-nationalist MP22. Only, they, too, support the fight against insurgents in northern Mali, they just believe that Malis army can do it on its own.
People like Lendman don't support peace, much less human rights. They have bloated the American state into the prime evil of the world and care little who fights them, as long as someone does it. Willingly, they lend their support to any group and cloud their intentions with smokescreens of peace-rhetorics and a demonization of one side of a conflict. What he fails to realize is that Islamism is a variant of the political phenomena best described as "fascism". It's the heavily religious version of fascism in the Arabic and broader muslim world, dreaming of the rebirth of a Kaliphate that never really existed in this way. In their attempt to lend importance to their own positions, people like Lendman jeopardize all standards of emancipatory and left-wing polititics for an alliance with islamist fascism. This has lasting consequences, because in much of the developing world, especially in the muslim countries, the left as we know it has ceased to exist. The strata of the local populations that could be reached with emancipatory positions are not just figuratively, but very practically, violently controlled by Islamic groups and their social issues are answered with anti-semitic, anti-feminine and anti-modern rhetorics.
One word of caution though: do not think that Islamism is a backwards, medieval movement. Their rhetorics may be anti-modern, their ideology is not. Like fascism elsewhere they employ anti-capitalist sentiment to direct it against specific groups, mostly jews and westerners, sometimes also christian or other minorities. But they do not challenge capitalism itself, not even in a reactionary fashion. Lendman lends his voice to people like Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, calling them political prisoners as if it's Mumia Abu Jamal we're talking about. Abdel-Rahman was one of the organizers of the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. Lendman keeps quiet about that. What he mentions instead is, that Abdel-Rahman was previously an ally of the CIA, trained and funded by the American government. Again, his narrative knows no private agenda for Washingtons allies. In Lendmans worldview, they are puppets, used and thrown away.
But Islamists are not puppets of western governments. They are dangerous, militant movements that are handy allies whenever it comes to keeping impoverished populations within the framework of capitalist economy. President Morsi in Egypt, Islamist rebels fighting in Lybia or Syria - western states ally with them, because they are the only groups with both the mass-base and the necessary will to violence to enforce the blind progress of the global market. But Islamism has plans of their own and may turn on the west, not just by allying with Iran (for many Sunni Islamist groups allying with the Shiites in Iran is out of question) but also out of their own volition. Anti-Americanism and Anti-Semitism (in many cases, it's not so easy to distinguish between these two and Islamists will claim the US is run by jews anyways) are integral parts of their ideology, not just as mock rhetorics, but as very real motivations for their actions.
These are the people trying to take over northern Mali.
Chris Hedges fears that Black Block Anarchists may seek to destroy the Occupy movement, as he elaborates in a column he wrote for truthdig. Now, my readers may forgive me if my perspective is decidedly European in nature, but I nevertheless believe that such transcontinental exchange can benefit a debate. I'll begin by asking a rather heretical question:
What would be so bad about that?
As a movement, Occupy has achieved decidedly little compared to the excessive praise and attention that was given to it by media, authorities and the organized left. Especially the latter flocked to it in a vague hope for importance and the longing to be part of a mass movement, while college kids and businesspeople were united under a motto that was a naive as it was wrong: "We are the 99%" We are the amorphous mass, the many versus the few. Our will is the will of so many that there can not possibly be any argument against it. - Occupy is thoroughly populist in the worst meaning of the word. If Chris Hedges wants to look for mob mentality, he is ill advised to seek it amongst the Black Block.
Indeed, there have been rather disgusting pictures provided to us by the Occupy movement, including the repeated call to google "jewish billionaires". Implications of these placards were left to the reader, but it was clear that it was meant to express a supposed link between judaism and wealth and that, consequentially, the 1% that was to be opposed was the jews. It's too much of a reflex to discard these antisemitic stereotypes as mere "infiltration" by outsiders from the right. The very premise upon which Occupy began was not one of progressive anti-capitalism, but of a personalization of economic and power relationships, an analysis that implies that we merely need to remove part of society to change its ills: the ominous 1 percent who supposedly control the banks and ruin an otherwise productive economy out of moral vice.
Given this premise, that leans towards the reactionary, it was perhaps more of a surprise how much progressive politics nevertheless condensed within the broad Occupy movement. Oakland always stood out as a place of inspiration within a movement, that hoovered somewhere between a joke and a nightmarish vision of things to come wherever left to its own, or was marginalized by stronger, established movements wherever they existed and decided to operate under the label of Occupy.
