Resistance Can Be Useless

In this follow-up based on some interactions with friends on Twitter, I just want to discuss some objections to the idea that the Charlie Hebdo attack was actually resistance and not some sort of false-flag. I’ll preface it by saying I don’t claim to know anything about who the attackers were or their true motives. My original post was only to discuss the justice of attacking people who act as mouthpieces for and multipliers of the murderous power that owns the world. If you’re the kind to laughingly dismiss this description of Western foreign policy as hyperbolic, I kindly ask you to consider the millions killed and impoverished in just the last few decades across the globe and what other way one might describe this. And then go away, this blog isn’t for you.

The head of Hezbollah is approvingly quoted as saying “takfiri” groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda are more damaging to Islam than some cartoons. If we have to pick between those two contextless points, he’s of course right.

Hassan Nasrallah’s life has been spent — well-spent! — fighting the empire in the specific forms of the US and “Israel,” and definitely France. But he’s always lived in a place where his beliefs are dominant and normal — the man is a regional leader. A ferociously confident man like he must be wouldn’t feel the sting of some frogs drawing idiotic caricatures of aspects of his, let’s admit it, quite moderate and liberal interpretation of his religion. But I don’t think he understands anti-Muslim bigotry in the West the way Western Muslims do. I mean what does Nasrallah know about growing up as a French Muslim? Now let’s put ourselves in the headspace of someone who grew up as a despised, conquered minority in a country they have been told since birth is not theirs, and on top of that, whose ancestral countries were and are barbarized by their own government. I think they could have a different perspective.

And though Islam is the center of the language and framing, that doesn’t mean it is the only motivating factor or even the most important. As a religion, it’s simply a vehicle through which anguish and rage are channeled. So pardon me if I find Nasrallah’s proclamations of what the Prophet literally finds offensive to be less than illuminating on the motives of the attackers.

But does this sort of retribution actually help roll back the empire? Doesn’t it really just help propagate the case the empire’s propaganda organs spew every day, that Muslims are psycho murderers and hate our freedoms? Won’t it just help the French government and its allies clamp down even more on those freedoms as well? No, yes, and yes. So?

Just because something didn’t bring down the empire doesn’t mean it didn’t scratch it, or punish some low-hanging aspect of it. The French state itself may be strengthened, but Charlie Hebdo‘s particular group of jerks sure as shit wasn’t. (Though the paper got a massive infusion of cash from Google and The Guardian trust, so that verdict is still out.) “Cui bono?” isn’t a useful question when it pertains to the biggest, richest conspiracy that has ever existed. That some act of resistance ultimately benefits power says little about that act and everything about power’s ability to juke to benefit from anything. That’s what power is. Resistance can be useless and still be considered resistance. That’s a moral designation, not a practical one we make after the dust settles.

The objections based on their seemingly extensive training are also baffling. We know that all sorts of non-state militant groups can be highly trained. That they are reveals nothing necessarily about their motives. The people most likely to successfully source the correct weapons and pull off this action are the best trained for it. It’s practically a tautology. US training of the mujahedeen in Afghanistan is well-cited as the basis for the later ability of the Taliban to rule. Or was every single thing that ever happened in that country from Charlie Wilson on also an op?

I’m on record dismissing the goofy appeal to “agency” that retroactively categorizes all revolution-tinged agitation as grassroots and legit. The Charlie attackers could be both Saudi-funded, ISIS-hardened takfiri assholes and deeply resentful victims of French racism and imperialism striking against a representation most meaningful to them — their own personal jihad, whatever. In fact, I’d think there would exist a huge overlap in these demographics. It’s not either-or; there’s an infinite range of possibilities between total control and pure free will.

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Fuck Charlie Hebdo, or, Take Your Free Speech and Stick It

Yesterday, 12 cartoonists from the racist, imperialist French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were slaughtered at their offices by apparent “Islamic extremists.” The event is being broadcast as a terrifying oriental aggression on the West’s Right of Free Speech, and we’re all meant to bow our heads in remembrance to stupid men who drew and published vicious harmful things.

There will be all kind of “consequences” and “justification” analyses from left and right. Like, here’s why “al-Qaeda” (cool to see them back out with a new single after ISIS has spent the last year topping the charts) attacked, says Juan Cole. Don’t take this distraction bait.

Who fucking cares about this or that tactic or battle when this is, yes, a clash of civilizations. But not in the way liberals claim: the forces of enlightened modernity against benighted barbarism. Countries who drop bombs into caves whose purpose is to suck the oxygen out of and cauterize shut the lungs of all in its path don’t get to label anything barbarous. No, it’s but a pin prick of resistance against the Western beast — whether it was a result of political calculus, street-level rage, or some mixture of the two. Resistance, on the part of those who identify as victims of a global conspiracy to destroy, downgrade, devalue, destitute their values and customs and completely obliterate any power not yet rendered unto Caesar.

