Sunday, 25 September 2011

Nevermind 20 years of Nirvana.

"I wouldn't wear a tie-dye-T-shirt unless it was dyed with the urine of Phil Collins and the blood of Jerry Garcia." - Kurt Cobain

It is 20 years since the release of Nirvana's second album Nevermind which soon shot Michael Jackson down from the Number One spot and launched the band from relative obscurity into the mainstream. The band had clearly moved forward from the screeching anger and darkness, the almost metallic sound, of Bleach in 1989. Before the album came out Kurt Cobain filled in NME about his ideas for Nevermind. When asked to explain the title Kurt said "Most people would just as soon forget or say 'never mind' than to take a can of spray paint, or start a band. People just don't do things very often anymore. I'm kind of disturbed by it." This is a desperate complaint typical of Generation X, for whom all great ideas had been diminished in some way as the "End of History" was heralded and pop culture was reduced to just another market. The angst hangs in his words as he goes on to add "It'd be just as easy to spray paint 'Kill George Bush' over and over again. Whether that would have any impact on anything or not, it doesn't matter, it's still fun."

Bare this in mind when you hear the lines in Smells like Teen Spirit "Load up on guns, bring your friends" and "It's fun to lose and to pretend". Cobain later claimed it was a mockery of the thought of "having a revolution" (note not 'starting' a revolution) though it is a "nice thought" the song remains sarcastic. The song itself consists of contradictory sentiments which range from the restless calls "Hello, Hello, Hello..." to the passive demands for "entertainment". We might designate the song as rudderless, for it is without clear direction, but then we will have missed the point. Teen Spirit was an attempt to encapsulate the feeling of angst when confronted with the Absurd - the indifference of the universe - which entails contradictions and in turn can provoke a certain reaction. It is a work of subversion. In the interview with NME Cobain describes the song as "posing as the enemy to infiltrate the mechanics of the system, to slowly start its rot from the inside. It's an inside job, it starts with the custodians and the cheerleaders."

Before Kurt Cobain decided to give up the ghost, and suck on the end of a shotgun, Fred Pfeil noted the potential in the rock masculinity posited by Nirvana. In his preoccupation with white straight masculinity Pfeil contrasted it with the versions of rock masculinity that had come before in the music of Bruce Springsteen and Guns N' Roses. For Pfeil there is a complex message of racial and sexual differentiation in both Bruce's and Axl's version of masculinity. Fred Pfeil argues Springsteen's moral authenticity is in part the nostalgia which contains it; the viciousness and instability of Axil are in bed together. The attitudes of Kurt Cobain might be described as individualist in the profoundly anarchic, anti-masculinist and anti-homophobic vein. It is not that Nirvana presented an alternative masculinity, at least coherently, though it did thoroughly reject and mock what had come before it. So the band goes to the gender breakdown from sexualisation. Rather than a simply refusal to be sexually fetishised (e.g. to cover up and avoid nudity) Nirvana looks to subvert the conventional equation between white male band and white male fan.

The example of choice is the music video of In Bloom in which the band are introduced on an Ed Sullivan-esque TV show as "three fine young men from Seattle" complete with combed hair and matching sports coats. The video is shot in grainy black-and-white to give it the feel of the early 60s, the days before there was such a thing as MTV, Heavy Metal or Punk Rock never mind Grunge.  The effect is a Brechtian distance, the verfremdungseffekt, the point of which was to encourage the audience to take a critical view of the events on stage. So the trio bob about cheerfully as the crowd of pubescent girls get all hysterical as the quiet opening line stands incongruous to the scene "Sell kids for food, weather changes moods". The immediate subject of mockery is the "one" who "knows all our pretty songs", who likes to sing along and shoot his gun but "knows not what it means"; later adding "We can have some more, nature is a whore". The position to be ridiculed is that to comprehend these lyrics is to "shoot a gun", e.g. to possess a phallus.

Suddenly the video jumps to footage of the same band on the same show in quite a different get-up. The long ragged hair is back, the sports coats swapped for dresses. The leap away from the neat and clean-cut Americana which preceded such a wild lurching genderfuck of a performance. A mock duel follows only for Cobain to straddle Novoselic, soon the guitar is discarded by the lead singer as the stage is trashed and he makes it back to the microphone with his hands pressed into his groin as if from some great pain - a kick in the nuts or is it that time of the month? The audience remains enthralled, the screeching of the girls is incessant, as if they're watching a totally different show. As the show comes to a stop the host re-emerges to inform us that these fellows are going to be "really big stars." The break is made with the traditional rock masculinity with its populist appeal to the white working-class market, the hidden haunts of Eric Clapton's racism. Cobain refused to "be a man" in this sense, while Nirvana turned this into a collective refusal. Perhaps if Cobain had lived longer we would have more than just this blue-print that hints at a new masculinity.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Despair at American Injustice.

The Time for Rage.

As one of the people who lit candles for Troy Davis outside the US embassy on Thursday night, I feel obligated to write of the sheer obscenity of the case and others like it. Above us the Old Glory rippled in the wind as an armed guard was poised across from us, this is what marked the building apart from the others in Grosvenor Square. The statues of Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan stand at the opposite ends of the embassy, perhaps to signify the beginning and end of the Cold War. Of course, the statues were not there to celebrate the savagery of the Korean War and the depraved crimes in which the US government indulged throughout the 1980s. The Old Glory had not been raised up above the embassy to take pride in the bloodied foundations of the United States, where the remains of millions of Native Americans and Africans rest in unsettled and unmarked graves. The statues no doubt commemorate "truth, justice and the American way" not to mention America as the "Land of the Free" and "Home of the Brave".

