EE: Report #10, 07—18 January 2011
Encircling Empire Reports is a selection of essays, blog posts, and news reports covering a given time period. They are intended to be useful for those interested in: ● contemporary and critical political anthropology ● public anthropology ● imperialism and imperial decline ● militarism/militarization ● the political economy of the world system ● hegemony and soft power ● counterinsurgency ● revolution ● rebellion ● resistance ● protest ● activism ● advocacy ● critique.
The special focus this week begins with Martin Luther King Jr. and his anti-imperialism in honour of MLK Day on 17 January; then, the uprising in Tunisia, and attempts to colonize it intellectually by positing social media as the leading forces in the rebellion; some noteworthy reports on the current state of the occupation of Afghanistan; and, finally, the occupation of Haiti as seen through the eyes of a top OAS diplomat (minus news of the return of the former dictator, Jean Claude Duvalier).
IN SPITE OF THE PENTAGON AND ITS POOR MYTHS: MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.
“I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent….
“Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America’s soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over….
“They must see Americans as strange liberators….
“Our government felt then that the Vietnamese people were not “ready” for independence, and we again fell victim to the deadly Western arrogance that has poisoned the international atmosphere for so long.” – Martin Luther King Jr., 04 April 1967
For the occasion of this Martin Luther King Day—as the U.S. government faces greater difficulty than ever before in persuading anyone, even most of its own citizens, that the war in Afghanistan is worth prolonging—the Pentagon decides to spin a clumsy and transparent myth of MLK as essentially an imperialist who would have backed this war. Perhaps the “thinking” is that MLK was secretly a “Vietnam exceptionalist” –all other wars of imperial occupation are good, except for Vietnam’s (for reasons left unexplained by the myth makers). Perhaps the “thinking” is that if Obama, who has ramped up the bombing of villages across Afghanistan and Pakistan, and engaged in new secret wars in Yemen and Somalia, while ignoring the Israeli demolition of Gaza, and still win a Nobel Peace Prize, then surely MLK can be folded into the same set of inversions?
For more, please see “Pentagon Official Suggests MLK Would Have Supported Current Wars,” with a focus on the incredible revision of MLK by the Pentagon’s General Counsel, Jeh Johnson (you can download his full speech here).
Johnson said: “I believe that if Dr. King were alive today, he would recognize that we live in a complicated world, and that our nation’s military should not and cannot lay down its arms and leave the American people vulnerable to terrorist attack.”
From the Pentagon’s media arm, see “King Might Understand Today’s Wars, Pentagon Lawyer Says,” by Terri Moon Cronk, American Forces Press Service.
For an appropriately critical rejection, read Robert Greenwald’s “No Room for the Pentagon’s Wars in Dr. King’s Dream.” Here is an extract, a back to the basics lesson on how to clearly understand MLK’s very clear messages:
“King decried the awful willingness of his country to spend $500,000 per each killed enemy soldier in Vietnam while so many Americans struggled in poverty. Yet last year, a conservative figure for the amount we spent per killed enemy fighter in Afghanistan was roughly $20 million.
“King spoke of the ‘monumental dissent’ that arose around the Vietnam War. “Polls reveal that almost 15 million Americans explicitly oppose the war in Vietnam,” he said. But today, 63 percent of Americans oppose the Afghanistan War, and when you do the math, that’s 196 million people, give or take the margin of error.”
THE REAL TUNISIAN REVOLUTION? IS IT A TWITTER REVOLUTION? A WIKILEAKS REVOLUTION? IS IT ALWAYS ALL ABOUT US?
As is becoming the norm in Western media in these last years, anytime a protester uses a cell phone, or posts a tweet, that gadget or that message becomes the focus of the story, and the protester melts away, or worse, becomes a mere appendage of the technology. It is this mixture of cyber-utopianism and technological determinism that Luke Allnut criticizes in “Tunisia: Can We Please Stop Talking About ‘Twitter Revolutions’?” :
“As the events in Tunisia continue to unfold they will be ripe for study by academics and experts, but in so quickly applying our theories of social mobilization, or our frameworks of revolutionary change, we become blind to what is really happening….
