As we noted here recently, Arthur Silber is in the midst of a landmark series on the Wikilieaks revelations -- a series whose profound implications and insights extend far beyond the particulars of the current controversy (although he has many pertinent things to say about those as well). I'm sure I will be drawing on these essays in the days to come. Circumstances prevent me from doing them justice at the moment, so for now I just want to point you to them once again (several more have appeared since their first mention here), and urge you to read them, if you have not done so already.
A Brief History of Hell
It's a story we have oft told here -- how the Potomac Empire brought fresh hell to Somalia -- but in light of the current imperial seat-warmer's "continuity" with the insane and inhumane policies of his predecessor, Charles Pena provides a very useful overview of "Blowback, Somali Style."
Long Gone Wrong Turn
Neil Ascherson writes of an exhibit which I just attended at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: The Lost World of Old Europe. As he notes:
The Oxford exhibition is small, but utterly spectacular. Its objects – the figurines, the painted ceramics – are irresistible. Its message adds a new page to the conventional history of ‘civilisation’. Some 7000 years ago, in south-eastern Europe around the lower Danube, groups of farmers with loosely similar ways of life settled in an area reaching from modern Bulgaria and Romania across into Ukraine. In the transitional period between the Neolithic and the Bronze Age, they flourished and multiplied. They evolved an elaborately beautiful material culture of painted pottery, goldwork and beads. They modelled and treasured clay figurines of women – and a few men. They mined copper and gold, and imported fashionable seashells from the distant Aegean. They seem to have lived in peace and equality. Before the first big cities arose in Mesopotamia, the peoples settled between the Carpathians and the Dnieper (heftily named the ‘Cucuteni-Tripolye culture’) lived in enormous ‘villages’ with up to 8000 inhabitants. These were the largest communities anywhere in the world. But such ‘megatowns’ show no trace of palaces or temples or other structures of central authority. If this ‘Old Europe’ had survived and spread westwards and northwards, the human story of the whole continent might have developed along a different track – perhaps a happier one.
But it did not survive. ‘Old Europe’ became a ‘Lost World’. Between 4000 and 3000 BC, invaders rode in from the eastern steppes, mobile warriors who used horses and who were pastoral herders rather than farmers. The mounds (‘tells’) inhabited for thousands of years were deserted and the ‘megatowns’ burned down. The copper mines were abandoned and the wonderful pottery and figurines forgotten. So much for theories of inevitable, linear progress....
The whole piece is well worth reading.
Even as Tony Blair prepares for this whirlwind "War Criminal Memoir" Tour (anticipating his senior partner in perfidy, George Bush, by a few months), the unquiet graves he left behind him continue their turbulations. As the Guardian reports: Experts call for David Kelly inquest. The new UK government -- egregious wankers that they are -- seem less inclined to bury the bloody laundry of their predecessors (at least in some limited cases) than some Ovaloid Peace Laureates we know.
Charles Davis points us to a definition of "Beltway liberalism in 24 words." They are offered up, as you might suspect, by that reliable chewer of progressive conventional wisdom, Matthew Ygelsias, who tells us:
"From a Keynesian standpoint, I believe that with the economy depressed it’s better to spend the money in Afghanistan than not to spend it."
As Davis notes:
Sorry, but someone truly familiar with all the horrors of war, someone who could actually empathize with an Afghan mother or father losing their child to an American smart bomb -- or a child watching their parents die in a botched night raid by U.S. marines -- could never write that.
Ah, but in the cozy bipartisan cocoon of the imperium, war is always on the menu. It is, as Andrew Bacevich points out, the very glue that binds the American elite together, for all their loud but very minor factional quibbles.
And you can't feel your way into the suffering of others when your own organs of perception are smeared with glue ... and coagulate gore.
Back to the world again, after 10 days of total media de-tox: no internet, no television, no radio, no newspapers, nothing but those quaint cubical constructions of paper and ink known as books.
I would highly recommend one of those cubes to anyone interested in elucidating the cultural, political, social, spiritual, and psychological bedevilments that inform our bruising and battering age: The Master and the Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World, by Iain McGilchrist.