How many Americans will think of Troy Davis when they next pledge allegiance? The details of the Troy Davis case are almost as hideous as Justice Scalia's scrotum. As The Guardian rightly notes: Out of the nine witnesses, seven have since recanted their testimony and some have cited police intimidation. One of the witnesses was illiterate and could not read the statement which they signed at a police station. No murder weapon was ever recovered. There was no DNA evidence at all and the case against Troy Davis was based on the testimony of witnesses. Out of the remaining two witnesses it is possible that one of them is Sylvester Coles, who has been implicated by nine people as a serious suspect in the murder. When he was drunk Coles confessed to a friend that he was the real killer. He has admitted that he owned the same model weapon as that was used to kill Mark MacPhail, supposedly Coles gave away the gun earlier on the day of the shooting. The only reaction of a real human being to all of this is despair.

Bare in mind Rick Perry has signed around 235 death warrants in the last 10 years and it was his predecessor George the Anointed who signed 152 in 4 years as Texan Governor. This is out of 475 executions since 1976 and 413 currently stew on death row in Huntsville. But let's not shirk from criticism of the Democrats and remember it was Bill Clinton who saw to it that Ricky Ray Rector was executed in 1992. Rector had survived shooting himself in the head after he had shot a police officer in the back. He was left "seriously mentally impaired", to say the least, on death row in an Arkansas prison cell for over 10 years. The court had rejected the claim of "grave mental impairment" and gave him the death penalty. Rather than pardon the man Clinton exploited the situation to wipe the press clean of the latest sex scandal - with Gennifer Flowers - to blight his precious campaign. On the night of his execution, Rector saved a slice of pecan pie for later, not understanding his death would come first. It took them 45 minutes to find a vein to shoot full of sodium thiopental and Clinton had dinner with Mary Steenburgen.

The 40th anniversary of the Attica Prison riot passed a week or so ago, it was September 9th 1971 when the hostage situation was crushed at the behest of Governor Nelson Rockefeller with the support of Richard Nixon. Over 2,200 prisoners seized control of the jail and held 39 guards hostage for four days in reaction to the death of activist George Jackson at the hands of prison guards in an escape attempt at San Quentin. The troopers were sent in to the jail and let loose over 2,000 rounds indiscriminately, killing 29 prisoners and 10 guards before going onto beat and torture even more prisoners. Cornel West has a word for the process whereby people become deferential subjects to the Establishment to the extent that they consent to domination and control. West calls this process "niggerization", not just of blacks but of whites as well, and he holds that Attica was a counter-move against this process. For the Establishment the riot had to be brought down in case it spread to other prisons, as was the case with riots which swept across America in the 60s.

In the 1940s there was an opening for black people to enter the workforce as labourers and escape a system of de facto slavery which continued after the American Civil War. The rise of radical sentiments and civil disobedience in the 60s made way for greater progress. But the opening was closed in the 1970s as the economy became finance-based and the role of African-Americans became increasingly superfluous once more. So the need for a huge system of incarceration emerged, which might explain why there are currently over 7 million Americans in some phase of the penal system. Of course, the root problem is the neoliberal model which appears to have finally collapsed into stagnancy. It is clear that the American political system has long been broken, with the opposition as rudderless as the powerful themselves. In the words of Thomas Jefferson "God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion." For Jefferson rebellion is not a constant condition, though it does eternally return and the US is long overdue.

Monday, 19 September 2011

A Restless Summer.

Over the summer there seemed to be an endless flow of stories for the media to prepare narratives for and spoon-feed to us. This will come as a shock to those of you who have spent the summer in a masturbation furnace or perhaps on Mars. With everything from neo-fascist killing sprees and economic crisis to phone hacking and celebrity deaths, it was a damn good summer for news and certainly no silly season. Here are a few looks at major events in the summer, which you won't find in the mainstream media.


The debt crisis in Greece has rocked the Eurozone for months as it looked like German and French banks might be sunk the IMF and the EU moved in to force austerity measures in Greece to secure the interests of bankers in Western Europe. So Greece slashed €700 million more than the IMF and EU demanded of them, even as the country was saddled with yet more debt and the Europeans banks were handed €110 billion. The media so kind to inform us that the crisis was the result of "out-of-control" spending which we shouldn't pick up the bill for. The irony of all this is that the European country that has defaulted more than any other in the last century is Germany. Germany was excused from reparations to the countries that it had invaded, nor did the Germans have to pay back the loans that the Third Reich squeezed out of the countries it occupied in the war and especially not to the Greeks. Germany didn't even pay back the US for the loans that were used to pay the reparations levied on Germany after the First World War.

Even though from 2001 to 2007 the total spending of the EU was equal to 50.7% of GDP, out of the 27 member-states Greece was outspent by 13 states. Over the same time period public spending in Greece amounted to 44.6% of GDP. As the crisis hit Greece there was a jump in spending to 50.4% of GDP in 2009 and that is still the average expenditure in Europe. The relatively high level of public debt in Greece, before the crisis, goes back to the 1980s when the country was still recovering from the military junta. The weakness of the Greek government is in fiscal policy, though not spending but in tax-revenues that have collapsed as a result of anti-government sentiment exacerbated by an explosion of unemployment since the recession began. Sweden has the highest expenditure in Europe and yet there is no debt crisis, the reason being that the Swedish tax system is a lot better. The crisis in Greece was down to a flawed tax system and widespread anti-government sentiments which amounted to widespread tax avoidance and evasion.