“The problem is that we so desperately want there to be a Twitter revolution. In a 24-hour news cycle, we don’t just seek instant news but instant answers, clear explanations and narratives that can be book-ended with events and wrapped up into a three-word headline….
“In our search for a single cause, we’re much more likely to settle on an [sic] ‘new technology’ explanation rather than something as dull as a great many of the participants were unemployed or wearing socks. Not only do ‘Twitter revolution’ explanations mean more page views, but they fulfill some deterministic urge within us — the dual promises of technology and modernity….
“More than that, Twitter revolution narratives are popular because rather than being about Tunisia, they are often really about ourselves. When we glorify the role of social media we are partly glorifying ourselves. Some of us are not only praising the tools we know and love and use every day, but also the tools we build and have stakes in. To proclaim a Twitter revolution is almost a form of intellectual colonialism, stealthy and mildly delusional: We project our world, our values, and concerns onto theirs and we shouldn’t. We use Twitter and so must they. In our rush to christen the uprising, did we think to ask Tunisians what they wanted to call their revolution?”
Allnut is not alone in his criticism of the dual Twitter and/or Wikileaks Revolution theme. Here is a partial list:
Alaa Abd El Fattah in Twitter said: “hey frigging american analysts how about we let tunisians, who actually lived what happened decide how relevant twitter and wikileaks where?”
Neil Bhatiya in Twitter said: “Of course Tunisia was a wikileaks and twitter revolution. Just like the commodore 64 overthrew the Shah.”
From the U.S. State Department spokesman, P.J. Crowley in Twitter: “Tunisia is not a Wiki revolution. The Tunisian people knew about corruption long ago. They alone are the catalysts of this unfolding drama.” 11:37 AM Jan 16th via web
“First thoughts on Tunisia and the role of the Internet,” by Evgeny Morozov, Foreign Policy, 14 January 2011—“….This is not to deny that many of us were watching the Tunisian events unfold via Twitter. But let’s not kid ourselves: This is still a very small audience of overeducated tech-savvy people interested in foreign policy. I bet that 90% of Twitter users are not like that — and that percentage will get worse as Twitter becomes more mainstream. So, if we evaluate it in terms of awareness-raising by exploiting and building off the mainstream media, Tunisia’s ‘Twitter Revolution’ (as Andrew Sullivan was already quick to dub it), seems to have failed….”
“The First Twitter Revolution? Not so fast. The Internet can take some credit for toppling Tunisia’s government, but not all of it,” by Ethan Zuckerman, Foreign Policy, 14 January 2011—a somewhat ambivalent essay, “But as we learn more about the events of the past few weeks, we’ll discover that online media did play a role in helping Tunisians learn about the actions their fellow citizens were taking and in making the decision to mobilize. How powerful and significant this influence was will be something that academics will study and argue over for years to come. Scholars aren’t the only ones who want to know whether social media played a role in the end of Ben Ali’s reign — it’s likely to be a hot topic of conversation in Amman, Algiers, and Cairo, as other autocratic leaders wonder whether the bubbling cauldron of unemployment, street protests, and digital media could burn them next.”
“Not Twitter, Not WikiLeaks: A Human Revolution,” by Jillian C. York, 14 January 2011—“to call this a “Twitter revolution” or even a “WikiLeaks revolution” demonstrates that we haven’t learned anything from past experiences in Moldova and Iran.”
“Did Wikileaks and Twitter Cause Tunisia’s Revolution?” by Adrian Chen, Gawker, 14 January 2011—“….Nobody’s citing Foursquare yet, but it’s only a matter of time before some journalist finds a few protestors checking into a riot.”