For me personally, the book has been not only a richly fecund field of new insights and connections, but also, in many ways, a ricorso, a thunderclap of return to some deeply-felt intimations and understandings of Being that had once -- in their rough, inchoate, unrefined early forms -- seemed to be moving me in the direction of a deeper, more holistic engagement with life, if I may put it that way. I lost most of these intimations along the way somewhere, wandering away from the deep, swift, churning river down many dismal, swampy by-paths, pushing through murk, tangled in vines, anxious, fearful, diminished. It's strange to have stumbled suddenly out of the undergrowth to catch a glimpse of the old river, still there (though not the same water, of course; never the same water), still surging, still alive.
Whether I can hew my way down to the water again is another question, of course; the vines are still thick, the murk is heavy, and the spirit and flesh much weaker than before. But I can hear the river again, for now; I can feel and scent its vibrant air. I might just make it yet.
In the light of these revelations and returnings, I might be writing in a somewhat different vein in the future, at least at times. I think that in many ways I've come to -- or am coming toward -- the end of what I can say about these hideous and harrowing times of ours. Or rather, I have a great deal I can say; I just don't know how much I can fruitfully add.
I started this blog for two main reasons. One was the fact that I knew my weekly Moscow Times column wouldn't last forever, and I wanted to have an arena where I could still spout my opinions -- and, less glibly, where I could work out what I really thought and felt about the issues of the day. I've always had to write things out in order to know my own mind. That was one reason.
The other was one that I've mentioned frequently over the years: the burning desire -- or rather the compulsive need -- to bear witness to the monstrous horrors and murderous hypocrisies of the age, most especially those being committed by the rampaging empire into which I was born. I just wanted to make it known that I had seen these evils and had not stayed silent, had not acquiesced, but had spoken out against them, in public, for the record, in my own name.
Well, I've borne that witness, in print and on-line, through wars and atrocities and changes of power among imperial factions, for the last decade. No one who cares to know could be in any doubt as to where I stand. But I feel more and more that I have reached some kind of limit with the analytical approach that I have taken for these many years. I think that I have made clear all that I can make clear, all that is clear in my own mind, at this point in my life experience and my learning. I think I need to experience more and learn more (learn much, much more), open myself up to new perspectives -- and regain some old perspectives. So, as Boris Pasternak once put it at a somewhat similar point in his life, I may be writing badly for a time -- clumsily, searchingly, groping for a new way, starting over.
That's not to say that I won't continue to catalogue the atrocities of the age. I think, deep down, that I can't not do that, even if I tried. But I also hope to be thinking through and writing through to some different understandings. Anyway, we'll see.
I noted here a couple of weeks ago that I was looking "forward to seeing more of the genuine revelations of heretofore undisclosed crimes that will likely be emerging from the still largely unexplored documents" released by Wikileaks last month. I have not been disappointed. (I've also been in the process of revising much of my first reaction to the document dump; but more on that later perhaps.)
As the media froth surrounding the initial appearance of the documents recedes, the nuggets of hard truth become clearer, with diligent researchers digging through the trove. For example, Bretigne Shaffer finds some of the underpinning for the media blitz now obviously under way to reverse the growing public discontent with the war in Afghanistan.
The most glaring emblem of this campaign, of course, is the recent Time Magazine cover of the horrifically mutilated Afghan girl, which was accompanied by the headline: "What Happens If We Leave Afghanistan." (As Shaffer notes, this was posed not as a question, but as a stark statement of fact, with this not-so-subtle-implication: "If you oppose this war, you are objectively pro-mutilation.") Of course, the atrocity committed against this young woman is indeed a wicked, sickening crime. But it has nothing to do with "our" presence in Afghanistan.
No wait, strike that; it has everything to do with our presence in Afghanistan -- a presence which is greatly exacerbating the societal breakdown and empowering the kind of retrograde extremism that together lead to the perpetuation of such practices. As Shaffer notes, there is a close parallel here to the rise of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, who came to power after the United States essentially obliterated that nation with a beserker frenzy of bombing that surpassed the tonnage of all the bombs dropped by the Allies in World War II.
