Archive for the ‘Terrorism’ Category

Hannah Arendt on the Mob Mentality

January 26, 2015

_80176239_80176238

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt writes:

    For the propaganda of totalitarian movements which precede and accompany totalitarian regimes is invariably as frank as it is mendacious, and would-be totalitarian regimes usually start their careers by boasting of their past crimes and carefully outlining their future ones. The Nazis “were convinced that evil-doing in our time has a morbid force of attraction”…”

Arendt goes on to say:

    The attraction of evil and crime for the mob mentality is nothing new. It has always been true that the mob will greet “deeds of violence with the admiring remark: it may be mean but it is very clever.”

By mob, Arendt means “a group in which the residue of all classes are represented.” In other words, the mob consists of people who, through economic or political circumstances, have been deprived of their class standings and impoverished. Arendt tells us that “the mob hates society from which it is excluded.”

This put me in mind of the Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL or Daesh or whatever you want to call it.) Reports of its atrocities – massacres, beheadings, the raping of women and girls – have actually resulted in it attracting jihadis from all over the world. This is clearly a case of evil-doing having a “morbid force of attraction”.

Consider the case of Cherif and Said Kouachi, the Charlie Hebdo shooters. Abandoned by their parents and placed in foster home, they moved to a northern suburb of Paris where they engaged in petty theft and drug dealing before they gravitated toward radical Islam.

The mob, which was the mains support of the Nazis, may well be the main support of IS as well.

Advertisements

Tunnel Vision on ISIS

September 13, 2014

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

There is a certain type of argument that I’ve been hearing on the Left lately, a good example of which can be found in an article by John V. Walsh at Dissident Voice, entitled Syria Next on Hit List (ISIS is a side issue at best). In it, he writes about President Obama’s recent speech:

    The rationales that Obama is peddling make no sense. If the barbarity of beheading were the actual trigger of this latest onslaught on the Middle East, then the U.S. would not be sending our “moderate” trainees to Saudi Arabia where beheading is a well respected national past time – far more popular than allowing women to drive automobiles.

But the beheadings aren’t the only trigger. ISIS has carried out mass killings of Yazidis, Christians and Shi’a Muslims. These have received extensive coverage in the US media. Walsh must surely know this, yet he never mentions this. The point about beheadings in Saudi Arabia is basically true, but it’s not really pertinent to the situation in Syria. Walsh goes on:

    And ISIS remains a mysterious entity, springing up out of nowhere and carrying arms that are supplied by American and Saudi agencies. In Iran as was reported in the NYT yesterday on the front page, the great majority of “the street” believes it is an American/Israeli/Saudi creation.

Since Walsh apparently reads the New York Times, he must surely know that ISIS captured US weapons when the US-trained Iraqi army fled Mosul. Another important detail that he neglects to mention. And in what possible sense can “the street” in Iran be considered a reliable source on the relationship between the US and ISIS?

    Syria, of course, was on the list of targets that General Wesley Clarke [sic] revealed to us that there was a hit list in the Middle East and North Africa of seven countries, “starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.” And miraculously the schedule has been modified only slightly perhaps because Assad has put up such fierce resistance.

Walsh has no idea what he is talking about here. The “hit list” he refers to was drawn up by neoconservatives in the Bush Administration before the invasion of Iraq. They expected to accomplish all of their goals within five years. (You can see how well that worked out.) It’s doubtful whether this list still has any influence over US foreign policy. Obama has had five years in which to attack Syria. Last year’s Sarin gas attack gave him a perfect excuse to do so, yet instead he eagerly accepted an offer by Russia to negotiate a deal with Assad.

Walsh ends with this rhetorical flourish:

    The dream of the U.S. Empire to dominate the Eurasian land mass is being implemented: Damascus, Tehran, Moscow and finally Beijing unless nuclear war breaks out first. Obama and the rest of the imperial elite are flirting with Armageddon.

Uh, yeah. Look, I have strong reservations about what the president is proposing to do in Syria and Iraq. We need to have a serious national discussion about this. Unfortunately, we have too many people like Walsh, who just want to idly spin conspiracy theories.

There is No War on Islam

May 28, 2014

werleman
C.J. Werleman

Alternet has an article by CJ Werleman, entitled “The American Disdain for Self-Reflection: What We Still Haven’t Learned After 9/11 and the Boston Marathon Attacks”, which I highly recommend reading. I have to take issue, though, with one argument in it. Discussing the recently released note by Dhokhar Tsarneyev, one of the Boston Marathon bombers, Werleman writes:

    Like every terrorist who attacked America on 9/11 and since, Tsarnaev made his grievance clear – that his attacks against Americans were motivated politically (wars in Iraq and Afghanistan), rather than religiously, but we continue to wage a war on Islam that is dressed up as a war on terror.

There is no war on Islam. True, the US’s drone attacks kill Muslims, but that is not a war on Islam. Among other things, the US supports the government of Saudi Arabia, which is an Islamic theocracy. Some will say that I am quibbling here, but this is actually an important point. We are dealing with complicated issues here – issues that are emotionally charged for some people – so we need to choose our words carefully.