Then there is the suspicious line that the Greeks are a "venal" and "lazy" people who have enjoyed a lavish state-expenditure at the expense of the rest of Europe. In actuality Greeks work around 2,120 hours a year compared with about 1,712 hours a year worked in Britain and 1,473 hours by Germans. Out of the OECD countries Koreans are the only people who work longer hours than the Greeks. You may have read of the "Greek Gravy Train", the tales of railway workers paid £60,000 a year and the way that professionals retire at 50 - though the average retirement is 62. There isn't much ink on paper about the huge numbers of Greeks who have received no pay in months and the ever-rising unemployment rate. Rationally, the Germans should bailout Greece in the way that the US bailed out Germany for free after it defaulted just after the Second World War. Instead the EU have been led by Germany into bailing out the banks at the expense of Greek democracy. The Greek people are now facing around 10 to 15 years of economic stagnation complete with a huge decline in the standard of living and in the end the country will still default anyway.


The scandal at News International will probably be never fully said and done. It is much bigger than simply a scandal of hacking the phones of murdered children and soldiers killed in battle. We now know a lot more about the profoundly sordid relationship between the Murdoch media and the Establishment.  It has been common knowledge for a long time that the News International has a right-wing agenda. Out of the 247 editors who work for Rupert Murdoch not one came out in opposition to the Iraq war. The Murdoch media amounts to 40% of British media and has backed Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and David Cameron to electoral victory. We now know that soon after Cameron took office he first met with Rupert Murdoch before going on to meet with Rebekah Brooks when she edited The News of the World and then Dominic Mohan of The Sun for a "general discussion". Cameron attended the News International summer party where he gave an interview to James Harding of The Times and went onto give a speech at the CEO summit of that same newspaper.

Keep in mind that the Prime Minister also met with Paul Dacre, the editor of The Daily Mail, Lord Burns of Channel 4 and Deborah Turness of ITV News in the first month he was in office. Cameron later met with the editor of The Evening Standard for another "general discussion", the Prime Minister also attended the summer parties of The Financial Times and The Spectator. Unfortunately, the level of ingratiation that the political class has met with Murdoch does not end at a Christmas dinner with Rebekah Brooks and James Murdoch. We know that Tony Blair is the Godfather of Murdoch's daughter. We find that the Conservative Party and the police were entangled in the conspiracy ran out of a Murdoch red-top. No surprise here, it was the Thatcherites and the Met who colluded with Murdoch in 1986 to crush the print unions in Wapping. A favour for when The Sun led the media campaign against the Miners Strike of '84. Perhaps an extended favour for the campaign the Murdoch press led against Tony Benn - which went as far as actually fabricating psychiatric reports in order to question Benn's mental health - to prevent him from becoming leader of the Labour Party.

The problem with the dominant narrative in the mainstream media is that it assumes what went on at The News of the World was an aberration. As in All the President's Men we're told that the little guy can uncover a scandal which reaches the very top of power and then can bring down the President in the name of justice. So corruption can reach the very top but because of the democratic features of our society we can find it, root it out and restore greatness in our society. Once again it turns out we want the thing itself without the harsh element of it, just as so many of us want coffee without coffee (decaffeinated coffee), war without war (no casualties on our side) or even a revolution without revolution (no real change). In this case it is as if we want sleaze without sleaze, we need to get back to proper journalism which run without corruption and unscrupulous methods such as phone-hacking. It's the classic feel good story which is used to prevent a serious attempt to ask fundamental questions about the nature of the mass-media and the provision of news through corporate structures to the public.

NORWAY'S 9/11?

The massacre in Norway came out of nowhere seemingly, it took the pundits by surprise and prompted an embarrassing attempt to resurrect the "War on Terror" narrative. The Sun jumped on the opportunity to spin the headline 'Al-Qaeda Massacre: Norway's 9/11'. Clearly the Murdoch press were desperate to lead the public away from the stench of criminality around the papers and lead them by the nose against Muslims once again. It was almost as bad as when the American press looked up Edward Said for an "insight" into international terrorism in the wake of the Oklahoma City Bombing. Even though Said is a Christian, he is a Palestinian and therefore must be an expert on terrorism. After it turned out to be just another angry white man we could still read about the "failure" of multiculturalism that led to the attacks in The New York Times. We might choose to read in The Atlantic about how the massacre was a "mutation of jihad" whereby a white man goes ape as a Muslim fanatic would in order to prevent the coming "Islamization" of Europe. The leader of the English Defence League, a former BNP member, appeared on Newsnight to spin the same line.

In many instances the press came out no better than Robert Brasillach when he conjured up the notion of "reasonable anti-Semitism" during the Nazi occupation of France. Brasillach insisted he had no beef with Charlie Chaplin, Yehudi Menuhin and Marcel Proust, but the rest of Jewry could go hang as far as he was concerned. Similarly Breivik a distinguishes between "loyal" and "disloyal" Jews, who are a threat to the European civilisation, the state of Israel and global capitalism. For Breivik, Hitler was only wrong to exterminate the "loyal" Jews who deserved a homeland. In the same vein of thought we find Jack Straw who attacks Nick Griffin on Question Time as a Fascist before wheeling out Griffin's line that the Pakistani men see our women as "white meat". So there is a "reasonable racism" to be deployed for the protection of women against Pakistani rape gangs and to maintain "Britishness" with a ban on veils. There is nothing more suspect than the insistence that the actions of Anders Behring Breivik represent a current of working-class opinion in Europe which must be acknowledged in order to prevent such violent outbursts. 