To give an example for each of these developements: the German cities of Hamburg and Berlin had attempts at Occupy camps of their own, which attracted a lukewarm response by the deeply rooted autonomist movement in these cities. Organized groups of the left quickly turned away their attention towards their usual fields of activity - currently mainly fights against gentrification and a general lack of housing - while Occupy crumbled in these cities to the point that there was no camp in Hamburg and the one in Berlin consisted of a whooping ten (!) people upon its eviction. Who nevertheless weren't too ashamed of using the 99% slogan nonetheless.
Occupy in Rome coincided with a time of protests against Berlusconi in general and the social cuts of his government in specific. The international events around Occupy arguably gave the demonstration additional momentum, but the actors remained the ones that had been in the center of social protests for not merely the past months, but years, the continuity of their work giving them credibility and a powerbase. Consequentially, the protests were big, but short and overshadowed by the usual arguments and differences between the participating groups. The different goals of parliamentary groups, orthodox marxists, single-goal movements and autonomist radicals could not be brought in accordance. Occupy was washed away by the usual debates and could not provide any insight or unifying factor.
I have not heard, read or seen anything about Occupy in Greece, the hotbed of revolutionary activity in Europe. It's not surprising either, since the disenfranchised as well as the frightened middle class are already organized within their individual political leanings. The situation in the country is so thoroughly heated that no one could ignore it at that point and not make a decision as to where he or she stands.
In the US, meanwhile, it was Oakland where Occupy met an established and locally rooted radical left movement and the fruits of years of political labor quickly found their way into the local offspring of the global movement. It made Oakland the most sympathetic of all Occupy sections. When Chris Hedges claims that the Anarchists of Oakland loathe organization, he is confusing organization with institutionalization. Yes, these Anarchists loathe the rigid structures of parties or Leninist cadre-groups and political sects. But it is naive to assume they could rally people, influence debates or initiate direct action without some form of organization. However, since it is an informal, sporadic organization, often overlapping with personal relationships and built upon strong bonds of trust, it is hard to detect the connections amongst the groups and individuals that appear as a Black Bloc during the protests. In this, we may forgive Chris Hedges. Even national intelligence agencies purposefully directing their work towards infiltrating and uncovering these structures have often found it impossible to do so. For a militant and radically anti-state movement, the rejection of formal institutions has proven to be a rather effective protection from repression.
The involvement of the local Anarchists in Oakland had benefits that are quick to evade the eye, yet become all the clearer if we compare Oakland to New York in selected occurences. Whereas Occupy in New York rallied its activists to the banking district - expressing the fundamentally flawed seperation between a good, productive industrial capital and a bad, greedy banker capital supposedly destroying an otherwise flawless society - Oakland rallied to the port, a vital nexus of capitalist distribution and a place far removed from the false dichotomy that was established when the call was made to occupy Wall Street. Whereas in New York, evictions and foreclosures of homes were mere cause to stand by idle and give yourself the good feeling of having at least done "something" - when in reality, nothing has changed and the brutal violence of business as usual proceeded uninterrupted - Oakland rallies to actually prevent these. Whereas, following the eviction of camps, New Yorks goal was to occupy a building for a party, Oakland sought to occupy it for permanent use as social center.
Not that there were no uplifting or progressive elements in other american cities, such as the commendable work of the Anarchist Black Cross in NY, nor that Oakland did not have its own flaws. But the spirit of Oakland has been taken into another direction. It is Chris Hedges most fundamental error that he is unable to see these fine details and his seemingly only desire is to be as many as possible with as white a coat as possible. Occupy is turned into a laundry for the bad conscience of the middle class or, perhaps a speculation that's a lot darker, the place where the middle class can go to demand back the status quo and mourn the material losses they've had to endure in the crisis. A giant tribunal on the profiteers of a specific phase of capitalism by those who were nowhere as lucky, but not a trial on capitalism itself.
After all, the petit-bourgeoise staunchly believes: if I worked hard and nonetheless the American Dream did not come true for me, then SOMEONE must be responsible. That crisis and expropration and poverty are intrinsic elements of capitalism is unthinkable to these characters. Conversely, Occupy had little to offer to those who had been poor to begin with, those who had been disenfranchised by society, evicted from their homes, pushed to the end of the welfare lines long before the stock markets collapsed. This movement can repeat its mantra of being 99% all they want - a tent-town full of people more concerned with the media reception rather than their actual achievements will do little to convince them of their goals.