Tossing around a term like “war on Islam” merely obscures the complexities of the current situation. In particular, it ignores the class dimension of the conflict. Here in the US, middle class and working class Muslims are monitored and sometimes harassed by the police. Yet our government and business elites flatter and cajole the leaders of Muslim countries, seeking to do business with them. This has resulted in some interesting contradictions. For example, the Sultan of Brunei – who recently announced that the citizens of his country will now be subjected to “full shariah“, including stonings, floggings, and amputations – owns the Beverly Hills Hotel, a Southern California landmark.

So we need to be more precise in our terminology, to express the full awfulness of what our government is doing.

Big Brother

June 7, 2013

bigbrother

The recent revelations about massive government spying on the American people should come as no surprise. Indeed, they merely confirm what many of us have suspected for quite some time now. It’s worth noting here that all this obsessive information gathering did not prevent the Boston Marathon bombings from happening. The reason for this should be obvious: no terrorist with half a brain is going to discuss his plans over a cell phone or over the Internet. Even the Tsarnaev brothers, who weren’t exactly the brightest bulbs, knew better than that.

So, how concerned should we be about this? As long as you aren’t doing anything illegal, you shouldn’t be too concerned. The government, however, keeps expanding the boundaries of what is illegal. (In New York state, for example, it is now a felony to annoy a police officer. During the time I lived in New York, I got the impression that the cops there were a bit touchy. I imagine it can’t be that hard to annoy them.)

The Internet is a useful organizing tool, but it clearly has its limits and it should be used with caution. Those who have argued that the Internet is the solution to all the Left’s problems should reconsider their position. It’s clear that the Left can’t rely solely upon the Internet.

Some Thoughts on the Boston Marathon Bombings

April 24, 2013

rtxys2p.si

Although the police are to be commended for having solved this case so quickly, there are still some things about this episode that a leave one feeling uncomfortable. Such as the unnecessary decision to completely shut down the city of Boston. (Common sense dictated that Dzokhar Tsaraev would likely be found in or near Watertown, and, indeed, he was found hiding in a boat in someone’s backyard in that very city.) Or police officers in military gear searching people’s homes without warrants. Or the government’s refusal to read Tsarnaev his Miranda rights.

The Constitution is really the only thing that holds this fractious country together, yet we increasingly treat it as something disposable, like Kleenex. Mayor Bloomberg of New York recently announced:

    The people who are worried about privacy have a legitimate worry. But we live in a complex word where you’re going to have to have a level of security greater than you did back in the olden days, if you will. And our laws and our interpretation of the Constitution, I think, have to change.

This is coy. Bloomberg has made it clear that he has nothing but contempt for the Constitution, as when he ordered the police to attack Occupy Wall Street protestors, or in his “stop and frisk” policy that targets minority youths. He no doubt drooled as he added:

    We have to understand that in the world going forward, we’re going to have more cameras and that kind of stuff. That’s good in some sense, but it’s different from what we are used to.

We already have lots of cameras in our society. Photos and videos taken by private citizens helped the police to pick out the suspects. Hizzoner is specifically referring to surveillance cameras by the police, likely to be positioned to keep the world safe for Wall Street hedge fund managers.

And then there is the question of the motives of the Tsarnaev brothers. There is a substantial amount of evidence that Tamelan was attracted to radical Islam, but Dzhoubar attended a party at UMass-Dartmouth shortly after the bombings, which is not the sort of behavior that one would expect from a Muslim fundamentalist. I suspect that there is a complicated story here, one which we learn about as more evidence comes to light.

Dzhoubar has been charged with using a “weapon of mass destruction”. It used to be that this term only referred to nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. It now applies to pressure cooker bombs. No doubt it will soon apply to firecrackers. (But not, of course, to assault rifles!)

The Legend of Bhagat Singh

January 13, 2013

Bhagatsinghlegend

After reading my review of The Baader Meinhof Complex, a friend of mine recommended that I watch the 2002 Indian film, The Legend of Bhagat Singh, which also touches upon the question of what tactics should be used in the struggle against injustice. Although Bhagat Singh (1907-1931) is little known in the U.S., he is famous in India for his role in the Indian independence movement. He rejected Gandhi’s notion of non-violent resistance. He was a founding member of the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association, which sought to organize a mass uprising against the British. When the Indian writer, Lala Lajpat Rai, died after being beaten by the police, Singh and his comrades killed a British police officer in revenge. Later, they threw bombs in the Indian National Assembly, with the intent of getting themselves arrested. Singh hoped that his speeches at the trial would inspire the Indian people to rise up against their colonizers. His trial received considerable attention, and for a time he became as popular as Gandhi. However, this did not stop the British from executing him.

This film shows Gandhi in an unflattering light. It accuses him of dropping his demand that the Viceroy commute Singh’s death sentence so that he could get a political pact with the British granting limited rights to Indians. Given all the adulation given to Gandhi in both India and the West, it’s interesting to see a film that portrays him in a negative manner. In effect, it accuses him of being willing to sacrifice principle in order to get an agreement with the British.