In the manifesto Breivik churned out there are references and quotes to columnists Jeremy Clarkson and Melanie Phillips as well as Bernard Lewis, Bat Ye'or, Pamela Geller, Geert Wilders, Daniel Pipes, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and the Unabomber. The thought process behind the slaughter in Norway begins the mainstream right-wing discourse on Muslims and immigration in general, but then radiates outwards to the farthest reaches of jingo-lunacy. In one such instance Breivik used extracts of the Unabomber's manifesto and replaced words such as 'blacks' and 'leftists' with 'Muslims' and 'cultural Marxists'. You don't have to look too far to find hysterical noise in the gutter press about political correctness, multiculturalism, secularism, European integration and the "leftist" bias of the media. Interestingly Breivik didn't attack foreigners and turned his gun on his fellow Norwegians who were too tolerant towards the foreigners. As if the problem is not immigrants as such, but the political class that has been "corrupted" by the Left in a bid to subdue the unremitting greatness of the white man.

The riots seen in the UK seemingly came out of nowhere, inexplicable and indiscriminate violence tore through the capital before hurtling across the country. It was a peaceful protest in Tottenham over the death of Mark Duggan at the hands of police officers that descended into violence first. Then came a tidal wave of violence and looting that rushed through the streets of London, Birmingham, Manchester and a lot of other places. The commentariat was soon flailing wildly out of control for a useful narrative with Max Hastings wondering "How do you inculcate values in a child whose only role model is footballer Wayne Rooney - a man who is bereft of the most meagre human graces?" The Evening Standard pinned the blame on the GTA series whilst Melanie Phillips blamed the "liberal intelligentsia", oh and the rise of single-motherhood. As the Left called for a recognition of "legitimate grievances" the Right called for cuts to benefits and the repossession of property to punish the rioters. Then the decadent Starkey emerged to tell us all that it is down to the encroachment of "black culture" into a halcyon vanilla Britannia.

The conservatives were eager to shoot down any liberal nonsense about "legitimate grievances" and "social deprivation". At the same time the only permissible view was outright condemnation of the violence, which is a platitude to say the least as no one condones what happened. Even though the Right wanted to stress that these were the decisions undertaken by free individuals they could not bring itself to admit the exact nature of the riots. In the midst of the riots Kelvin MacKenzie was asked "Should we try to understand this?" and he responded "No, I don't think we should..." As if that wasn't bad enough then Michael Gove popped up to let us know that he's on "the side of order" and there are no excuses for violence. A strange position for Michael Gove to take given that he thinks the Iraq war is justified by the GDP of Iraq at the moment. Incidentally there are 5 million orphans in Iraq with over 1 million people dead as a direct consequence of war, with millions more displaced, deformed and dispossessed.

The violence of the student demonstrations came with a political message whereas the riots had no message at all. The rioters were not a revolutionary subject, in the Marxist sense, but more of a Hegelian 'rabble' who are outside of the organised social space and can only express their discontent through irrational outbursts - a 'lumpen-insurrection' of sorts. The rage and despair of the 'rabble' was expressed in the most impotent forms, the torching of random buildings and pointless thievery for example. Slavoj Žižek was right to call for a rejection of the demand to take a side, either that of a 'disenfranchised youth' or a 'small business owner'. In the riots we saw society attack society, a lot like watching a man slash away aimlessly at his own limbs, as Hunter S Thompson noted of much worse riots in the 60s "the American dream was clubbing itself to death". It was a conflict between people with a stake in community, who had managed to function within the system, and the people with no such stake and nothing to lose.

Zygmunt Bauman was correct to designate the riots as "defective and disqualified consumers" and it is easy to see the mass-looting as consumerism turned violent as it could not be realised in the proper way of shopping. Even the ignominious David Starkey acknowledged this point when he called the riots "shopping with violence". That was before he opted to wheel in the words of Enoch Powell to insulate the prevailing ideology from any damaging self-reflection. In the riots we find that at best "legitimate grievances" are secondary to impotent expression of anger, despair and envy. Ultimately the riots were a clear demonstration of the material force of ideology, it was the barbarous underbelly of consumerism rising to the surface and overflowing for all to see on Sky News. As for the people peddling vengeful answers to the riots, these are the same people who claimed there is no such thing as society. It was they who called for the "liberation" of the individual to pursue their own self-interest at the expense of others.


Then the Libyan Civil War resurfaced in the news as the rebels seized the capital to the surprise of Orientalist commentators everywhere, to whom the Arabs are still either incapable of winning a fight or are bloodthirsty animals. It looks as though this is the autumn of the Colonel, for Gaddafi soon disappeared. The great irony of the situation is that the Gaddafi regime was interventionist in foreign policy and had been for a very long time. The regime backed Idi Amin in Uganda, Slobodan Milošević in Serbia and Charles Taylor in Liberia as well as the IRA, the Sandinista movement and the ANC. Gaddafi sought to mediate disputes in African countries such as Mali, specifically between the government and rebels. He has even sent peace keeping missions to countries like Somalia. It has even been suggested that the Libyan government provided millions in investments to support governments in Liberia, Niger, Chad and the Central African Republic. Under Gaddafi the country had been led into armed conflict with Egypt and Chad on multiple occasions.

For years Muammar al-Gaddafi stood as the mirror-image of an American neoconservative as he saw a moral obligation to intervene where necessary on the side of the victim against the oppressors of the world. Of course, the side of the victim can be chosen selectively in accordance with the geopolitical value of fending off a particular oppressor. The same is true of the neoconservatives who wanted to fight the Communists in Afghanistan in the name of "freedom", but quietly supported Ceaușescu in Romania at the same time. We find similar contradictions in Libyan foreign policy, Colonel Gaddafi was on board for war crimes in Sierra Leone but backed the ANC at a time when Nelson Mandela was smeared as a "terrorist" in the US and Britain. The same reasoning was deployed to justify sending Libyan agents across into Egypt with the stated purpose of "subversion", even though Gaddafi was an admirer of General Nasser and wanted to emulate him as a "strong man".

