Christmas is for War and Poverty: Bending Values Toward the New Normal

Posted on 25 December 2008 by


With mainstream media airplay dominated by popes, monarchs, prime ministers, and news about “the troops,” we see the globalization of values of pacification, state-dominance, counterinsurgency, and threat, producing a new roster of messages crowding “news time” beyond the normalized spate of commercial messages. Christmas is the new fighting ground with the nine-elevening of the world, troops are praised and worried over, insurgents are loathed — again, propping up the butcher while denouncing the meat. That Yahoo! and the Associated Press should choose Christmas day itself for an article titled “Homeland Security forecasts 5-year terror threats,” pasting it on the front page as the number one article, tells us where they think we ought to direct our attention. It’s an utterly empty and seemingly pointless article filled with fantastic speculation, the only purpose of which must be simply to perpetuate fear, at all times, even when people might be most relaxed and more in tune with non-state and non-commercial spheres of life. Remember, while you’re having fun at home, the threat is still out there. This is counterinsurgency of the domestic mind, at its Orwellian worst. It also shows the extent to which governance has turned fully pathological. I would not be surprised to see new school history texts produced, divided into two periods only: The Pre-9/11 World (99.99% of human history), squeezed into a couple of chapters, followed by a massive section titled The Post-9/11 World. Hysteria finally has its own numerical code.

We are also told, almost triumphantly by some headlines, that at least Iraq now has a new official holiday: Christmas. While most media outlets could not ignore their own previous flood of articles since 2004 detailing the exodus of Christians from Iraq, what did escape them was this: this is a cosmetic bit of public relations by the new Iraqi ethnic-cleansing-state propped up by U.S. forces. Christmas can now be a national day…now that there are fewer and fewer Christians.

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A far fetched analysis? Over stated? Well let’s see some news clippings, since I began by speaking of specific kinds of speakers given prominent space by the mainstream media on Christmas day itself.

Stephen HarperStephen Harper’s Christmas message warns of ‘difficult’ new year
Canadian Press, 25 December 2008
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “encouraged Canadians ‘to spare a thought and a prayer for the brave men and women serving Canada abroad,’ who are unable to be home this Christmas. ‘Their courage and sacrifice is a credit to all of us’.”

In that “spirit” see:
Troops in Iraq find Christmas in memories
Associated Press, 25 December 2008

Queen Elizabeth IIQueen sees a sombre Christmas for many
Reuters UK, 25 December 2008
“People are touched by events which have their roots far across the world. Whether it is the global economy or violence in a distant land, the effects can be keenly felt at home.”…”When life seems hard the courageous do not lie down and accept defeat; instead they are all the more determined to struggle for a better future,” she said, standing by a piano adorned with pictures of her family.

‘Feelings of insecurity’ cast shadow over holidays: Queen — Annual message urges courage during global recession
CBC News, 25 December 2008

Britain has taken a significant hit in the global economic downturn. Retail icons, such as Woolsworths, have collapsed, and the unemployment rate is nearing two million as the British pound drops to record lows against the U.S. dollar.

“Some of those things which could once have been taken for granted suddenly seem less certain and, naturally, give rise to feelings of insecurity,” the Queen said.

PapanaziPope Focuses on Peace in His Message
The New York Times, 25 December 2008
“Wherever an increasingly uncertain future is regarded with apprehension, even in affluent nations: in each of these places may the light of Christmas shine forth and encourage all people to do their part in a spirit of authentic solidarity,” he said….The Vatican…has been particularly outspoken in its concern about the state of Christians in Arab lands, who increasingly face persecution and emigration….” This light, which brings transformation and renewal, is besought by the people of Zimbabwe, in Africa, trapped for all too long in a political and social crisis which, sadly, keeps worsening,” he said.

Christmas in BaghdadIraq celebrates first official Christmas
The Jerusalem Post, 25 December 2008
“Iraqis celebrated Christmas as an official holiday for the first time Thursday in one of the most peaceful days the country has seen since the US invaded nearly six years ago.”

but…

Shortage of men marks Christian Christmas in Baghdad
Agence France Presse, 25 December 2008
As worshippers quietly listened to the sermon and received communion in a two-hour service, a quick count of the congregation of around 200 showed that about 75 percent of them were women….The lopsided gender ratio is a grim reminder of the violence Iraq’s beleaguered minority Christian community has endured since the 2003 US-led invasion sparked vicious sectarianism in this multi-faith nation….” A lot of men were kidnapped, killed or have been unemployed since 2003, so (many) have left, especially Christians,” said Sundus Butros, 38, who was directly affected by the violence when one of her brothers was kidnapped in 2006….Around 800,000 Christians lived in Iraq at the time of the 2003 US-led invasion, but the number has since shrunk by at least a third as members of the various communities have fled the country, according to Christian leaders.

