State formation and the US

Check this article. While it makes a great point about the fact that state building is a bloody business, and while it goes through numerous (although quite stereotypical) historical instances that makes this point clear (England and Empire, France and the revolution, Germany and the holocaust, etc) it conveniently omits the US case. In fact the only mention of an American bloody episode is that of the war of secession where “violence” was the enslavement of populations. Throughout this article, somehow, there is the implicit assumption that there is an enlightened state project. There is no mentioning of the various wars the US, as a state, has engaged in, the dropping of nuclear in Hiroshima, and countless other violent instances in history. Germany and holocaust? That’s state formation (they weren’t there yet, those Germans). US and Hiroshima? That’s skirmishes or war strategy.

Israel and Hizbullah: A quick round up

This is a summary of the latest events between Israel and Hizbullah. It starts when Hizbullah’s SG Hassan Nasrallah engaged in a long description of Hizbullah’s readiness to fight Israel even if involved in the Syrian quagmire, on Mayadeen TV. Obviously, I would be simplifying if I started the story then, as it is involved in a general buildup of coalitions in the regional arena. Israel’s actions are partly a result of freaking out when Nasrallah boasts about Hizbullah’s capabilities and partly to test if the new regional situation can work on its favor.

There seem to be no doubt that this preemptive strike comes as a direct reaction to this interview. It is also possible that this interview was pushed for in order to send clear messages to Israel based on intelligence reports that Hizbullah must have been getting around the Israeli military brewing something. But then military initiatives bring to light new possible alliances. Israel finds in Jabhat al-Nusra (it’s ugly like ISIS but with a different costume) a reliable ally or at least someone who wouldn’t stand in its way.

Hizbullah’s retaliation is then inevitable, if anything in order to avoid war: thus, today’s attack on what Hizbullah’s media characterized as being Israel’s “Golani” troops. This also mean that enemies have tested each other’s capabilities. The success of Hizbullah’s operation will determine the likelihood of escalation. As of now it looks quite successful. Then, the balance of power has been restored after having been tested, and given the regional situation, it seems doubtful that there will be more escalation in the very short term. But let’s see what the spring or the summer brings.

The War with Images

My article at Opendemocracy on the use of images in war situations.

The Lessons of History: Thoughts on the events in Gaza (part I)

While Israel is pounding Gaza and killing in the hundreds, demonstrations in support of the Palestinians and Hamas’ fight are taking place all around the globe. Of course this doesn’t reflect dominant public opinion in the West that still is apologetic of Israel’s actions. Not one official state declaration has condemned the Israeli attacks. If anything, the few who bothered to issue a statement reiterated Israel’s right to defend itself as it was perceived to live under a constant threat of rocket shower. Check here if you want to have goose bumps.

But there is one place where no demonstrations are in sight: the Arab world. Also, not one condemnation was issued by any Arab government, not one declaration. It is taken for granted that no Western government has condoned Israeli attacks either. But how can we explain this apathy sweeping the Arab region? Surely, they have their own problems all linked to one or other form of occupation. But this conflict used to be called the Israeli-Arab conflict for crying out loud!

A couple of centuries ago, the situation in the region looked very similar: the crusaders were well entrenched on the coast of the “fertile crescent”, and the rest of the Muslim world was completely paralyzed, accepting, if not complicit, in the status quo of occupation until Nur ad-din and his successor Saladin challenged the paradigm. This is at least what the history books say. Some of this dominant cultural apathy or nonchalance, the surrender and normalization, must have existed so that these two individuals and the movements they represented have gone down in the books as changing the face of history.

Modern Arabs have not used their historical consciousness as an agent of ideological change or political action. The basic nationalistic experiments that were fashioned by colonial encounters left Arabs struggling over questions of terminology and then categorizing history in one way or another. Devising points of reference and of origin. The crusades episode was barely glossed over (until now the only book that presents an interesting take on that episode is Amin Maalouf’s. That tells you about the state of the literature).

On one hand, Arab leftist movements were too busy looking towards a brighter socially more “evolved” future and being ashamed of their Islamic heritage, helplessly wanting to teach social and political “progress” of the West. On the other hand, nationalist movements were quarreling amongst each other finding all kinds of identitarian anchors to justify their causes (the Omayyad period was a favorite as it looked the most “secular”, but also anything pre-Islamic).

No one thought of approaching history as giving lessons for political practice. More recently but still a couple of centuries ago, the “Renaissance” Italian writer Machiavelli looked at the history of the Roman Empire in this particular vein as he hoped to provide advice to unite the various Princedoms feuding over Italy. Interestingly, Machiavelli was categorized as ushering a new era of thinking politics outside the scope of religion, a state that had lasted since the advent of Catholic Christianity in Europe.

In modern times, we have fallen in to the trap of categorizing Machiavelli a secular thinker as opposed to one that was just opposed to dominant categories of analysis that happened to be held at the time by the Catholic Church with its particular understanding of history. The point of thinkers such as Machiavelli was to say that the Catholic Church could not provide the needed leverage to create political unity. Ideologically speaking, there was a need to produce new categories of thinking. Machiavelli called for a new political science, one that does away with traditional categories of analysis, not because they were bad or “backward”, but because the institutions backing them did not have anymore the means to create new political realities.