“Was What Happened in Tunisia a Twitter Revolution?” by Mathew Ingram, GigaOm, 14 January 2011—“…even as the country’s ruler was being hustled onto a plane, the debate began over whether Twitter had played even more of a role in the revolution than just reporting on it as it happened: was this the first real Twitter revolution? The correct answer is probably yes and no. Did it help protesters, and thus the end goal of overthrowing the government? Undoubtedly. Was it solely responsible for that happening? Hardly.”
Where do we find these proclamations that Allnut and others criticize? Here is a partial list, relating the Tunisian uprising to both Twitter, or the other imagined hero, Wikileaks:
“The First WikiLeaks Revolution?” by Elizabeth Dickinson, Foreign Policy, 13 January, 2011—“Tunisians didn’t need any more reasons to protest when they took to the streets these past weeks — food prices were rising, corruption was rampant, and unemployment was staggering. But we might also count Tunisia as the first time that WikiLeaks pushed people over the brink. These protests are also about the country’s utter lack of freedom of expression — including when it comes to WikiLeaks….As in the recent so-called “Twitter Revolutions” in Moldova and Iran, there was clearly lots wrong with Tunisia before Julian Assange ever got hold of the diplomatic cables. Rather, WikiLeaks acted as a catalyst: both a trigger and a tool for political outcry. Which is probably the best compliment one could give the whistle-blower site.”
“Tunisia’s President Flees After Riots Fanned by WikiLeaks,” by Theunia Bates, AOL News, 14 January 2011—“Tunisia’s president has stepped down, fleeing the country he ruled for 23 years after a citizens’ revolt fanned by WikiLeaks disclosures about his regime’s corruption and economic mismanagement….But the protests rapidly shifted from demands for more jobs to demands for political reform, focused largely on the corruption of the ruling family. Demonstrators were whipped up by anti-secrecy site WikiLeaks’ publication of cables from the U.S. embassy in Tunisia, which provided a vivid insight into the luxuries enjoyed by the Ben Ali clan….”
“Tunisia and Wikileaks,” by Amy Davidson, The New Yorker, 14 January 2011—an ambiguous post, that first seems to affirm that the Wikileaks cables may have had an impact, but perhaps it was limited: “Tunisians, apparently, were unable to write off the frustrations of their lives. Reading the cables, it is clear that their release did not cause the fall of the President—he was laying the groundwork for that himself—though it may have affected the timing. It also, perhaps, clarified the moment for the Tunisians; will it also do so for us?”
“‘First Wikileaks Revolution': Tunisia descends into anarchy as president flees after cables reveal country’s corruption,” by The Daily Mail, 15 January 2011—“Events in Tunisia have led to it being called the ‘First Wikileaks Revolution’. Although there has long been opposition to the corrupt rule of President Ben Ali, protests gathered pace when US embassy cables were published by Wikileaks….”
“Tweeting Tyrants Out of Tunisia: Global Internet at Its Best,” by Nate Anderson Ars Technica, Wired: Threat Level, 14 January 2011—“Even yesterday, it would have been too much to say that blogger, tweeters, Facebook users, Anonymous and Wikileaks had “brought down” the Tunisian government, but with today’s news that the country’s president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has fled the country, it becomes a more plausible claim to make….”
“Could Tunisia Be The Next Twitter Revolution? Ctd” by Andrew Sullivan, The Atlantic, 14 January 2011—“The core test is whether Twitter and online activism helped organize protests. It appears they did, even through government censorship. Wikileaks also clearly helped. So did al Jazeera, for those who see it entirely as an Islamist front.”
“Tunisia’s Revolution Was Twitterized,” by Firas Al-Atraqchi, Huffington Post, 14 January 2011—“Bechir Blagui, who runs the Free Tunisia website, says that people have tossed around different names for this ‘revolution.’ ‘They called it the jasmine revolt, Sidi Bouzid revolt, Tunisian revolt… but there is only one name that does justice to what is happening in the homeland: Social media revolution, or back home, better called the Facebook revolution,’ Blagui said. He says that in the absence of traditional media – government bans on reporting and the jailing of independent journalists like Fahem Boukaddous – Tunisians resorted to their cell phones and going online to document the history of their nation in the past four weeks. ‘Combined with Twitter, this helped on the ground organization of massive crowds from around small towns in remote areas. It was crucial for the organizing effort,’ Blagui added….”