see also

Christmas with Baghdad’s Dwindling Christians
TIME, 25 December 2008
This year marks the first time in Iraq that Christmas is an official national holiday. …But others noted that even as conditions in Baghdad improve, Iraq’s persecuted Christian minority continues to stream out of the country. At Mar Yousif’s service on Christmas morning, the head priest, Pios Cacha, who has seen his congregation dwindle from 1,200 families to 650 since the U.S. invasion, led a sermon that was straightforward: Iraqi Christians should come back to Iraq and start rebuilding their broken country, and their community.

and

Report details abuse of Christians
CNN, 24 December 2008

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“Uncertainty.” This is a massage word — while foreign “threats” are to be feared, the actual fact of current and immediate economic decline is repackaged as “uncertainty,” when there could not be anything more certain in the global political economic situation right now. This is not about a desire to not spoil people’s Christmas meal…after all on the same day they were told, as the first headline on Yahoo!, that five years’ worth of threats from “terrorism” are being forecast. Hate the Other, but be more lenient on domestic bankers since it is, after all, an uncertain time. That gives us,

Rule #1 for pathological governance: externalize the threat, Other the enemy, domesticate pacification.

No radical changes are called for, the Pope tells us, we need to “pull together” and in the process reaffirm the current social order…except if you are in Zimbabwe, which he names, where more drastic changes are needed. No “transformation” for the U.S. or Britain, Zimbabwe is the only country in the world that should occupy our attention on that score. That gives us,

Rule #2 for pathological governance: preserve the nation, but radically change the rest of the world. Problems are abroad, only worries are at home.

Zimbabwe is where human rights are violated. Forget Iraq or Afghanistan, unless, of course, it is to once more praise the sacrosanct troops. When these people were unemployed and sometimes desperate pre-troops, there were no Christmas messages from a prime minister asking us to spare a thought and a prayer for them. Once in uniform, however, all that changes, because now the right wing and the state stands to benefit from sanctimonious praises of the uniform. Courage and sacrifice are sequestered as values pertaining only to the military. It’s the new normal for this Christmas and many to come, and one hopes that consumer-citizens were too severely inebriated and too disinterested to let any of these messages penetrate their domestic spaces.

Rule #3 for pathological governance: create a culture of military worship. Get people to sympathize with the troops, and they are less likely to oppose the state that made people into troops and that deployed them in imperialist wars.

What is significant for me is that institutions of secular and religious authority used a “sacred” day to spread some “profane” messages. That they could do so of course stems from their monopoly on institutional power and the mass media which are trained on them to begin with, ready to report their every word. That they might be given some credit, some benefit of the doubt, or even outright support by consumer-citizens stems from the perceived “legitimacy” of their offices. This, however, requires one fundamental basis, rooted in confusion: mistaking legality with legitimacy. To take the example of Stephen Harper, he is the head of a legally constituted government — but with the support of only 22% of registered voters, rendering it more of a splinter than something that should have merited a hold on power, it is not a credible argument that argues that this is a legitimate government, with a right to dictate to all.

Rule #4 for pathological governance: confuse legality with legitimacy. Once the state engages in violence against its own people, expect at least some of the supportive consumer-citizens to confuse might with right.

Rule #5 for pathological governance: Use holy days to reaffirm currently constituted authority, and turn attention away from alternative futures.

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From On the Greek Riots,

Merry Crisis and a Happy New Fear

Thursday, December 25, 2008

“Normality” (read: their normality; the capitalist norm of exploitation, misery, repression and death) is what we are standing up against. This is what we do now, what we have always done, yet in these past days it is something that has become clearer than ever (like writen elsewhere: “sometimes, tear gas can make you see better”). There were so many of us now that normality faced a new fear: a fear that it might soon be a normality no more. This is when the normal panicked and called the exceptional to its defense. The assassination was called “an exception” or even, as the assassin’s lawyer claimed, “a misunderstanding”. But the people only got more enraged by their lies. So they brought in “exceptional measures”: Thousands of the occupation army of murderers and torturers (aka, the greek police) flood the streets while the threat of an army intervention, a state of exception or the lifting of the academic asylum was hanging over our heads. And yet it wouldn’t be that easy for them, not this time round. What we had was an army of the frantic, of the desparate, of all those who wanted to shatter and smash the frame in which normality wouldn’t let them fit. “The first stone is for Alexandros, the rest are for us”. Things were getting way too serious, way out of control. Another exception is now called in: They tell us these days are special, they are “holy”, they call for social peace, consumerism and truce. This year there is, indeed, something to celebrate: not the remains of some obscure pagan feast, but a fabulous uprising that is worrying them, and rightly so. Let normality sink in its crisis and we’ll be sure to bring it some more fear….continued