I’m on research leave. Strange and increasingly seldom thing to happen to academics, and even stranger and rarer for academics in management positions… So, I’m hovering over my book manuscript (last printout burried somewhere in the pile of papers on the right) on The Peacebuilders. Now, this turns out to be a greater adventure than what I thought it would be. So the blog, too, is on leave now. The list of future entries gets longer though, so I’ll be back!
“The U.S. invasion of Iraq turned out to be a textbook case of flawed assumptions, wrong-headed intelligence, propaganda manipulation, and administrative ad hockery, according to the National Security Archive’s briefing book of declassified documents posted today to mark the 10th anniversary of the war”, introduces the national security archive its webpage where they publish a number of documents related to the US and UK decision to invade Iraq. The documents are hugely interesting and should not be missed in any teaching on the Iraq war.
These are just a few observations of mine:
All documents confirm what every keen observer knew from the start, namely that Bush administration grossly exagerated the WMD risks if not using outrightly false information, that the US administration did not think one little second about the aftermath of the invasion, that the UK followed to lick boots.
But they also show that a major mind frame of the time was the conception that the invasion would run smoohtly like a repetition of WWII invasion of Germany: run them over, bomb the baddies out, de-baddy the society (De-Ba’athification they call it), dispossess the big industrial complexes and run them by corporate boards (like IG Farben or Volkswagen), introduce a decentralized political system, and you’ll get a stable, democratic society. As if there had been no Cold War, no decolonization, no fall of the Berlin wall, no globalization talk, no internet, no change of the world and if baddies were simply baddies. World politics in Hollywood standards.
Colin Powell’s speech to the UN appears almost like a comic strip rather than a serious discussion of potential war. Especially the slide “Iraq is Harboring Terrorists, Including Al Qaida”. One wonders if there are, today, any other terrorists than Al Qaida … Joke aside, it was, after 9/11 entirely sufficient for a Secretary of State to put up a slide like that with an extremely vague and superficial organigram and to yell “fire”….well, looking at France’s talk of “terrorists” in Mali it is still sufficient today…if you want to play war, just yell “terrorists!”, how simple.
There is also an uneasy question of academic complicity that creeps up. All these false and erroneous CIA reports for instance…they were written by so-called experts: area experts, political analysts, engineers, anthropolgists, lawyers etc. People who had been recruited because they had excellent degrees, probably because they came from fancy universities, and because they had already shown that they were good at writing such kind of stuff. Because they had been well trained in our universities… which seemingly entirely failed to produce the critical thinkers and to diffuse the critical knowledge we are supposed to be producing.
Chechnya is one of these places that are commonly only known through their TV or internet mediated pictures of destruction and violent emptiness. Personally, the name Grozny makes me think of images in which little elderly women with colourful headscarfs and grey coats hurriedly run inbetween rubble and ruins, with half a loaf dark bread and maybe some tomatoes in a basket under their arm. It is, that is for sure, not a place where I would expect someone even knowing the name of Pierre Bourdieu or having read him. Shame on me for my lack of awareness.
Georgi M. Derlugian’s book is an immensly refreshing reminder of the stifling ignorance we have of exactly those parts of the world that are most often in the news. It is furthermore an excellent exercise in dismantling received ideas, prejudices and stereotypes of civil wars and of uncivilized so-called islamists or warlords. The most exciting aspect of Derlugian’s book is, indeed, that he resists simplifications; on the contrary, he masterly delves into the entire complexity of the end of Soviet socialism, the fates of peripheral developmental states in the great neoliberal age of the 1980s and 1990s and the complexities of shifting elite and popular systems and cultures in these marginalising world regions.
Derlugian centres his intelligent analysis of change and violence in the Northern Caucasus around the figure of Musa Shanib (or Yuri Shanibov in the russianised version). The admirer of Bourdieu, that’s him. Shanib also happened to be a prominent figure in the independence movement of the region, first assisting Dudayev in his bid for Chechen independence, then leading a volunteer force into Abkhazia in their secessionist struggle against Georgia. Shanib’s personal history comes to stand for the political and social history of the former Soviet Union and its republics, most notably of Chechnya.His trajectory, bizarre as it seems, is representative of the Soviet nomenklature, its tribulations in the post-Stalin era and their disillusionment.