AFGHANISTAN: LIBERATING GIRLS? RAZING VILLAGES
Take note, in contrast to the official propaganda about the Taleban in the West:
“Taliban ready to lift ban on girls’ schools, says minister–Afghanistan minister claims leadership has undergone ‘cultural change’ and no longer opposes female education,” by Jon Boone, The Guardian, 13 January 2011:
“Experts say that the attitude of the conservative Islamic movement towards women’s education has always been far more ambivalent than popularly understood.
“Mullah Zaeef, a former high-ranking Taliban official who served as Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan in 2001, said the movement was not against educating women and that the ban on girls’ schools was only a ‘temporary measure.’
“Analysts say the policy was largely due to Taliban concerns about boys and girls being educated together and male teachers overseeing female classes….
“Amir Mansory, an education expert at the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan, which has supported schools in the country for decades, said 33,000 girls continued to go to school in the late 1990s, despite the official ban.
“ ‘It was a sort of hidden policy,’ Mansory said. ‘No one said girls could go to school, but in the provinces Taliban officials would approach me asking for the Swedish Committee’s help in supporting girls’ schools.’
“And while insurgents have closed down many schools around the country in recent years, Mansory said they have been actively supported in some Taliban-controlled areas, including in Paktika and Wardak provinces.
“ ‘I personally think the Taliban are not against education but simply against a western type of education,’ Mansory said. ‘And if local people want to educate their girls the Taliban know they can’t do anything to stop that.’
“Analysts report that some local insurgent leaders have struck deals with Wardak’s education ministry to keep schools open.
“Phil Priestley, a researcher with the Tribal Liaison Office, this summer found large numbers of girls’ schools open for business in the largely Taliban-controlled district of Chardara in Kunduz province.
“Taliban officials even patrolled schools with attendance sheets and hauled truanting boys from their homes. Girls, on the other hand, were merely encouraged through their local communities to attend school.”
“Rogue militias abuse rural Afghans: Villagers and regional leaders accuse semi-official Arbakai of extortion and violence as country forms new local force,” by Mujib Mashal, Al Jazeera, 12 January 2011—“The Arbakai, semi-official local militias, have committed tremendous abuses in Afghanistan’s northeastern provinces of Kunduz and Baghlan. President Hamid Karzai finally ordered their disarmament last month. These militias are known to collect forced ‘taxes’ from feeble locals, create illegal checkpoints, seize property, and detain people in private jails – all at gun point and sanctioned by the government in Kabul. This widespread abuse damages government legitimacy and casts doubt over a recent program to create local police forces in other parts of the country. It also brings into question the effectiveness of the quick solutions sought to the security problems in Afghanistan. Historically, Arbakai militias were a major part of the tribal security apparatus in southeastern Afghanistan. Loosely linked to the central government, these groups typically came together from village families and provided security in times of need. A standing police force in these areas was a rarity. In the north, however, the idea of Arbakai is new. In fact, they are largely made up of former Mujahideen from the civil war period who were disarmed in the early years of President Karzai’s government. In the past couple years, they have regrouped under their former commanders, re-christened as Arbakai with new weapons….”
“Travels with Paula (I): A time to build,” by Thomas E. Ricks, Foreign Policy, 13 January 2011—the U.S., as predicted, is starting to flatten entire villages. They days of “winning hearts and minds” are over, as is the fabled mystique of Gen. David Petraeus as counterinsurgency “it’s all about the people” guru—who nonetheless always relied on massive and indiscriminate firepower in Iraq, as well as ethnic cleansing, and extrajudicial executions.
Related to the last story above, “Dicing with death in the devil’s playground: In a heartstopping dispatch, the Mail’s Richard Pendlebury joins troops clearing roadside bombs in the Afghan valley where every step could be your last,” by Richard Pendlebury and Jamie Wiseman, Daily Mail, 26 October 2010.