Speaking of goals - what goals? Occupy has evaded this question time and time again and even a Slavoj Žižek can not honor this stance by attributing a revolutionary purpose of non-conformity to it. Occupies silence is a mere expression of its inability to formulate any form of common stance in between its broad membership that includes the strangest of Trotzkyte sects full of themselves and their delusions of being able to steer the movement, or the freaks from Zeitgeist and their visions of an authoritarian technocracy, not to forget the antisemites and the tourists, who merely want a good story to brag about during college. Trying to formulate a common stance would, indeed, blow Occupy apart - and Occupy has long lost its purpose and become one on itself. The movement is everything, the movement is holy, whoever voices criticism is shut down. The so called "People's Mic" does an excellent job at this. Initially a way to bypass a ban on megaphones, this little tool has been blown so out of proportions by Occupy-activists seemingly proud to finally have made a genuinely independent invention (the idea to occupy public spaces was, after all, taken from the Spanish "Indignados") that it had to be applied to uses it was not fit for. Debates with a Peoples Mic are impossible to follow, critical voices are often not carried on by the crowd and the experience of a peoples' mic has been described as "indoctrinating" more than once. Repeat the words, don't think about them.
As I mentioned, Occupy has little to offer to the working poor and the declassed. It is a movement of the middle class and their fear of no longer having the place they were once promised in the social contract of America. Perhaps that's why Chris Hedges decries, with honest indignation, that the Black Bloc "smashed the windows of a locally owned coffee shop in November in Oakland and looted it." One can only wonder why it was important to mention this shop was "locally owned". Hedges already draws a line between different enterpreneurs, dividing their business into good (because "local") and bad (because "foreign") to which my only reply can be to shake my head in disbelief as to this notion that apparently, capitalism gets better if it is done by people from the same town.
Gold, however, Chris Hedges struck in this utterly hilarious notion that the Black Block was "criminal".
The holy law, meanwhile, is always upheld by the good people of Occupy and all it takes for a revolution, at least according to Hedges, is to nevertheless get beaten up by cops. Who are also part of the 99%. But do so because Occupy threatens the injust system. By not being criminals. Not only does this show an understanding of state and society that the progressive left, one would expect, had left behind in the 19th century - one where the state rules solely by authority of force and something like cultural hegemony is non-existant. (to which I merely would like to point Chris Hedges to comments on police brutality that cheer on the pepperspraying of the explicitely non-violent "smelly hippies".) It is also a pretty hilarious thought that the bankers and government officials would have sat in their office upon hearing of the arrest of some protestors in a minor march, then call them to order the pepperspraying of the detained "because they are such a threat." Finally, Chris Hedges also expresses his own fundamentally petit-bourgeoise thinking when he implies that the Black Block is somehow consisting of outsiders, people not actually part of the Occupy movement and, most notably, Agent Provocateurs. It is the same sentiment that people in the suburbs express whenever a crime occurs within their midst. Someone from outside must have done it! Some alien, some stranger.
Indeed, the looting of a store, this spontaneous seizing of opportunity for the sake of direct gain from an act that defies law and property, has more revolutionary pontential than most of what Occupy has achieved elsewhere. It has actual, positive effects for the actors involved. It is an act of redistribution and empowerment that bypasses the need for years of tiresome campaigning and reforming within a fundamentally flawed system and against the rising tide of objective necessities immanent to capitalism itself. It is the implosion of structural violence that chains people to their place in society and releases them into a spontaneous moment of opportunity.
Chris Hedges is not all wrong, though. Militarist and sexist tendencies and implications are an important point of critique that ought to be debated - not just once, but permanently - within the Anarchist, no, within the general left movement. A debate on militance should be the permanent standard of a radical left. Militance can not justify itself and I'm not particularily fond of an insurrectionism that puts the insurrection itself into the focus of attention, rather than concrete political goals. But they aren't the core of militance, not the fundamental truth behind the acts of self-defense against a violence that sometimes appears direct, in the shape of a police baton, and sometimes indirect, in the silent threat of poverty, unemployment, disenfranchisement. What Chris Hedges is asking of these people is not to defend themselves, to bear the stroke of the baton, the burn of the pepperspray, the sting of the taser and the impact of the rubberbullet for a vague promise that sometime then, people will realize that Occupy was right all along! (but about what, exactly?) That even the police will come down, reach them their hands and say "yes, non-violence is the way". A thought that is even more absurd when considering that the police has to utilize violence every day, has internalized the logic of violence and has put aside their conscience to enforce a law that's necessarily impersonal and demanding strict adherence regardless of personal opinion. Even more absurd to think a greater amount of officers would break with this logic, with their jobs, in a time where having a job in the first place is a blessing in itself.
This debate, I think, is far from over. There are many points that still need to be raised, many of which need to be discussed in more detail. However, Occupy, that much is clear, needs to transcend its own beginnings, its own premise and own established institutions if it wants to progress. Refusal to do so out of sentimentality for a project that granted a shortlived time of optimism will lead to the death of Occupy as a project, whether wanted or not.