The director, Rajkumar Santoshi, paints the story of Singh’s life in broad strokes. He doesn’t spend much time on character development. Singh (Ajay Devgan) appears fearless and wise almost from the time of his birth. And in true Bollywood fashion, there are musical numbers. Singh sings. He sings (twice) while he is on a hunger strike, and he sings while he is going to his execution. The Legend of Bhagat Singh emphasizes Singh’s advocacy of Hindu-Muslim reconciliation. (Singh came from a Sikh family, but he became an atheist at an early age.) Santoshi clearly wanted to remind his fellow Indians of Singh’s politics, which are more relevant than ever with the sectarian violence that has sometimes taken place in that country in recent years. No doubt Santoshi thought that following the conventions of Bollywood would give the film more appeal, although I’m told that it actually did not do well at the box office. In all honesty, I could have done without the singing, but I found this a compelling film nonetheless.

The Baader Meinhof Complex

December 31, 2012

Baader_meinhof_komplex

The 2008 German film, The Baader Meinhof Complex, directed by Uli Edel from a screenplay by Bernd Eichinger, tells the story of the Red Army Faction, better known as the Baader Meinhof Group, a terrorist group active in Germany from the 1970’s through the 1990’s. The group had broad support in its early years. It appealed to young people disillusioned with post-war German society. They were particularly opposed to the Vietnam War and the West German government’s passive support for it, which they viewed as being analogous to Germans who had allowed the Holocaust to happen. The death of Che Guevara had also inspired many of these people.

The film begins with a demonstration against the Shah of Iran during his visit to Berlin in 1967. The police attack a crowd of student demonstrators, resulting in the death of Benno Ohnesorg. Shortly afterwards, Andreas Baader (Moritz Bleibtreu) and Gudrun Ensslin (Johanna Wokalek) fire bomb a department store, protesting the political complacency of German society. Baader is eventually arrested by the police. A journalist, Ulrike Meinhof (Martina Gedeck), interviews him in prison. Meinhof is frustrated by what she sees as the inability of her journalism to bring about any change. Meinhof agrees to help Baader to escape from prison, which she does. She then joins Baader’s gang, which he has christened as the Red Army Faction (RAF).

The rest of the film starts out as farce and ends as tragedy. The RAF leaders flee Germany to a Fatah camp in Jordan, to be trained in guerilla warfare. The RAF consider themselves to be in support of “Third World” liberation struggles. Once in the camp, however, they begin behaving like a bunch of spoiled teenagers. (This is the best way I can describe it.) They quarrel with the Fatah leaders, and they violate Palestinian social norms by, among other things, doing nude sunbathing in the middle of the camp. They return to Germany, where they carry out a series of daring bank robberies and bombings. However, the police capture or kill members of the RAF one by one. They eventually capture Baader, Meinhof, and Ensslin. However, a “second generation” of RAF members springs up. They use terror methods to try get their leaders released, culminating in the highjacking of an airliner in 1977. When army troops succeed in freeing the hostages, Baader and the others despair of ever getting out of prison, so they kill themselves.

Edel and Eichinger try to compress a complex series of historical events into a two-and-a-half hour film with predictably uneven results. New RAF members suddenly appear out of nowhere, and at times it’s hard to tell who is doing what. The film touches upon some complex issues without addressing them in satisfying ways. For example, some people have raised reasonable doubts as to whether the RAF leaders actually killed themselves, suggesting that they might have been murdered. (According to Wikipedia: “… Baader was supposed to have shot himself in the base of the neck so that the bullet exited through his forehead; repeated tests indicated that it was virtually impossible for a person to hold and fire a gun in such a way. In addition, three bullet holes were found in his cell: one lodged in the wall, one in the mattress, and the fatal bullet itself lodged in the floor, suggesting that Baader had fired twice before killing himself. Finally, Baader had powder burns on his right hand, but he was left-handed.”) While the film mentions that there were doubts about the suicides, it doesn’t really discuss this matter. Also, the film ends with the RAF’s killing of the industrialist, Hans Martin Schleyer in 1978, although the RAF remained active well into the 1990’s.

This film is a grim reminder that terrorism doesn’t work. Germany is not a better place today because of the Baader Meinhof group. The 9/11 attacks resulted in the expansion of U.S. imperialism. Terrorism actually strengthens the state by providing it with an external enemy. (“War is the health of the state”, as Randolph Bourne once put it.) Only mass movements have ever brought about any progress.

Steve Landesberg (1945-2010)

December 21, 2010

Steve Landesberg has died. He was best known for playing Arthur Dietrich on Barney Miller, which was a funny TV show, even though it did whitewash the New York City police department. (Isn’t that always the way? You’re never going to see a TV series about a corrupt cop or a racist cop, but I digress.) I remember before that he was in a short-lived series called The Paul Sand Show. Landesberg was the only reason for watching that program. He had a dry, understated delivery that could make material seem better than it was.

As is often the case with an actor who appears in a successful TV series, his subsequent career was disappointing. Mainly he just did bit parts here and there. When I lived in Hollywood, on more than one occasion I heard someone ask, “Whatever happened to Steve Landesberg?” It’s a shame the entertainment industry didn’t use him more.