Reflections: Capital strikes back

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Posted by FYI ( on November 05, 2001 at 01:13:58:

By Hani Shukrallah

Berlusconi apologised; Bush forswore a Crusade (even
in "the broad sense of the word"); the war in defence
of "Western civilisation" was toned down to a war in
defence of freedom for everybody; and Infinite Justice
became Enduring Freedom. Sensible Muslim leaders
applauded expressions of Western sensitivity to Muslim
sensitivities, and such were the prerequisites of
political expedience that Western political leaders
began to sound like Azharite sheikhs, preaching to all
and sundry the true meaning of Islam.

It's not working. Bombs, after all, will be bombs.
They kill and devastate; people die; families are
shattered; homes are destroyed; lives and livelihoods,
just as sure as limbs and bodies, are broken beyond
repair -- all of which is brutally, heartlessly
concrete ("the proof of the pudding").

And let's not fool each other or ourselves. Nobody
really believes the sudden sensitisation, in New York
and London or in Islamabad and Cairo. Muslim rage is
all the rage in the Western media. Meanwhile, every
two-bit academic who has, with career- minded
farsightedness and, often (overt and/ or covert)
governmental connections, plagiarised other two-bit
career-minded, etc. academics to write a PhD thesis,
monograph or book on Islam, has become an "expert" in
high demand.

It is a clear case of "white man speak with forked
tongue," sad to say. The leaders speak in easily
decipherable code, at once swearing themselves blue in
the face that the West is not at war with Islam --
"Islam is a religion of peace", etc. -- while
continuing to use the "trigger words" that incite the
very feelings of cultural, religious and racial
superiority, bigotry and hatred they claim to refute.

Huntington, all but consigned to well- deserved
oblivion during the past few years, has been revived
with a vengeance. Commentators vie to expound their
particular take on the essential attributes of Islamic
civilisation, culture, and contemporary world, and the
"Clash of Civilizations" is back in fashion. Royalties
are rolling in. Even Francis Fukuyama, a rival and
equally prosaic prophet of post-Cold War capitalist
triumphalism (and US policy-making circles), has
jumped on the bandwagon of anti- Islamic rhetoric. His
"end of history" thesis (all world societies have no
option but to adopt Western democracy and market-based
economy, proven to be the summit of human progress)
has not been proven wrong, he asserted in an article
in the Wall Street Journal. He goes on to concede,
however, that "there does seem to be something about
Islam, or at least the fundamentalist versions of
Islam that have been dominant in recent years, that
makes Muslim societies particularly resistant to

For a fairly short piece, Fukuyama's is a veritable
mine of precious gems. "Of all contemporary cultural
systems, the Islamic world has the fewest
democracies," he informs his readers. In fact, he goes
on to clarify, only one Islamic country qualifies (as
a democracy): Turkey. This latter assertion
(apparently so self- evident it is made in
parenthesis) is so fantastic as to lead one to the
conclusion that Mr Fukuyama must base his writing on
one of two assumptions: either his readers are utter
ignoramuses or they are fully complicit in an entirely
cynical and arbitrary definition of democracy. A
democracy is simply what we say is a democracy -- and
let the Devil take care of the rest (including
thousands of killed, tortured and imprisoned Kurds,
banned political movements and parties, gagged
journalists and writers and a state and society made
hostage to the generals' goodwill).

Fukuyama's fundamental dilemma, however, lies
elsewhere. Other non-Western people may be having
problems in their progression towards the Western
ideal (and, hence, history's peak), but "there are no
insuperable cultural barriers to prevent them from
getting there." It does seem, however, that such
barriers may exist in the case of Muslims, suggests a
troubled Fukuyama. After all, "Islam... is the only
cultural system that seems regularly to produce people
like Osama Bin Laden or the Taliban who reject
modernity lock, stock and barrel."

The well-connected Washington ideologue approves the
Western leaders' change of tone. Their assertions
"that those sympathetic with the terrorists are a
'tiny minority' of Muslims [are] important... to
prevent all Muslims from becoming targets of hatred"
-- and, we might add, to draw friendly Islamic states
into the war- against-terrorism alliance, while
maintaining as far as possible their fragile political
stability. He readily admits, however, that such
assertions are merely expedient. The real issue,
Fukuyama tells us, is that "if the [Muslim]
rejectionists are more than a lunatic fringe, then
Huntington is right that we are in for a protracted
conflict made dangerous by virtue of their
technological empowerment."

But what if it is? This, after all, is not a struggle
between "equal cultures fighting amongst one another
like the great powers of 19th- century Europe." The
West, and in particular, America, Fukuyama is
confident, will ultimately prevail.
Fukuyama meets Huntington courtesy of Bin Laden -- a
synthesis of nonsense has been achieved.
There is tremendous irony in all of this. The
expedient and transparent hypocrisy visible in the
Western leaders' change of tone provides inadequate
tactical cover for the bigger (strategic) lie of the
confrontation between the West and Islam, but in lying
twice they actually point to the truth.

The secret buried beneath all the rubbish, both
tactical and strategic, can be found in the shifting
fortunes of Huntington and Fukuyama themselves. Their
initial renown was a product of the "winds of change"
that swept across Eastern Europe a little over a
decade ago. Against the drumbeats of Western
capitalist triumphalism, the US-led Gulf War slipped
into the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Cold War
was over.

That did not last. In less than 10 years, the tunes of
global capital's victory march had dimmed to a distant
murmur. Democracy was no longer a malleable propaganda
instrument to be manipulated cynically by the US and
its Western allies. Rather, it had become the battle
cry of a growing resistance movement against
capitalist globalisation. World Bank and IMF officials
were scavenging for capitalism's human face; spin had
all but replaced politics; the WTO was in the process
of replacing parliaments; America had an elected
president who had lost the election and the global
economy was slowly but surely sinking into recession.
Fukuyama and Huntington were silent.

Now they're back.

At its heart, the war of civilisations (or merely the
West versus Islam) is no more than the fantastically
fetishised expression of global capital's battle
against genuine (rather than Turkish-style) democracy
-- everywhere. Things, as everybody knows, are rarely
ever what they seem

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