And that’s my actual interest here. Not useless questions about the immediate attack, not “why oh why!?” or “to what end!?” or “what next!?” punditological handwringing but real observations on just what exactly our morality is based. Just how much degradation and humiliation do colonized peoples have to endure? They’re defenseless in the face of waves of murder, torture, plunder, and then if that’s not enough, their centuries-enduring tormentor says it’s morally more righteous, better than they are, because it values, inherently, its right to say terrible shit in favor of destroying their civilizations above their right to fight against it? And forget fighting: the right to express their own similarly (in a very small way) violent opinion? Tarek Mehanna translated al-Qaeda materials and is in jail for 17 years. Anwar al-Awlaki was assassinated by drone in Yemen for the crime of saying mean things about America on YouTube. For good measure, his 16-year-old son was also evaporated. Javed Iqbal got 5 years in prison for broadcasting Hezbollah’s TV station inside the US. There were no #IAmTarekMehanna campaigns because nobody gives a fuck about a Tarek Mehanna.

All the power, all the power in the world is stacked against the victims of empire, and undisentanglable from this is the lack of power to make their case in defense. Maybe the assholes at Charlie Hebdo weren’t the politically worst that could be found — lots of reminders that they have “left-wing origins” — but they proudly made themselves figureheads of European menace against Muslims. So, in a global dirty war with the odds stacked dramatically against them, do we need to get bent out of shape because some Muslims, driven to the brink in a very psychological war, punished one manifestation of this all-inundating imperial mire of which a huge, integral part is propaganda?

Propaganda also helps the cultural mop-up job after events like this. Western Muslims, especially of the journalist class, routinely fall over themselves to condemn anything any Muslim does in the world. The latest attack provided new colonized supplicant fodder:

I’m expected now to insert some boilerplate about the tragedy of lost lives and the pain of the cartoonists’ families. But with a limited amount of political attention, I can’t find the space to give too much of a shit about this racist trash. Would Andrew Breitbart’s heart exploding be any less welcome on the left if al-Qaeda blew it up and not one too many cheeseburgers? Same for the journalist scum who plumped America for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. If Judith Miller found herself at the wrong end of a Kalashnikov, would I suddenly cease loathing every fiber of that horribly shitty collection of cells because they mercifully were made to stop their mitosis? Nah. If Dick Cheney ended up too close to a directed EMP, I wouldn’t condemn this “terror” attack despite him never, after all, having physically lifted a finger against his victims.

Check out these dumb, unoriginal, trite cartoons in response to the massacre. They are exactly the kind of simplistic, idiotic thinking that helps delete all background and make it so that history began yesterday. As if Western Civilization’s mighty pens were the only missiles pointed at Muslims. The West is just minding its own enlightened business and these jihad crazies come and assail our absolute greatest right. It’s what makes it possible for us to identify firstly with the dead cartoonists and not the millions of people, many their own countrymen, whom they proudly and routinely made feel less than human in a very real way. This matters because this dehumanization carries with it other consequences including death.

On a complimentary note, you could always count on the Free Speech religionists centered around the Great Infodad to shovel plenty of coal into the liberal #JeSuisCharlie train. From Wikileaks

to Freedom of the Press Foundation

to First Look’s earnest gaggle of also-rans

the priggish moralism of the Greenwald star system never disappoints.

The WikiLeaks tweet is an excellent example of why, by the way, we can love and appreciate a real act of whistleblowing and not be required to sign on to the whistleblower’s specific politics. Tarzie said it best:

Snowden’s political philosophy illustrates a problem with whistleblowers: they’re the kind of people who get into the sort of deep, dark places from which whistles customarily get blown. Places that are uniquely attractive to patriots, ultra-conformists, imperialists and sociopaths. Ellsberg was deep inside the war bureaucracy after hanging out in Vietnam with his mentor, notorious psychopath Edward Lansdale and other thugs. Manning was an Army Intelligence Analyst in Iraq. John Kirakou had spent a decade in the CIA before blowing the whistle on torture. Snowden has spent his entire working life in various arms of the security apparatus. I appreciate their service to the truth, but with all due respect, these are not my kind of people.

Unless they significantly repudiate their past lives, some residue of what took them into Empire’s belly is going to stick. This would be fine, were some of them not also inclined to offer opinions on how the world should work, and their admirers exceptionally inclined to take them seriously because of their heroic deeds.

The point is, “mere” words aren’t benign. Politics is run on words. Wars are launched on words. It matters who is using them. We should defend the right of the powerless to rail against their tormentors. The powerful — and this includes people using words in support of powerful people — don’t need or deserve our support.