Derlugian draws on a large number of illustruous examples for his analysis: Charles Tilly, Rendall Collins, Immanuel Wallerstein and Pierre Bourdieu, himself, of course have inspired his approach of socio-political archeology. Yet, unfortunately, the theoretically inspired discussion of sociological paradigms is the weakest part of the book. The author frankly admits not being at ease with the often parochial chapel fights of the discipline; nevertheless, a more systematic comparison of these authors and a more thorough exploration of the synergies their work might offer would have been much appreciated, if not already for the fact that there is still very little written on the matter. Apart from some occasional, hardly discussed and even more sparingly referenced uses of the concepts these authors have coined, there is relatively little of Charles Tilly’s thorough historical and archive-based puzzleworking, Wallerstein’s lengthy theoretical comparisons of economic paradigms and national economic histories, Rendall Collins’ experimental sociology, or Pierre Bourdieu’s extensive empirical research in Derlugian’s book. There is also, contrary to what the title makes the reader expect, very little of Shanib’s view and understanding of Bourdieu. From this point of view Derlugian’s book is disappointing.
However, he compensates for this theoretical weakness through his own, original field research. Although not as systematic and detailled as Bourdieu’s work, Derlugian bases his research on Bourdieu’s claim that all politics are, essentially, struggles over social positions and power. Derlugian carves out which social classes contributed in which way to the disasters of the Soviet breakdown. He argues that three classes played a central role throughout the existence of the Soviet Union and that their interactions in each subnational region, most notably in each Republic, predicated whether the disintegration of the Soviet Union would result in collective violence or not.
The nomenklatura was, according to Derlugian, primarily responsible first for fractionalizing the Soviet state and second, for carving it up during privatization and to the benefits of their private bank accounts. This thesis is anything but new and has been discussed in various forms before. What is new, however, is how Derlugian interweaves this narrative with the particular story of the nomenklatura’s fate in those Republics, which were the furthest away from the political centre such as Chechnya.
The two other social classes emerged from the split of the Soviet Union’s principle class, the proletarians. Whereas the job security and boring predictability of a state-guided life led one part of the proletarians, in the 1970s notably, to embrace intellectualism, another larger part sank down to a sub-proletarian status as state-sponsoring ceded in the 1980s before it completely broke down after 1989. Derlugian goes to some lengths to explain why the emergence of a large class of intelligentsia, which in their intellectual expressions reflected a broad range of democratic orientations, did not lead to a broader democracy movement like it did in Poland, Hungary or the Germand Democratic Republic. In his view, a peculiar mixture of proletarianization of the intelligentsia, of state repression and surveillance but also lack of organisational opportunities – for instance the lack of unionization due to state-paternalistic undermining of professional groups – hampered the transformation of the Soviet intellegentsia into a broader social movement. The Soviet state’s reach into all professional categories, whether doctors or drillers, stiffled any autonomous organisational capacity, and it did the more so in the provincial republics of the Caucasus where the state’s grip was doubled by the more traditional social structures of clan and family networks. The intelligentsia resented the Soviet system less for its politically authoritarian character than for its central government tendency to tamper with those networks which commonly provided extra income from gift making (otherwise called corruption), smuggling, insider deals or outer-institutional work (e.g. doctors doing private visits for private money). Derlugian concludes that this class’ democratic orientation would better be called a consumerist orientation: “In sum, the university-educated proletarian specialist did not merely seek an opporutnity to earn extra money and gain access to scarce goods. They sought to translate certain kinds of occupational capital into the consumption and symbolic display associated with the prestigious imagery of the Western middle class.” (p. 146) A Potemkin democracy struggle so to say.
The subproletarian class, finally, is one that official Soviet ideology denied to exist yet whose reality not only preceded the Soviet breakdown but which also has been constantly growing since the economic downturn started in the late 1970s. Derlugian admits that this class is the most difficult to characterize as income opportunities, local hierarchical positions and even education might vary enormously across the category. He offers a phenomenological characterization (you recognize a subproletarian if you see one) and one based on the dialectics of formal and informal income sources. Subproletarians, notably in rural regions, will, according to Derlugian, draw their income from a large variety of sources of which state employment would be one but not the main source; others would be any kind of agricultural production, side businesses like shops or little workshops, migration to construction sites in more labour affluent areas or any kind of illegal income. The inclination to diversify business has made this class a fertile recruiting ground for illict trafficking and violence entrepreneurs.