Back in 1971 the CIA and MI6 put together a plot to bring down Gaddafi as part of an all-out-invasion of Libya, which would culminate in the release of political prisoners and the restoration of the monarchy. The plot fell apart as the CIA concluded that the Colonel sufficed as a bulwark to Communism in North Africa. The regime in Tripoli was opposed to Israel and Western imperialism, but  it was also opposed to the Soviet Union and Russian influence in the region. This was good enough for the time being. There has even been the suggestion (which has yet to be verified) that the coup which Gaddafi orchestrated in 1969 had been supported by the US. The regime modeled itself on the example set by Egypt, which had become a worrying example of independence by then. It is plausible that the coup was seen as a way to "buy-off" socialism and create a bulwark to the Soviet Union at the same time. So when tensions in the new regime led to a conspiracy to overthrow Gaddafi in 1975 the CIA immediately warned the Colonel who then steam-rolled over all internal opposition and continued to pursue an interventionist foreign policy.

As Gaddafi's regime became increasingly repressive and began to turn to the Soviet Union for greater support, so it was clear that Libya was going to become a "pariah state". Today commentators like to make reference to the way Gaddafi sponsored terrorism. When the US bombed Libya in 1986 the "reason" was that Gaddafi had sent arms and advisers to the Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Gaddafi mirrored the American support for the Contras, who were at the forefront of a terrorist campaign against the Sandinistas. The US continued to lean on Libya into the 1990s, this went as far as economic sanctions and backing an attempt to assassinate Gaddafi in 1996. A few years later the US made peace with Libya as Gaddafi made a bid to secure a comfortable place in a world that had changed greatly since the Berlin Wall fell. The support lent to Gaddafi was extreme, it went as far as selling him weapons which were later used against his own people. The British and the American governments even saw to it that the attempt to indict Gaddafi for his responsibility for the deaths of 1.2 million people in Sierra Leone.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Lincoln's Favourite Play.

If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly. If the' assassination
Could trammel up the consequence and catch
With his surcease success, that but this blow
Might be the be-all and end-all, here;
But here upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'd jump the life to come. But in these cases
We still have judgement here, that we but teach
Bloody instructions which, being taught, return
To plague th'inventor. This even-handed justice
Commends th'ingredience of our poisoned chalice
To our own lips. He's here in double trust:
First, as I am his kinsman and his subject,
Strong both against the deed; then, as his host,
Who should against his murderer shut the door,
Not bear the knife myself. Besides, this Duncan
Hath borne his faculties so meek, hath been
So clear in his great office, that his virtues
Will plead like angels, trumpet-tongued against
The deep damnation of his taking-off,
And pity, like a naked new-born babe,
Striding the blast, or heaven's cherubin, horsed
Upon the sightless couriers of the air,
Shall blow the horrid deed in every eye
That tears shall drown the wind. I have no spur
To prick the sides of my intent, but only
Vaulting ambition which o'erleaps itself
And falls on th'other. 

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Gaddafi's Greatest Hits?

After Gaddafi reaffirmed his position in the mid 1970s the Libyan government continued to embark upon an interventionist path abroad. In the 70s the regime stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Idi Amin in Uganda as it propped up the ANC in South Africa. Repeatedly Gaddafi interfered in the politics of other Arab states, holding that the Arab people are for unity and the rulers stand in the way. A series of plots against leaders in other countries were uncovered, including in Egypt and Tunisia. Gaddafi played the part of a revolutionary looking to liberate the masses of the Arab world and to unite the Arab states carved out in colonial times. The Colonel argued that it is a moral duty to support every movement that stands for the liberation of the exploited and oppressed. This is where Gaddafi comes across as a strange parallel of a liberal interventionist, perhaps one of those self-proclaimed "democratic revolutionaries" who fought to bring American pornography to Russia. Gaddafi has also acted to mediate disputes in African countries such as Mali, specifically between the government and rebels. He has even sent peace keeping missions to countries.

By 1980 it was clear that there was dissent within Libya which the Colonel acted to suppress. There was a mutiny in the Libyan army at Tobruk which Gaddafi crushed. There were numerous assassination attempts over the years and the self-proclaimed "Brother Leader of the Revolution" had survived a coup attempt thanks to the CIA. Rocky times lay ahead as Libya went to war with Chad, with the US, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel supporting Chad. Around the same time the Libyan government was looking to align itself with the Soviet Union as it saw the writing on the wall from the US. Even though just the year before Billy Carter attended the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Gaddafi's ascent to power. By which point the CIA had definitely abandoned its' pragmatic position on the Libyan government. There was soon little tolerance for Gaddafi as he lent support to the Sandinista movement that had deposed the vile Somoza in Nicaragua. The Americans were looking to keep their "backyard" in order.