All this is to say that Arabs have been obsessed with categorizing things as either secular or religious as intellectuals of all creeds desperately clung on to the categories of colonial heritage. How could they have done otherwise? The colonizer had also captured their texts and by this token had controlled the creation of knowledge emanating from these writings! The primary victim of this reversed Orientalism espoused by Arabs was historical consciousness. The past became a cumbersome process that was only used to create identities, differences and reactionary discourse and not be a repository for good action.

The rise of Political Islam was a direct reaction to this awkward and clumsy attitude towards history. Suddenly the past was all important. But what kind of past? For example, during the Lebanese “civil war”, the crusader episode was visited in history by various Muslim groups but only to identify them to the contemporary Lebanese Christians who they were fighting between 1975 and 1990. Even though one could retrieve lessons in political practice from these uses of the past they were also creating group differentiation (here Christian VS Muslims).

And every time history was revised it was to create identitarian differences. Such as fomenting trouble between Sunni and Shia denominated groups. Books and articles, talk-shows and documentaries, all proliferate on relentless questions and searches of authenticity, developing either an alleged Sunni or Shia take on the Islamic tradition. No wonder we’ve been busied away from other conflicts.

As I looked for what was written on Nur ad-din, most of what I found was how much he was a great Sunni leader who opposed Shia Fatimid Egypt of the time. In effect, this is not incorrect. But that’s not what the prevailing historians of the time want us to remember, at least in the aftermath of the defeat against the crusaders. The point here is not that the “right” conflict is looking for the right identity to conflict with. The point is to look at the location of forms of occupation, oppression, unjust violence, etc. and understand how to remedy that through the legacy of others who did before us. How can one create the necessary form of consciousness through learning from the past in order to produce community change?

With technological revolutions and every single group or individual having a media channel of his own this ideological rallying is an immense challenge. It is ironic that Arabs are said to be closer to democracy or accountability given that they don’t even pressure their government to do something about Palestine. Is this a sign of apathy, a change of heart, or just a failure to understand and return the debt to the past?

The changes in warfare

video-games-hd-gears-of-war-horde-267715According to a statistic about the US military, “more active-duty soldiers killed themselves than died in combat“. This is an interesting article to read, all the more interesting for me as it makes me think of the significant changes in the conduct of warfare that took place more specifically since the age of technological innovations.

Just like peace, war practices, were part of ways human came to understand their selves and their relation with other humans. Just like peace had rules, war too. And just like peace permitted the construction of ethics to develop forms of human dignity, war was a mean through which humans could learn about themselves, about their representation of an enemy, how to deal with that enemy through certain form of ethical conduct, and by ethical, I mean some form of human excellence at perfecting skills that benefit everyone. So in this sense, the skills of a Hitler can’t really count.

But today, with war being practiced more and more from a distance, protagonists don’t come to really “face” an enemy. Technology has permitted the creation of an abstract field were combat techniques take place. In this sense, video games are actually the real way in which war take place because soldier are living that fantasy situation all throughout, unless a severe disruption contradicts the familiar story and threatens to disrupt their mental, spiritual and physical stability.

I don’t want to extend on all the implications of what that mean in the way war is conducted (there is a lot written on that), but I just want to point out how pointless the “war experience” has become for these soldiers who are not only unprepared to face conflict situations, as they increasingly live in a fantasy of what war could be, as a game, but do not use war as a transcendental or spiritual experience for developing ethical excellence.

Rome

There I am. My friend lives in an apartment overlooking the Colosseum.

I just have one thing to say about this city: Why do they have this habit of planting crosses everywhere something is erected? Anything with a pointing vertical extremity has been covered with a metal cross. But the real shock came when I came across this Pharaonic obelisk on piazza del popolo that not only was stolen from (what is called today) Egypt but was ridiculously dressed with a cross. Apparently it was brought to Rome by Augustine in 10 BC, and then ‘crossed’ and erected by Pope Sixtus V in 1589. Two epochs with similar motivations, yet surely with some differences i have no capacity to dwell on.

Whether they are copies or authentic pieces coming from the east, all obelisks have that in Rome. Wait, why obelisks in Rome? Imperialist fantasies on unearthed dead ‘civilization’ couple with a phallic obsession that is instantly gentrified. Anyway, one can indulge in so many interpretivist analyses here.

Else than that, tourists roam in a city that was built on violence. Tourists are enchanted by constructions, buildings, architectures that all symbolize war (commemoration of battles), security struggles in the process of State hegemonic apparatuses, and imperialist (or colonial) quests.

The only good thing about Rome is its trees. Please can we have trees in Beirut? And not those controlled by Solidere’s security guards. The modern enterprise is so inefficient when it comes to create future public spaces (say Solidere). What you need is a State of War with immensely rich aristocrats building villas in the capital with huge gardens that then become State property.