The latter’s habitus fits particularly well to what Derlugian calls the brutality of the subproletarians’ lives: “A great deal of aggressiveness is displayed in the dress and demeanor of males and in the ‘marketplace scandalousness’ of many women. Domestic violence serves to reaffirm the fledging patriarchy; street gangs become the default mode of socialization among adolescents; violent sports like boxing and wrestling serve to uphold the virtues of masculinity; vandalism against the symbols of the dominant order (be it a defenseless park bench or a toilet seat in a public restroom), seemingly unmotivated hooliganism, and occasional rioting all help to vent social frustrations. Sub-proletarian social beliefs are precariously suspended somewhere between the ritualistic religiosity of peasants and the secular confidence of urbanites. Hence the responsiveness of sub-proletarian masses to secular populist or religious fundamentalist cults” (p. 153).
Such sweeping generalizations are not uncommon in Derlugian’s book and they make the reader feel uncomfortable at times: not a single footnote, not a single systematic comparison of any empirical data upholds this assertation that the certainly more visible violence of sub-proletarians would be, indeed, more brutal than the often better hidden violence of the middle class or of elites (referring to examples of other societies it might even be doubted that hooliganism or boxing are good indicators of sub-proletarian classes). This is one passage where Derlugian dreadfully fails to achieve one of his declared goals of the book, namely to displace prejudice as he reproduces his own appreciations of sub-proletarian culture. It sometimes sounds that Derlugian is rather cladding his own intelligentsia prejudice towards the subproletariat in academic terms.
The empirical weakness is in those parts particularly evident where his theoretical approach is equally weak. From describing the historical emergence of these three main classes of Soviet society, Derlugian is faced with the task of explaining how social class translates into collective politics. He is certainly not the first who has failed to convincingly explain how individual dispositions turn into collective movements. Yet, his slight tendency of stereotyping makes some of these passages sound strikingly superficial given that his field research otherwise is brilliantly detailled, fine grained and differentiated.It is Bourdieu’s “habitus” which he (wrongly but that is not the matter here) likens to Tilly’s routine scripts that receives the honour of becoming the keystone in the bridge that Derlugian builds from his purely social to the political analysis.
The three classes initially shared the same habitus in the streamlined Soviet society, hence, they respectively responded to the same discourses and ideas for change that circulated in the revolutionary moment since Brezhnev. Nationalism notably became the central idea that allowed coalitions of regional nomenklatura and intelligentsia to say good-bye to Moscow all the time populistically mobilising the support of the sub-proletarian classes. So far, he argues, the same happened in all republics. Yet, why some republics tumbled into violence and civil war, and others not, depended not on ancient hatreds or other arguments that have been made about ethnic violence. Rather, the reasons why the transition succeeded without violence in some republics but not in others have to be saught in the “mundane details of administrative relations, social networks, class and group attributes, and various conflicting efforts to reshape the networks and reframe the goals that taken together produced the vector of nationalist mobilizing and violence” (p. 174)
It is with this programme that Derlugian’s departure from conventional wisdom becomes most pleasant to read and think about. Derlugian makes three arguments against the common statement that nationalism brought the Soviet Union down. He first points out that chronologically nationalist discourses appeared only long after perestroika had set off other ideological and social movements. Nationalist mass movements in form of demostrations etc. only appeared at a later moment in Gorbachev’s era; before that social manifestations had been held over environmental issues (Chernobyl), social issues (like youth) or health issues (alcoholism). Nationalist discourses and nationalist events (ralleys) etc. hardly attracted any interest in those early times.