HAITI: FOREIGN OCCUPIERS NEGOTIATE A COUP; NGOs and PROFESSIONAL SELF-ADVANCEMENT; THE OAS SILENCES A DISSENTER
“For 200 years, the presence of foreign troops has alternated with that of dictators. It is power that defines international relations with Haiti and never dialogue. On the world scene, Haiti’s original sin is its liberation. The Haitians committed the unacceptable in 1804: a crime of high treason in a troubled world. The west was at that time a colonialist world, pro-slavery and racist, that based its wealth on the exploitation of conquered lands. So the Haitian revolutionary model struck fear into the great powers. The United States did not recognize Haiti’s independence until 1865. And France demanded payment of a ransom for accepting that liberation. From the beginning, independence was compromised and development shackled. The world has never known how to treat Haiti, so it has ended up ignoring it. That was the beginning of 200 years of solitude on the international scene . Today, the UN blindly applies chapter 7 of its charter, it deploys troops to impose its peace operations. Things aren’t resolved, they are aggravated. They want to make Haiti into a capitalist country, a destination of export for American business, and that is absurd. Haiti should go back to being what it is, that is, an essentially agricultural country still permeated with traditional rule.”—Ricardo Seitenfus, OAS delegate to Haiti
“Diplomat in Haiti to be dismissed for criticizing OAS, NGOs—Ricardo Seitenfus claims coup against Préval was suggested,” by Fabrícia Peixoto, Lo-de-Alla—“I became progressively aware of our limitations and, why not say it, of our failures in Haiti… I mean, we of the international community. Besides that, on November 28, the day of the elections, there was discussion in a meeting of the Core Group (donor countries, OAS and the United Nations) of something that seemed to me simply frightening. Some representatives suggested that President René Préval should leave the country and that we should think about an airplane for that purpose. I heard that and I was horrified. The prime minister of Haiti, Jean–Max Bellerive, arrived and immediately said not to count on him for any solution outside the constitution and he asked if President Préval’s mandate was being negotiated. And there was silence in the room. Beside me was Albert Ramdin, adjunct secretary of the OAS, so I could not speak because the OAS was being represented by him. But faced with his silence and that of the others, I asked to be able to speak and reminded them of the existence of the Inter-American Democratic Charter [of the OAS] and that I thought any discussion of President Préval’s mandate would be a coup. I was very surprised by the fact that the adjunct secretary of the OAS remained silent in the face of the possiblity of shortening the term of a legitimately elected president.”
“OAS representative in Haiti sharply critical of foreign aid and occupation—Ricardo Seitenfus: ‘Haiti is proof of the failure of international aid’,” by Arnaud Robert, Lo-de-Alla—“For the transnational NGOs Haiti has been transformed into a place of required passage. I would say it’s even worse than that: professional development. The volunteers who have arrived since the earthquake are very young; they land in Haiti with no experience. And Haiti, I can tell you, is not suitable for amateurs. Since January 12, because of massive recruitment, professional quality has declined considerably. There is a maleficent or a perverse relation between the NGOs and the weakness of the Haitian state. Certain NGOs exist only because of the Haitian calamity.”
“One Year Later, Haiti Hasn’t ‘Built Back Better’,” by Isabeau Doucet, The Nation, 12 January 2011—“…of every $100 of Haiti reconstruction contracts awarded by the American government, $98.40 returned to American companies, suggesting that non-Haitian companies and organizations have much to gain from the relief effort. Haiti’s reconstruction, like almost everything else in that country, has been privatized, outsourced, or taken over by foreign NGOs….On the tragedy’s one-year anniversary, it’s become clear that perhaps the only positive aspect of the past twelve months has been the exposure of the failures of the NGO aid system, and the international community’s long-standing use of the country as a laboratory for cashing in on disaster—both of which have been wrecking havoc on this country since long before the earthquake.”