In 1981 the Reagan administration declared the "War on Terrorism" and shot down two Libyan fighter jets in disputed waters before Reagan ordered US citizens to leave Libya and then refused US passport holders to travel there. Before the year was out the Reaganites were claiming that the Colonel had sent hit-men to assassinate the President and would target senior officials if Reagan couldn't be got. The line was played to deliberately invoke the assassination attempt that Reagan survived. It was a well crafted campaign of fear on the part of the American government and actually originates as a piece of Israeli secret service disinformation. Similarly in Britain The News of the World ran a story that the Libyan government was "masterminding a secret plot to arm black revolutionary murder squads" in the country. The British press has been jingoistically faithful to the cause of bombing Libya for quite some time. The source turned out to be a notorious con artist, who had squeezed £3,000 out of the paper for the story. Around the time that there were meant to be Libyan hit-men hiding under the President's bed a CIA plot to overthrow Gaddafi was leaked to the press.

In 1982 the CIA installed Hissène Habré in Chad as the war still raged with Libya. The aims of this were clear as Alexander Haig wanted to "bloody" Gaddafi's nose and it was the first operation carried out by new CIA chief William Casey. The National Front for the Salvation of Libya received $7 million from the Saudi Royals, as well as support from the CIA and the French. A plan to assassinate Gaddafi and overthrow the government was crushed in May of 1984. For the British the death of police officer Yvonne Fletcher in April of 1984, at the hands of a gunman inside the Libyan embassy, was enough to pin Colonel Gaddafi as the "Mad Dog" leader of a rogue state. There wasn't such fuss over the fate of Musa Sadr, who disappeared mysteriously on a trip to Libya in 1978. The Lebanese Imam had a significant following amongst Shi'ite Muslims, but had a reputation as politically unreliable though it remains a mystery precisely why Gaddafi would have killed him. Then in 1985 came the plan for an Egyptian invasion of Libya aimed at the removal of Gaddafi from power. Mubarak refused to carry out the invasion for Washington.

Finally in 1986 the US bombed Libya on the grounds that the Gaddafi regime was supporting international terrorism. It was the first military assault on a country that was staged for prime time television. No European country, except for Britain, would allow the US to launch the attack from its military bases. Thatcher was looking for a boost in the polls and hoped that the attack on Libya might propel her to victory in '87 as the Falklands war had in '83. The airstrikes failed to hit some major targets, the Colonel survived the attack, even cabinet ministers questioned the bombing and the British public were not impressed. Out of the 18 jets sent to bomb Libya 9 had been given the order to takeout the "Mad Dog". The attack on the compound was a military failure, Gaddafi was in a bunker at the time and only the windows on the administration building where he lived were blown out by the bombs. Though the tennis courts sustained two bombs and it only took one blast on the building where Gaddafi's family lives to injure two of his sons and kill his adopted daughter. Can you imagine the outrage of the commentariat had Reagan's daughter been killed in a Libyan air-raid on the US?

One of the specific charges against the Colonel was that he had sent advisers and arms to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Interestingly it would not be acceptable for Libya to bomb the US for the weapons and funds it gave to the Contras to bring down the Sandinista government by any means necessary. This is where Gaddafi acted as a mirror-image of an American neoconservative. He saw the same moral obligation to intervene where necessary on the side of the victim, preferably a victim valuable in some geopolitical sense. So Gaddafi supported the Sandinistas against the US, the Palestinians against the Israelis and the Irish against the British. This is the same reason Gaddafi would use to defend sending Libyan agents to subvert the Sadat government in Egypt. Then came the charges of terrorism, there was the Berlin Disco Bombing in 1986 which was immediately linked to the Libyan regime. The American neoconservatives jumped at the opportunity to "liberate" the Libyan people from the police state Gaddafi had built. Even though there was no evidence, at the time, that the bombing had anything to do with Gaddafi. It had been suggested that the attack might have been orchestrated by Iran or Syria.

After the airstrikes the CIA went on to launch an extensive effort to launch a coup in Libya, a secret army was put together from the Libyans captured in border battles with Chad. Then came the Lockerbie Bombing in December of 1988 which sent Pan Am Flight 103 down in flames, leaving 270 people dead. In August of the same year the USS Vincennes shot down an Iran Air Flight 665 over the Persian Gulf and 290 people were killed. It was written off as an "accident" in the US, though that is disputed by Tehran. It seems plausible that the bombing was orchestrated by a Palestinian group hired by the Iranian regime to take revenge against the US. But this is just a theory which has yet to be proven because of the absence of a serious investigation into the shooting down of Pan Am Flight 103 and Iran Air Flight 665. The indictments for Abdelbaset al-Megrahi and Khalifa Fahimah were handed down after Libya opposed the Gulf War. Fahimah was acquitted but al-Megrahi was convicted on the testimony of two witnesses, who received around $7 million from the Rewards for Justice programme at the Justice Department. One witness testified that he sold clothes to al-Megrahi, which were later recovered from the wreckage, the other (a CIA informant) claimed he saw Fahimah carrying the bomb onto the plane.

By this point sanctions had been deployed against Libya for a number of years. Britain had resorted to funding various opposition groups in Libya. Then MI6 put together a plan to kill Gaddafi in 1996 and saw to it that his motorcade was attacked by Islamists (who had been paid £100,000 to kill the Libyan leader). Gaddafi got away with his life but six bystanders were left dead. No surprise given that the weapons used included Kalashnikovs and rocket-propelled grenades. This was the same year that the Colonel connived to slaughter around 1,200 political prisoners at Abu Salim Prison. The majority of which were Islamist and stood in opposition to the secular model Gaddafi favoured even as he introduced 'purification laws' that were based on Islamic scripture. The relatives of the prisoners were the backbone to the demonstrations held in Benghazi earlier this year. Gaddafi moved to crush the demonstrations and the rebellion was sparked. In the end it was the brutal nature of the regime that led to the uprising and not the decisions made in Washington. Now there are even rumours that the rebels have seized the prison and began releasing prisoners.