Derlugian further argues that those nationalist movements which then, with a time lag of several years, gained in strength, drew mainly on two of the three dominant social classes: the local and regional nomenklatura that had become extremely disgruntled with Gorbachev’s “de-bureaucratization” policies and the sub-proletarian underclasses which grew in size and which slowly became aware of the end of state-sponsored employment and social welfare. Violence resulted, in his view, if the two established direct relationships, the former addressing directly the latter for support, thereby marginalizing the intellectuals. Had his book ended here he would not have added anything to the well-known argument of ethnic entrepreneurs populistically manipulating the masses. Yet, Derlugian asks further where the intellectuals disappeared to, and it is here where his account originally interweaves the personal story of Musa Shanibov with the history of the Soviet disintegration and Chechnya’s wars. Comparing the Armenian-Aserbedjan conflict, the Georgian conflict and the events in Chechnya, Derlugian describes how the intelligentsia class was crushed by the unhealthy coalition of nomenklatura and sub-proletarian crowds. The nomenklature itself is described as a victim of the contradictory and, in the end, substanceless politics from Moscow that left the bureaucrats rely on their own networks for survival, hence, engaging in a nationalist competition to rally support from the masses. Derlugian singles out the lack of a “bureaucratic” ethos, which preceded Gorbachev’s reforms and had translated into an extensive system of patronage on the central governments costs. Notably in Georgia, the breaking away of Moscow’s suppport accelerated the nomenklatura’s fall and the nationalist turn.
On the other hand, Gorbachev’s increasingly obvious incapacity to manage the breakdowns of regional party structures, and his unwilligness to combat nationalist movements gave the latter even greater momentum. Turning to Shanibov, Derlugian describes in detail how the intellectuals in these republics were confronted with the dilemma of either being ran over by the historical situation or to rally with nationalism. In Derlugian’s account, nationalism became essential for political survival. Independence of the republics, before and in the wake of August 1991, precipated the nationalist movement even further as now popular unrest catalyzed dissatisfaction of the crumbling Soviet system against local and regional elites. The breakdown of the Soviet Union and the unleashing of nationalist and ethnic violence in these republics followed several interlooping spirals of escalation in which each social group aimed at surviving by betting on the nationalist card: “As the Soviet state was breaking apart, the scramble for fragments of its political and economic assets became increasingly turbulent. The course of events could turn on such small contingencies as timing, personal acquaintance, contemporary social ‘mood’, or one lucky move. The broaken and chaotic system of relations nonetheless formed a maze that allowed only certain pathways.” (p. 219) Short-termism was endemic to the system’s breakdown.
Reproducing the structural differentiation of peripheries and semi-peripheries in the world-system, socio-political changse without supporting economic changes escalated into violence. The violence and its causes pushed these regions further into the periphery. If Derlugian’s explanation of the unholy alliance between a nomenklatura that is squeezed by the dilemmas of ungovernability and sub-proletarian masses is correct, the prospect of the region’s further descent into deindustrialization and poverty is anything but cheerful. Middle classes shrink and hardly reproduce themselves, notably with those gaining valuable professional qualifications emigrating; proletarian classes are further pushed into the sub-proletariat due to the increased de-industrialization of these regions; intellectuals like Shabinov emigrate or remain marginalized and forced to subdue to radicalizing ideologies, which confer them a position in the infernal system; bureaucrats and politicians keep their grip to power through authoritarian violence and patron-client networks.
This pattern is not exclusive to the Caucasus and this is why Derlugian’s analysis is highly relevant for the analysis of other conflict cases. Although his analysis could have been in parts formulated in a more straightforward and systematic way, his insights in the mechanisms by which those parts of the population will rebell who have been for a long time excluded from any chances of social mobility and participation through socio-economic status, are highly valuable for further research.
Yet, just as Bourdieu himself and many who used his sociology, Derlugian stops short before answering one crucial question. If classes are constituted by varying configurations of capital (social, economic, cultural etc.) and if politics is nothing else than the struggle of these classes over social positions how can we know at which point such a struggle will be violent? This is less an empirical than a systematic question. Bourdieu observed empirically for the middle classes an almot unsatiable desire to emulate and imitate higher social classes; he also testified empirically that those classes, which traditionally have been seen as potential radical elements in a society, i.e. the working class and other subordinate classes (petty clerks, small shop owners etc.), find a common ground in a cultural, moral, and ethical attitudes which favour authoritarian morality and discipline. In the mid-1990s Bourdieu saw a glimmer of hope that new social movements of the time, i.e. the unemployed movement or the students’ movement of 1995/6, could be this confictual and radical force just to see them vanish quickly and being absorbed in the “pensée unique” of neoliberalism.
