Monday, September 01, 2008

Dabashi : American Empire

We live in the age of the most modern of empires, one that does not however call itself so. We also need to be reminded of it and sometimes the haze and mist that liberal democracies carry mists popular perception. The realm of opposition to this vulgarity resides mostly inside academia and that too of a particular kind for in its very nature and becoming, the modern American led liberal empire is insidious and subverts logical approaches towards understanding it. The American led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, its pursuit of Iran and Syria and to some extent Pakistan and its strangle on Middle Eastern dictatorships and its single minded protection of Israel makes one ask as to the nature and design of this imperial project. The cost of human life that Afghanistan in particular is suffering, especially its children and women are things that mainstream media here in Europe and elsewhere do not even allow to be a topic of discussion.

Hamid Dabashi's recent write up on this issue, called Triumph of triumphalism is worth considering in this regard. ( I have sketched a few lines about Dabashi in my previous post) Dabashi begins by drawing our attention to the "xenophobic provincialism" of current US politics, especially with the film star Hollywood style nature of its presidential election pomp and fanfare but against the background of a rising tide of greed amongst its politicians and the sea of "christian zionism", as Dabashi has it, in alliance with Jewish Israel, a distant ally with Hindu fundamentalist India against a belligerent Islamic republic. ( I presume that by belligerent, Dabashi only means Iran.)

The wave after wave of belligerence in the Middle East led by America resulting in untold miseries is the result of what Dabashi terms as "chronic attention deficit disorder". The current imperial project is not new and any attempt to link all and sundry to the events of 2001 must be resisted, he warns. The militant adventurers responsible for those events and the lack of a structural link between Afghanistan and Iraq baulks the mind. Dabashi then points out the theory of a just war, promoted for Afghanistan, where war then takes on a moral and religious dimension. Calling this whole set of thinking as "historical amnesia", Dabashi then tells us the all too familiar story of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its ensuing results and the American attempts to stop the revolution from Iran spilling elsewhere. The consequences later on resulted in Iran becoming a strict theocracy and Afghanistan spiralling into further violence.

It is clear, while reading this essay the influence that Negri and Hardt have on Dabashi for he quotes and accepts that freely. In Empire, Negri and Hardt argued that the present American empire is without a definite ideology, it is an empire without being an empire and that its main ideology is globalization. They dismiss the theories of Fukuyama and Huntington which Dabashi labels as parochial and banal and "smacking of intellectual poverty and too much protest". However, Hardt & Negri wrote Empire before the Iraq war and thus the dimension of ideology cannot be ignored. He then goes on to reflect on the notion of empire according to the conservative writer Niall Ferguson who laments at America's not declaring itself as an empire for empires, according to Ferguson are beneficial.

The reasons behind America's reticent celebration of its one sided domination of the world and its relentless wars lie, Dabashi thinks, in its protestant asceticism and in its "Calvinist predilection to avoid admission of wealth", the lack of Soviet style military parades being evidence. America is an empire without imperialism, thinks Dabashi though it no longer seems so. The tactics of the US army in Iraq are likened by Dabashi to how America plays soccer in comparison to football, where small bits of territory are fought over for domination in contrast to the US way where vast swathes in between conquered area lie without control. Dabashi then seeks to draw insights from John Ford's movies where the nature of empire is considered civilizing, for the betterment of natives and for progress in comparison to David Lean's British way of looking at empire, which is lost and pathological as in The passage to India.

I was surprised at Dabashi's comparison of the last 8 years of the Bush era to Nazi Germany and what he calls a fascist America, though he is not surprised at the readers surprise. He exhorts the reader to read the theories of Leo Strauss and his cabalistic neo-con sway over academia or to understand fascist America better, to read Naomi Wolf and her essay on this spiral towards fascism or Earl Shorris's Ignoble liars. Dabashi has elsewhere spoken of Comprador intellectuals who were employed by the US administration to prepare public opinion for the Iraq war and the names he quotes are those that are familiar.....Vali Nasr, Fouad Ajami, Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Azar Nafisi amongst others, examples of psy-op scholarship and embedded writers fomenting theory after theory.

Dabashi then goes on to talk about John Hagee, a person I had never heard of before. It transpires that Hagee, who is has in his recent book Jerusalem Countdown: a warning to the world warned of an impending apocalyptic invasion of America by Arabs and Russians, culminating in the decisive battle between the East and the West. The same Hagee had earlier attributed hurricane Katrina to the sins committed by the people of New Orleans with reference to a "homosexual parade". It seems Hagee is one of the many such Protestant warners, speaking of the second coming of Christ, which this group feels is impending. The apocalyptic nightmares that this breeds only hurtles the US towards fascism, Dabashi warns. He says again that the Republican part has become the first religious party in the US.
Dabashi quotes the Italian philosopher Agamben who called the Nazi state as an exception, an exception where reason fades away and humankind dwindles into bestiality. The same rules apply when one thinks of states of exception, of Camp X-ray, of Abu Ghraib, the massacres of Haditha and the tortures of Bagram.

It is quite evident that Dabashi's manner of exposition, his way of writing are influenced by Said, that may be, but the immediacy of his arguments must not be ignored. There are waves after waves of conspiracy theories but the threat to loss of innocent life through terrorism is a real one. That should never be ignored but simultaneously, the theoreticians of empire, their influences on the minds of politicians, the nexus of empire and oil and fanaticism ( consider There will be blood ), the overpowering disparity between countries, the lack of sympathy for the innocents bombed daily in Afghanistan, the inhuman cult of Zionism, this strange nexus between the Christian right and Jewish Zionism and its reactionary mirror in Islamic fundamentalism are echoes of each other. This is the conclusion one draws after reading this highly well written and erudite essay. However, Dabashi has not spoken about the same messianic image of the Mahdi for the Shias of Iran, with its own eschatology and doomsday victory for Shias alone. The cult of the Mahdi, an army named after him in Iraq at present should have deserved equal notice.

It is interesting to know the space in which the writings of people like Hagee lie though evangelical puritanism is not knew to any one culture. Even in India, for example, one hears of the invasion of Christian missionaries converting gullible Hindus, but the causes are usually laid aside. Millenial eschatological fury, second comings, Mahdist states are not new. People in Sudan have gone through the convulsions of a Mahdist state and during Ottoman times, people have waited for doomsday. The dangers lie if the establishment, those that call themselves liberal and reasonable endorse these threatening and alarmist views of history and religion. If wars are now fought only on the basis of religious ideology, either state induced or terrorist groups led ones, the world will be a poorer place. However, the resistance for land, for dignity and honour and for genuine needs must not be identified with a particular religion only.

He ends by saying,
"the Christian fundamentalism at the heart of American imperialism echoes and corroborates the identically ferocious tribalism at the heart of a Jewish state, an Islamic republic and a Hindu fundamentalism, which have all gathered their storms to divide humanity at large along their basest tribal fears.
Opening the windows of fresh air and for bright light, letting the cultivated cosmopolitanism of all cultures and climes, of all peoples and nations, override religious fanaticism of one denomination over another is the sustained course of action that can put up a global resistance to this globalized terrorism.....imperial or nativist. People's faith in an overriding metaphysics of purpose might be integral to their humanity but can never be definitive to it nor are institutional religions to cultures they inform but can never categorically claim".

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