Colonel Gaddafi was aligned with Charles Taylor in the late 90s, just as he had backed monsters like Slobodan Milošević. This is the same man who had supported the ANC at a time when the British and the Americans attacked Nelson Mandela as a "terrorist". Gaddafi sought to invest millions in Liberia in order to maintain the stability of the Taylor government that was established through terror. As Liberia became embroiled in the bloodbath in Sierra Leone so did Libya to the extent that there was an attempt to indict Colonel Gaddafi as well as Charles Taylor. The charges amounted to the role Gaddafi had played in the mutilation, maiming and murder of 1.2 million people. The attempt to extend the trial to Gaddafi was blocked by the US and Britain in March of 2011. When asked "Why?" the chief prosecutor David Crane simply said "Welcome to the World of Oil." The support that the British and the Americans lent to Libya was extreme and embarrassing. Even the economic sanctions imposed against Libya specified a convenient exemption for Libyan banks. The aim being to reconstitute the regime along new lines which fit into Western interests in controlling the oil spicket of the region.

Once the Soviet Union had collapsed it was inevitable that the Gaddafi regime would open up to Britain and the US. The terrorist attacks on September 11th 2001 provided an opening for such negotiations with Blair. In the 1980s the economy had began to be deteriorate, as had the welfare state, which the sanctions imposed on the country only exacerbated further in the 1990s. So the Colonel looked for a normal relationship with the West and the regime began to slowly initiate neoliberal reforms. The welfare state and social services began to crumble as a result. At the same time corruption and unemployment spun out of control. Many of the reformists in the Libyan government, including those who have been linked to embezzling and corruption in the past, have since defected to the rebels. Perhaps then we know where the 200 million Libyan Dinars flown in from London will end up. In the meantime the Gaddafis will join the growing list of scum deposed this year and the corporate vultures will finally land to pick the bones clean. The reformists were behind agreements with the West over neoliberal reforms and no doubt we'll see plenty of that in days to come.

Friday, 2 September 2011

We are the People!

Freedom, Unity and Socialism.

The bloodless coup of 1969 followed a similar pattern as the Egyptian Revolution in 1952, when the last remnants of British power were overhauled by the Free Officers, Muammar al-Gaddafi was one of a coterie of military officials. In power the Colonel sought to model the regime on the pan-Arab and secular nationalist set up in Egypt, Gaddafi railed against the European colonial powers, America and Israel. Before his death in 1970 General Nasser said "I rather like Gaddafi. He reminds me of myself when I was that age." The Gaddafi regime forced out the British and American military bases and quickly moved to expel Westerners. At the same time the regime sought to craft a welfare system to provide universal health-care, education and affordable housing which fed into an anti-imperialist platform. The regime began to fund groups like the PLO, the ANC and the IRA. Gaddafi later described the system he was building as Islamic socialism, it might be more accurately described as Islamic Maoism. The country began to resemble an African Cuba.

The exact nature of links between the regime with the US and Britain were ambiguous in the early days, though a young Muammar al-Gaddafi had been on a military training course in Britain in 1966. With one British official stating "We thought he was a bit left-wing, but not too bad, and that we could deal with him." There have even been suggestions that the US backed the coup. The former Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Bakoush claimed "The Americans had contacts with Gaddafi through the embassy in Tripoli. They encouraged him to take over. There were dozens of CIA operatives in Libya at that time and they knew what was going on. The Americans were frightened of the senior officers and the intelligentsia in Libya because they thought that these people were independent and could not be run as puppets." We should keep in mind that Bakoush refused to give any names that might corroborate this theory. The rise of a new regime in Libya might have been interpreted as a chance to avoid a violent insurrection which might lead the country into the tentacles of the Soviet Union.

It is certain that there was serious concern about the reforms initiated under Gaddafi and the threat Libya would pose as a model for independence. The end of the monarchy and the construction of a welfare state might have "bought off" socialism for the time being, but what happens when other countries look to Libya as an example. This was the threat posed by the rise of General Nasser in Egypt and the desperation of the British to crush Arab nationalism. So in 1971 the CIA and MI6 put together a plot to bring down Gaddafi as part of an all-out-invasion of Libya, which would culminate in the release of political prisoners and the restoration of the monarchy. Ultimately, the plot fell apart because the CIA decided that the Gaddafi regime posed a sufficient bulwark to Communism in North Africa. Although the Gaddafi regime was opposed to the state of Israel and what it deemed Western imperialism, the  same regime stood in opposition to Soviet influence in the region. This was enough for the Americans, the British just had to shut up and grit their teeth.

Cracks began to emerge in the regime as a schism opened up between a serious commitment to socio-economic development and the interventionist foreign policy. In 1975 came an attempt to overthrow Gaddafi, which was crushed when the CIA notified him of the plot and the opposition were either exiled or imprisoned. After this Gaddafi began to undermine all aspects of Libyan society which might pose a threat to him in the long-term future, e.g. the military and the trade unions. The security apparatus became much more powerful. The sanctions later imposed by the UN and the US only furthered this process to the extent that corruption became endemic within Libya. By 2010 Gaddafi had seen to it that only 1.2% of GDP was spent on the Libyan military. The weapons and military equipment were either old models from the Soviet Union or had been recently imported from Britain and the US. The regime experienced a degree of immunity because of the government's reliance on oil revenue, as well as on the Soviet Union for political support in the world as relations with the US "waned" after the first 10 years in power.