Yet, there seems a point when subordinate social classes choose to use armed force against a dominant class. The question is why and when. That the subordinate class wants its share of the cake is not a sufficient answer as exactly Bourdieu’s studies have shown the huge weight of symbolic power that keeps the subordinate classes accept and even justify their subordinate status (see for instance Bourdieu’s work on real estate and home buying in France). That timing and luck contingently play a role is not a helpful answer either. Yet, the procedure of looking at coalitions and alliances between different groups and how their respective positioning forces the various social classes to choose their arms (literally) is a promising approach for the analysis of social conflicts that turn into war.
Despite their January promise to be out of Mali within a couple of weeks, France is still engaged in chasing alleged terrorists through the Atlas mountains. Yes, remember! The war in Mali. Well, the French are still there (and the fifth French soldier has been killed just a couple of days ago). Yet, after having bombed out and killed the presumable leadership of AQMI (Al Qaeda in Mali) the war could be declared over. After all, it is already obvious who the main winners of this intervention are: the French Légion Etrangère and Mali’s putshist president Traoré. The former has successfully proven worthy of its long tradition of chasing natives in Africa. Relying on Chadian auxiliary forces with their exotic camel scouts and the Malian army which was given the honourable task of terrorising the population, the Légion Etrangère showed that good old school tactics of hunting down the ennemy are still more effective at keeping unorderly rebels at bay than drones and waterboarding. One could, disrespectfully, argue that blowing up so-called terrorists in the desert by the aid of hundreds of men, drones, telecommunications, satellites and camels, and, not to forget, more than 100 million Euro, constitutes in the end a rather meager victory yet! compared to US efforts to hunt down Bin Laden and to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban, the French excursion in Mali does seem quite successful. Those French nationalists who still believe that the world would be better off if it were ruled by them and not those uncultured Americans have had their most gleeful moments in the past couple of weeks.
The greatest winner of this war, is, however, without any doubt, Mali’s President Traoré. He won on every front: The French have kindly bottled up the Touaregs and chased away other rebellious elements in the North of the country, so he’s rid of that problem; Traoré showed the rest of the world and most notably the big money givers how decisively anti-islamist Mali is; he also has successfully convinced the rest of the world that his army needs better equipment and training and more money, which is something that a former general who putshed himself to the president’s office should always be pleased about; furthermore, he has gained international legitimacy for his regime by talking the international community’s talk of elections and reconciliation missions and he has successfully set into motion the rally-around-the-flag effect within Mali by first scaring Malians in the South ouf of their socks and then reaping the fruits of their excitement that their former colonizers still have such an efficient Légion Etrangère. And if Traoré is lucky and the international community decides to reward him for all these brownie points, he’ll get a real UN mission in his country with all the UN agencies, NGOs and other elements of the emergency caravane. What an economic booster that will be! For him, this intervention clearly was “Tout bénéfice”!
American officials often justified the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan by an argument about liberating Afghan women. In the dust and haze of the Bush administration’s lies this seemed just one more handy pretext. It is therefore somewhat surprising to see just how much the fate of Afghan women continues tos preoccupy the US adminstration and legislature, with hearings being held on a regular basis referring explicitly to Afghan women. Despite its certainlygood intentions, this fixation on liberating Afghan women has a couple of exasperating aspects to it, foremost of which is the entirely distorted perspective on the US role in helping trample any advancement for women in countries with reactionary regimes.
In the past, the US tried extremely hard and often successfully to squelch any communist or socialist regime in Third World nations, including Afghanistan. Yet communist or socialist regimes typically did a great deal to abolish traditional legislation that kept women out of work and out of the “community”. For these regimes, the “women’s question” was closely associated with larger issuess of social justice, class equality and the progress of the working class (or whatever other formerly oppressed group was put forward). There are good reasons to critically discuss how effective these policies were in promoting women’s freedoms, as rather often radical feminism was denounced as hostile to the working class and feminists ended up in dissidence. Some argue, probably not entirely incorrectly, that the main aim of communist women’s politics seems to have been to move women from the home to the factory without really conceding positions of male power and influence.