In any case, such horrific crimes against women and children go on all the time, all over the world, in every culture. Why would Time Magazine, which usually ignores such things, decide to highlight this particular crime, at this particular time -- and use it directly to make a "moral" case for continuing the war? Shaffer points out what she found in the Wikileaks dump:
As if the implicit pitch for more war as a solution to violence against women did not provide enough cognitive dissonance, the woman pictured was actually disfigured by family members at the order of a Taliban official last year – eight years after US forces entered Afghanistan.
In fact, the Time piece fits very neatly with something found in one of the leaked documents that has the White House so concerned. Titled "CIA Red Cell Special Memorandum: Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission-Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough," the document ."..outlines possible PR strategies to shore up public support in Germany and France for a continued war in Afghanistan."
The Memorandum continues:
"The proposed PR strategies focus on pressure points that have been identified within these countries. For France it is the sympathy of the public for Afghan refugees and women... Outreach initiatives that create media opportunities for Afghan women to share their stories with French, German, and other European women could help to overcome pervasive skepticism among women in Western Europe toward the ISAF mission... Media events that feature testimonials by Afghan women would probably be most effective if broadcast on programs that have large and disproportionately female audiences." (Emphasis Shaffer's)
Putting a year-old atrocity on the cover of Time Magazine is indeed an effective "media opportunity" for a war machine eager to keep its blood-greased engines churning. And not that anyone cares, but the Taliban hotly denies any involvement in the crime against the young woman, which was carried out by her own in-laws. As AFP reports:
Independent US monitoring agency SITE said the English-language statement from the Taliban spokesman was posted on Saturday on the website of the group, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan:
"As far as the story of Aisha is concerned, Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan has condemned this barbaric, inhumane and un-Islamic act and declares that this case has never been forwarded to any court or persons of Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan."
The statement goes on to point out that under Islamic law the "cutting of human ears and noses whether the human is alive or dead is illegal and prohibited."
But yes, there is violence against women in Afghanistan -- great violence. But this has only increased, not decreased, as the American military presence drags on, as Shaffer notes (see original for links):
Says Ann Jones, journalist and author of Kabul in Winter, "For most Afghan women, life has stayed the same. And for a great number, life has gotten much worse."
Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission, says "the attacks against women both external and within the family have gone up. Domestic violence has increased. (The current) judiciary is imprisoning more women than ever before in Afghanistan. And they are imprisoning them for running away from their homes, for refusing to marry the man that their family picked for them, for even being a victim of rape."
Anand Gopal, Afghanistan correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, says "The situation for women in the Pashtun area is actually worse than it was during the Taliban time. ...(U)nder the Taliban, women were kept in burqas and in their homes, away from education. Today, the same situation persists. They’re kept in burqas, in homes, away from education, but on top of that they are also living in a war zone."
Shaffer then points us to a remarkable article by Mohammad Qayoumi in Foreign Policy earlier this year: a photo essay on what Afghanistan looked like 50 years ago:
The photos were taken from an old book published by Afghanistan’s planning ministry in the 1950s and 60s, and were accompanied by Qayoumi’s commentary recalling the Afghanistan he had known as a young man. The images depict men and women in western dress going about their daily lives in what appears to be a fairly well-developed, functioning society. Qayoumi recounts:
"A half-century ago, Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help. Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead. All that has been destroyed by three decades of war, but it was real."
The images are in stark contrast to pretty much any photos from Afghanistan today, and are a poignant reminder of how much that country has lost.
She also points out how these images jar with the brutal pig-ignorance that holds sway in the imperial mindset of American policymakers and their war-profiteering whores like Blackwater's Eric Prince. She first excerpts a recent quote by Prince, then gives her conclusion:
"You know," [Prince said], "people ask me that all the time: 'Aren't you concerned that you folks aren't covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan?' And I say, 'Absolutely not,' because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They're barbarians. They don't know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there."
As Qayoumi’s photo essay demonstrates so clearly, Afghanistan is not a devastated nation because its people "have a 1200 AD mentality." It is devastated because it has been invaded and occupied by hostile foreign powers for years. Anyone who truly cares about the welfare of the Afghan people would do well to remember this fact before proposing more of what has caused that country’s problems as their solution.