As a result of the power struggle the country underwent a series of significant changes as the regime became increasingly centred around Colonel Gaddafi. The old Arab nationalist flag was tossed aside along with the title of Libyan Arab Republic as Gaddafi brought out his Green Book. Gaddafi called it a "cultural revolution", though he might have pursued such changes as relations with Egypt soured in a bid to distinguish his regime from that of Sadat. Officially Libya became the most democratic country on earth, a direct democracy maintained through a string of committees - a "practical form" as Gaddafi put it - where the authority of the people comes first and foremost. In reality the Libyan state was comprised of committees which took orders from Gaddafi who fell back on an astonishing security apparatus to police society. A network of informants and spies was established throughout Libyan society. It was a system of bureaucracy he built to insulate and maintain his own power. When asked where the people fit into this system the Colonel gave the perfect Stalinist reply "We are the people. The Free Officers are the sons of poor families, they are the embodiment of the people."

This is the similar method of rule practiced in Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge, though Gaddafi was far less brutal than Pol Pot it remains an adequate comparison. The Khmer Rouge took the negation of the past to the furthest limit, but failed to create a new collectivity. The old order was just replaced with a primitive regime of egalitarian control and ruthless exploitation. The Free Officers broke apart the old remnants of colonialism and the monarchy only to fail at the construction of an egalitarian society. Instead the regime provided a vent to the rage of the victims of colonialism as it built an apparatus of repression, rather than build on the accomplishments made early on and eliminate poverty totally. Similarly, Gaddafi reigned in distance from power as the Libyan state was officially a form of direct democracy just as the Khmer Rouge refused to admit it was in power for a few years after it had seized the country. To inquire into the structure of state-power was considered a crime and the leaders were simply referred to as "Brother No.1", "Brother No.2" etc. while the ruling party was simply known as "Angka", which means "organisation". In the same way Gaddafi represented an authoritarian distance from power.

The Autumn of the Colonel.

Escape to Hell.

There is no sign of the Colonel, with his family safely in Algeria, after Tripoli was seized by Berber rebels from the West and not from the East which has since led to the National Transitional Council taking seat in Tripoli. The Berbers had been suppressed under Gaddafi and in the end the Berbers sought revenge against the regime. The disparate militias which comprise the rebels will no doubt hold onto territory and barter for political power. The rumours of his whereabouts continue, some say the Colonel is hauled up in a flat in Tripoli, the labyrinthine tunnels under Libyan soil, somewhere in Algeria, the Libyan desert or in his hometown of Sirte. There is talk at NATO of putting a bounty out on Gaddafi, probably around the size of that put on Osama bin Laden. Days ago NATO thought that there were around 8,000 pro-Gaddafi troops hiding in South Tripoli, waiting to engage the militias in urban warfare. It is difficult to say what will happen next, but we shouldn't rule out the possibility of a guerrilla war. NATO would prefer to see him liquidated while the National Council claim to want to see a trial as do the leaders behind the intervention.

Since the intervention began there have been some 8,000 bombing raids in which NATO has dropped 30,000 bombs, almost 200 bombs a day for 6 months and NATO has suffered no casualties whilst an estimated 60,000 Libyans have been killed. NATO even bombed the irrigation system which supplies northern Libya with the majority of its water, though there are reports that the Gaddafi loyalists have cut-off the water supply. The fact that Tripoli is reliant on imported water has not been raised much in the mainstream media. A city of 2 million requires a ready-source of drinkable water, it is difficult to assess where this is on the priority of the National Council let alone the Western powers behind them. There has been much more coverage of the release of Libyan assets and speculation about the next moves made by the still-at-large Colonel. There has been very little coverage of the exemption of Libyan banks from economic sanctions. There is plenty of praise for David Cameron in his role in the intervention, little mention of the way the British and the Americans crushed an attempt to indict Gaddafi for war crimes in March.
Now there are ominous signs of war crimes and racist violence in the wake of the regime's collapse. It should be kept in mind it was Gaddafi who put together death squads comprised of thugs imported from Chad, Niger and even Serbia. So the rebels have reasonable grounds to suspect migrants, but that certainly does not justify killing people on mass in such a fashion. All the while Libya is a major route for people looking to pass through to the coast and travel to the European mainland in search of a better life. The new regime has a promise to uphold to the EU regarding a strict blockade to illegal immigration from Africa to Europe. The Italians will be eager to sink any boats coming their way and Italian fishermen are essentially allowed to kill anyone who climbs aboard their boats. The days when Gaddafi once sent an Egyptian submarine to sink the QEII as it sailed in celebration of the 25th anniversary of the establishment of Israel. An order which was only countered when Sadat intervened and had the sub return to the base in Alexandria. Consequently, Sadat described Gaddafi as "100% sick in the head and possessed by the devil."

Colonel Gaddafi may still have the support of around 54 clans of the Warfalla tribe, the largest tribe in the country, which played a key role in the expulsion of Italian colonists after being neutral when the Italians first seized the country. No doubt the tipping point was the genocide committed by the Italians in which over 500,000 Libyans died between 1911 and 1941, at least 65,000 died in concentration camps in the Sirte desert. The grievances were never acknowledged, let alone resolved, as the country was seized by a intensely conservative monarchy with links to the old imperial powers. The monarchy soon gave the US and UK military bases in Libya. The discovery of oil in 1960 transformed Libya into one of the richest countries in Africa, which enabled programmes of modernisation and unification of society. These programmes were restricted by the conservative attitudes of the monarchy. Incidentally, the rebel flag of Benghazi is the old monarchy flag which is also a Senoussi flag and that might hint at a specific tribal affiliation of the TNC. It was Gaddafi who overthrew King Idris in 1969 and seized the state apparatus.