However, the association of women’s politics with larger issues of social and political justice as well as economic redistribution had two healthy side-effects:First, the “women’s question” was lifted out of the morass of biological or cultural arguments about women’s “nature” and set into a political and socio-eocnomic context. Second, women’s status was changed from within the political system and with economic and social rewards for the families that followed the party line. By targeting communist or socialist regimes in the name of a supposedly better and more progressive ideal – liberalism – the US destroyed this association and it did so in two ways.
First, the US supported the most reactionary groups in society to fight against the communist or socialist government of Afghanistan up to the point of literally lifting them on to the throne. History will judge whether the losses for women’s freedoms provoked by these US-sponsored counter-revolutions were more than just “collateral damage”. It is quite obvious today that the losses for campesinos in general were intentional goals of the strong Latin American lobbies in the US, and hence, not so-called collateral damage rom the US contra strategy but rather an intended consequence.
However, supporting reactionary groups was not the only way that US hysteria with communist regimes in the Third World destroyed advances of and prospects for women’s freedoms in these countries. By crushing these regimes and imposing some sort of reactionary (neo?)liberalism in these countries, the US largely contributed to dissociating women’s question” from larger questionsof social and econmic justice. The “women’s question” became a stand-alone issue, and, in the best liberal tradition, one of rights rather than one of status, recognition and equality. As a question of rights, the “women’s question” all of the sudden was a human rights issue–and just as other human rights issues, it became a yardstick for civilizational and cultural progress, and so drowned again in the swamp of culture and nature.
What is more, particularly in those countries where the US intervened militarily in the post-Cold War era, the “women’s question” was now part of the “clash of civilizations” (which remains an ideology only Al Qaeda and the Tea Party believes in) and a marker of imperialism. As the reactionary forces the US had fed through during the Cold War turned upon their former masters, they obviously turned upon the “women’s question”too, partly because, yes, they were reactionary, but partly also because women’s emancipation had become part of the cultural package of US imperialism. Therefore, when the House and Senate now babble over women’s freedoms in Afghanistan, they are just reinforcing the dwindling spin against women.
But this is yet not the nauseating aspect of this. One can still concede that those NGOs and legislators advocating more women’s rights and protection in Afghanistan do so in full awareness of this history,yet still assumethat it is better to bang the drums for Afghan women now. What is exasperating in this is much more basic: the complacency and smugness that makes them believe they know best what Afghan women now need, and whatever it is they need, that it can only be achieved if the US promotes it…it is exactly the same complacency and smugness that made Cold War warriors chase communists in the Third World back then.
In every decent creperie in France a “complet” is a pancake with ham, cheese and egg. People usually just say “un complet” and everybody knows. Mali’s president Dioncounda Traoré has learnt the lesson well that a good “complet” of global politics has three ingredients: foreign intervention, elections and a reconciliation commission. He had already the first two and now he anounced the creation of a “Commission for dialogue and reconciliation” to talk to with “all Malian communities”. However, he does not want to talk to “islamists” and he only wants to talk to the Tuareg if they don’t ask for silly things like territorial autonomy or this stuff they have been fighting for since independence. Traorés sincerity is as credible as his commitment to elections. Traoré came to power through a putsh last year.
Al-Qaida in the Maghreb, or AQMI by its acronym has been in the past designated as France’s new public ennemy no. 1 and so President Hollande might have opened a nice bottle of champagne when the Algerian television anounced that the Tchadian desert troops had tracked down Abou Zeid, the leader of AQMI and French airforces had bombed him and 40 of his collaborators to death. They even assert having killed the infamous Belmokhtar who is seen responsible of the kidnapping of In Amenas. However, the French ministry of defense is for the moment not confirming this. Now, the death of Abou Zeid and of Belmokhtar is certainly nothing to be sad about. Zeid, too, is allegedly responsible for the kidnapping of tourists, journalists and humanitarian workers and supposedely killed the Briton Edwyn Dyer in 2009. No, they were certainly not the kind of man you would like as your next door neighbour. Some say Abou Zeid strangled Dyer to death with his own hands although very few of reports wonder how we can know this if there is not even a reliable photo available of him. He has, indeed, all of a mystic figure: neither his age nor his correct name are known, there is no reliable picture available, in some reports he is described as ferocious and vicious, in others as cold and determined…Yet, now that he’s dead this does not really matter anymore. What does matter and what has, however, been much less discussed in the media is his capacity to build up, lead and actually quite succesfully lead an armed group in the desert. From where is he recruiting? How are these men trained? What ARE, once again, their goals, their politics?
