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imperialism & war

When statues are toppled

Why must political mobilisation be based on illusions? Why did they feel uncomfortable during protests whenever someone expressed his opinion about the truth of Saddam Hussein's regime, claiming that now is not the time to criticise it?
When statues are toppled
Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, Egypt

Illusions have no place in mobilising for political action, Azmi Bishara argues

It is an indicator of the identification of the Iraqi regime with the Iraqi state that the toppling of the leader's statue was taken as the collapse of the state itself. But if the media is eager for real theatre performed by professionals, then the group of young men who could not even bring down that statue without availing themselves of an American tank -- even in this symbolic act -- represented perfectly the proposed American alternative to the regime.

The looting and pillaging in Iraq showed in more than one way to those who romanticise the idea of a society without a state that this is a barbarous condition. In the 17th century, Hobbes called for the absolute authority of the social contract on the part of those who feared this primitive pre-state condition. He described it as bellum omnium contra omnis, a war of all against all.

But Saddam Hussein's regime, and others like it in the East and West, showed that absolute power can also be a form of barbarity, in which society's behaviour reveals the true nature of a regime and its own true nature in the regime's absence. The frenzied scenes of looting and pillage, however, were enough for the television cameras, though tens of thousands did not participate and though the invaders encouraged the mob for their own reasons. Indeed, for some time to come, the interests of the invaders will be based on Iraqi society's internal contradictions and the need to inflame them further. He who comes to Iraq bearing racial, religious, and ethnic preconceptions about representative pluralism, does not intend to democratise the country.

Those who are rightly demanding security in Iraqi cities hope US forces will take on this responsibility, for there are no other forces who can do so at present. Those renegade journalists passing through this historical moment, who change their tone and their expectations faster than the events themselves change, have almost managed to embarrass the US by asking it why it is standing idly by and watching. When the Americans finally do decide to intervene to ease the lives of Iraqis, the world will breathe a sigh of relief. But the people of today's world are only merciless, compulsive spectators, who consume everything only after it has become a spectacle: war, misfortune, disaster, pain and hope, reality and illusion, frustration and longing.

Outside the context of media consumption, the only real significance of the collapse of the statues is that it proves for the thousandth time that he who erects statues for himself while alive, letting people immortalise him, builds for the moment of collapse, when the statues will be destroyed, unable to survive the moment of his political or biological death. These two kinds of death coincide in the case of a fragile dictatorship based on the cult of personality, devoid of any social content. We can state this in reverse. Statues and pedestals are built to endure, erected to commemorate people, provided there is still someone around who wants to remember after the statue's patron dies or the state of coercion comes to an end. Even this type of immortality is the subject of debate.

If we ask anyone who opposed the war why he did so, we will hear no sympathy or support for the regime of Saddam Hussein. And even if we were to find a degree of sympathy based on misinformation or an ideology fed by misinformation and thriving on bitterness and desire for revenge, we would certainly not find among those who opposed the war and demonstrated against it anyone who would be capable of arguing cogently that Saddam Hussein's regime would win it. Why are we so frustrated then? Because protestors are humans, not machines. When human beings oppose aggression, it automatically translates into solidarity with its victims, and there is no solidarity without hope and without illusion. Millions of people do not turn out in the streets in protest proclaiming that the aggressor will be victorious, even if they know it will. This is no way to foster solidarity.

We have also encountered the contradictions inherent in this position among those who oppose the war and have grown overly pessimistic. To incite resistance and to justify their own opposition, they say that not only will Iraq collapse after the war, but everything will cease to be. After the war, the great flood itself will come, the end of everything except a male and a female of every species that supported US policy, or donned his cap and stayed at home to build an ark according to US specifications while others were out protesting or resisting in Palestine. But why should we be frustrated since the first part of the prophecy has been fulfilled?

Those who are frustrated or take exception to what I say should ask themselves: why did they propagate irrational delusions, contrary to all common sense, about the capabilities of the Iraqi regime after 13 years of sanctions? Why must political mobilisation be based on illusions? Why did they feel uncomfortable during protests whenever someone expressed his opinion about the truth of Saddam Hussein's regime, claiming that now is not the time to criticise it? Indeed, criticism is a modest response to this type of regime and its crimes. But, it is no use, for there are those who cannot base their political activity except on illusions, because theirs is not a moral position based on rational analysis. Rather, it is based on hopes and illusions. There are still those who will not loosen their grip on Arab nationalism -- as a movement, a sympathy, a cause, the locus of Arab opposition -- with all its fables and legends, bitterness, and non- democratic thought. The Iraqi regime assassinated civil society, along with some of its most illustrious nationalists, all in the name of Arab nationalism. It exposed its people to 12 years of sanctions due to an unfathomable stubbornness and its attempt to act like a superpower by occupying a neighbouring country. This after an unjustifiable war with Iran, during which Iraqi society became only so much firewood used to feed the flames of delusions of grandeur. The regime bet it could become America's new shah of Iran. This regime, which used chemical weapons only against its own people, has now suffered its end. Did we oppose and do we continue to oppose US policy in support of this? Did we oppose it because we thought it would fail in its war with Iraq?

We opposed the war because of its objectives and underlying motives, even though we knew how it would end. But the objectives and the motives still exist. What we must do now is confront them with a rational, democratic political discourse, which will force the US to show itself. But we cannot confront the US through fairy-tale mobilisation based on self-deception, which falls prey to self-adoration and which is capable of rapidly changing positions after engaging in verbal acrobatics.

The Iraqi regime collapsed sooner than many of those who went to show their solidarity had expected. They returned from a visit to Baghdad with the impression that the people were armed and awaiting the foreign strikes. But the regime fell because it was empty and demagogic; the rumours of armed people are part of the demagoguery of a regime that held its people hostage, no more or less.

The US is motivated by a desire for imperialist hegemony. The challenge is to show the internal contradiction between this desire and its domestic democratic discourse. The most serious aspect of the aggressor's policy is the seeming harmony between its democratic, rational, pragmatic domestic discourse and its mission abroad.

Our challenge is also to create a state of social cohesiveness among Arab societies, instead of a tug of war, which will not withstand strikes from abroad. There is much time to arrange this. The coming phase of the struggle will be Palestine, followed by Syria and Lebanon. There is no justification for aggression against these countries even given America's authoritarian, imperialistic stance, but the possibility that something will be cooked up is always present. Indeed, it seems to be happening. In Palestine, the Israeli aggression continues, but the Palestinians have not collapsed. The challenge is to not deal with the collapse of Iraq as if it was the collapse of Palestine as well. The Palestinians cannot remain steadfast without a cohesive political and social front. Without it, the plans for Palestine may be implemented. The objective here is not oil, however, but attaining hegemony through political entities.

It remains for us to summarise the significance and achievements of these honourable protests against the aggression. They forced Arab leaders to lie about their stance towards the war. We should examine the weight of the protest movement in non- democratic countries, where no protest movement has any power given the absence of a democratic political enterprise. Let us also examine the discourse of the protest against the aggression: was it really democratic? Did it provide the occasion to bring together democracy and nationalism?

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