If there is anything that is coming out of this desert crusade it is slightly more information about these kind of groups. Following the flight of AQMI from Timbuktu several papers have been unearthed which outline the strategy and politics of this group. Interestingly, these papers seem to be a far cry from simple propagandist babbling and resemble any typical bureaucratic policy document with clearly outlined and structured chapters, lessons learnt, procedural guidelines and recommendations for action. The document shows that Abou Zeid was not an illuminated madman or simply a bandit but well a leader who used violent means strategically to realize a political project. This, in turn, means that AQMI’s attractiveness for potential recruits stems less from material gains (which anyway given the hardships of desert fighting is a flawed argument) but from a political vision that is shared by a wider population. As we might further assume it is attractive because it is a response to a deep social conflict in those countries (Mali, Algeria, Mauritania, Niger etc.).
This is the crucial to understand why even this killing will not fundamentally change the situation on the ground. If AQMI is a political response to a social conflict it will remain attractive beyond the conjectural leadership of a certain Abou Zeid. Of course, another leader might not be as skilled and successful in finding finances through kidnappings, another leader might not be as a good a military strategist as he was but another leader might also be even better. Leadership is important yet the phenomenon AQMI might be more founded by underlying social and political conflicts than by momentanous and sporadic movements.
If France and Mali were out to eradicate such movement they will need to consider more than police actions which, apart from being only partially successful in terms of ridding the country of “terrorists”, also have the effect of undermining any potential for democracy, law and justice. At least if these are understood to be protecting citizens against state violence, to be assuring a minimum of fair process, and to be making legality a higher value than vengeance and arbitrary killings on suspicion. Killing the AQMI leadership and its fighters does not solve the political problem; it actually risks rather igniting more and new fighting as state suppression most often radicalizes opposition movements and provides new justifications for radicalisation.
In a talk at Oxford University, Alan Kuperman makes this point which he has developed in several articles under the title of “the moral hazard” of interventions. In his talk, Kuperman meticulously pulls apart the disinformation on the Libyan crisis and intervention. He then compares the casualties and dead of the fighting going on before the intervention and the estimated casualties and dead accounted for due to the intervention. He concludes that the intervention has not only prolonged the fighting but also aggravated the violence, spoilt the post-conflict environment and led overall to more unrest, misery and plight than Khadaffi’s suppression of the rebellion of spring 2011 did. Instead of saving lives, the intervention had cost lives and created greater instability, among other by dragging Northern Mali into war. The moral hazard of the Mali intervention is yet to be determined. Human Rights Watch has been documenting abuses and summary executions by Malian soldiers in the wake of the French intervention as have newspaper reports.
And what is it all for? This the French government has still not convincingly explained. Over 100 Million Euro to track down 40 men, holed up in a desert mountain, several thousand kilometre away from France certainly do not represent a major terrorist threat to Paris. For the time being, the economic interest hypothesis remains the more convincing one; after all, it is the French company Total that has the priority right for oil, gas and mineral prospection in exactly that area…Add a good dosis of neo-colonial disciplining of developing countries, uhm, sorry, support for friends…and a quick fillip in direction of the US that yes, France, can still tidy up its own backyard…then probably we’re closer to the reflections of the French ministry of foreign affairs, its ministry of defense and the presidential advisers than following up on the terrorist argument.
About two months ago, the French Defense Minister had anounced that French troops would be back home within a couple of weeks, three or maybe four, and when they took three major cities by storm he seemed to be absolutely right. Yet, until two, threes weeks ago they had been fighting nobody, really…the “islamist terrorists” had vanished into the desert. And so the French went after them and then…well, then… we don’t really know. French and international media seem to have lost their interest after the big party in Timbuktu and instead of having daily fat headlines on missiles, terrorist nests and shoot-outs there is only an occasional short note somewhere. Meanwhile, the cost of the operation has doubled from the initial 50 Million Euro to 100 Million — a “flash éco” news in the conservative newspaper Le Figaro, that’s all.
Le Drian justifies this pretty expense by pointing out that the French troops are now finally doing what they were sent in for: killing islamists. He doesn’t know how many they are killing but he reassures everyone that they are doing their job properly as they kill several every day. If they really do so and under what circumstances nobody acutally knows, however. Concrete information is confused and contradictory: suicide bombings in towns that had been “cleared” of terrorists, mountain battles with or without success and casualties…. Various sources juggle numbers of islamist casualties ranging from 15 to 20 in a recent shoot-out to hundreds. But who cares actually when the important thing is that “our” boys kills terrorists without being killed. It’s the two French soldiers (legionnaires, more precisely) being killed that make the headlines, of course.
What is relatively well known is the number of displaced and refugees: 6,500 from the North since the French marched in and the fighting began; 240,000 since the Northern insurgency began a bit more than a year ago. But they don’t make the headlines either. After all, the French did not march in heroically to be associated with ragged homeless IDPs and refugees…
The French intervention is far from being the neat and simple march-through they had anounced back in January; it was never really declared a humanitarian intervention which, in the end, is good as it dispenses the government from trying to explain why it is creating more violence, misery and havoc than there was before. But then, there has never been a declared goal anyway except to kill terrorists and this, at least, the French are now doing! But as those islamists don’t want to be so easily killed, it seems that the French are there to stay and continue their cat-and-mouse game. And as this war has moved out of the news, hence the public consciousness, just as the Afghanistan and Iraq intervention have, it can continue for a loooong time. The hopes of a clear victory and an easy little army work out are already shattered and with it any potential homegrown political solution.
So, the Republican senators do not want to confirm Hagel as Secretary of Defense on the grounds that his answers to questions about the legal grounds for the domestic use of drowns were considered insufficient? Should the Republicans all of the sudden have discovered their hidden consciousness for human and civil rights? Far from it. On the contrary, this debate just clearly reveals how deeply xenophobic the war on terror is.
Humanitarian interventions, the war on terrorism and interventions under the responsibiltiy to protect doctrine are all considered to be decided on the universal grounds of human rights and humanity. Consequently, the means of violence deployed are supposedley taking into consideration the universal human rights of menkind or so it is often argued. If drones are used in this struggle and “islamists” or other “terrorists” are killed then this has, up to now, caused little outrage; on the contrary many even argue that drones are a means of killing that is particularly respectful of human rights as it allows precise targeting of the person to be killed.
But now that the US Department of Justice is thinking of using drones for targeted killings of US citizens, or to be more precise of US cititzens under suspicion of being “terrorists”, and to do so on US territory, there is nothing universal anymore about terrorist threats and the way to deal with them. Now there is outrage in the US. Now the Senate has questions to ask about the legality of these killings. Now congressmen and women have a word to say. Now special commissions should be created. Killing people is one thing, killing Americans is quite another, it seems. The war on terror is now openly revealed to be a war against the US’ other as, by definition, a US citizen seemingly cannot be a terrorist. And even if he (or she) ever was, then this would have to be proven in a lawful procedure first in the great ol’ country of the rule of law…Yet, as the celebration of torture in recent Hollywood films shows, the least the war on terror needs is such fancy decorum as rightfulness, legality or rights so it’s absolutely fine to put away with this stuff for those outside the US. It’s like turning the Declaration of Independence on its head: if the Declaration can be read as a universal invitation to everyone who is pursuing happiness to become a US citizen, then the war on terror has redefined this as a doctrine where anyone who is not a US citizen is not pursuing happiness and, potentially, hostile to the American dream…in short: a terrorist. So, in the Republican’s view there is the US and its citizens, and there is the world out there and its terrorists.
It’s 2013 by the way, year 16 after Netscape.
… all the things you could do, all the places you could go! All the council housing you could build, all the teachers you could pay, all the children and youth clubs you could set up, all the jobs you could create, all the nurseries you could equip, all the books you could buy, all the theatres you could have play, all the concerts you could show, all the…ah!… just imagine!
And what did the “socialist” President do? Play tin soldiers in the desert.