—-

The title, some may have already realized, is an homage to the as-it-happened critical coverage of the Snowden spectacle by Tarzie before anyone else I knew was doing so. That he turned out to be SO prescient is as absolutely stunning as his pillorying has been relentless. He was also ahead of his time in attacking the sacrosanct ideal of Free Speech with no consequence — for power only, of course. He doesn’t get nearly as much recognition for this as he deserves, all done against a torrent of Twitter-troll pigshit and smear campaigns from quite on high.

h/t @lorenzoae for tweeting the names of persecuted Muslims and Sam Husseini for collecting the “pen” cartoons.

UPDATE:

Here’s a discussion of whether or not the attack can be considered “resistance.”

The Intercept Becomes Its Own Punchline in Weak War-Profiteer Exposés

Low-key Intercept hire Ken Silverstein has been writing a series of articles billed as exposés of war profiteering. Connecting these dots is always useful and interesting. But while I would love to read the dirty details of what beltway assholes got rich off Iraqi evisceration and Afghan obliteration, the series is kneecapped by a goofy lack of analytical awareness that pervades all of The Intercept’s coverage. And most of the pieces have little to do with war, aside from the fact that most of what Washington does is funded by the lucre siphoned off US foreign policy. Silverstein relies more on mild invective than establishing a real case and peppers his revelations with positively Greenwaldian smears, though he lacks his founding editor’s infamous piquancy.

An oceanfront Palm Beach penthouse is a sexy backdrop for former FBI chief Louis Freeh’s sliminess and greed. Freeh runs a consultancy that helps represent the naughty rich and connected, and Silverstein hinges his entire case against Freeh on the fact that his client Saudi Prince Bandar’s country was “home to fifteen of the nineteen 9/11 hijackers” and on that government’s “export of Wahhabism.” Everyone involved is scum. But Saudi Arabia is a US ally, acting in the interests of the very US foreign policy from which Freeh benefits. No aberration from the imperial playbook is noted. If all he’s got to pick on Bandar is that his country raised some bad people and has nasty policies, the national character of the US must be absolutely unmentionable. And lo, it somehow always is.

In another smack at Freeh, we’re meant to be outraged at his involvement in defending an Israeli billionaire — the first time we’ve seen the word used with an implied negative connotation at The Intercept? — on bribery charges. The entire article is about the accused, capped only by a schmucky assurance that “Freeh could be just the right guy to exonerate” his client.

When former head of the CIA George Tenet comes up, with his four million-dollar book deal and $200,000 salary, we’re treated to his list of “failures” that are apparently supposed to make us shake our heads in disbelief.

As head of the CIA, he missed multiple signs of a major Al Qaeda attack directed against the United States,

The CIA is supposed to protect us!

called the case against Saddam building Weapons of Mass Destruction a “slam dunk,”

Um, is this not an article on how war has made certain people very very rich?

and approved the Bush administration’s torturing of terror suspects.

Torture is no good for information-gathering that would have, say, helped the CIA protect us from those dirty Saudis. But it’s actually great for sowing terror among your enemies and subjects, a thing the government spends a hell of a lot of money to do.

And yet, Silverstein thinks that “in any fair world Tenet would be tried for criminal incompetence.”

The idea that Tenet has somehow not done precisely what was expected of him echoes back through the evidence against Freeh. He “botched” cases against America’s enemies! Can you believe he’s so rich! Ken Silverstein can’t. What would the Founding Fathers say about letting Wen Ho Lee get away with betraying Washington’s nuclear dominance? The guy was “asleep at the wheel” of the FBI, that other heroic defender of American liberty.

Silverstein’s latest piece summarizes how House staffer cum lobbyist Stephen Rademaker and his wife, AEI apparatchik Danielle Pletka, double-team the foreign-policy establishment for the big bucks that pay for their 6,000+ square-foot suburban DC spread. It’s gross, but this is classic revolving-door shit. You can tune into Rachel Maddow for more of that. In noting Rademaker drafted the legislation that created the Dept. of Homeland Security, Silverstein says the agency is “now widely regarded as the most dysfunctional part of the federal government.” I thought this was supposed to be a series on how war profiteering makes connected people wealthy. In what way is DHS “dysfunctional” in this equation?

Freeh’s penthouse, by the way, isn’t connected to the War on Terror, but to his involvement in the Penn State child molestation scandal. In fact, Silverstein’s story is really just about how connected officials move on to well-remunerated gigs in their post-official lives, which is true of them all, not just ones who ran war-connected bureaucracies.

More pieces, like this one full of details on the rise of political consultant Jim Messina and another on the very unethical ethics professor Robert Deitz, fit the Intercept pattern of pointing out the alleged hypocrisy of a system that promotes the scum of the earth to lofty positions.

Ultimately, it’s a briefer, less interesting rehash of the much more exhaustive work others have done showing the murky web of neocon operatives, their foreign elite co-conspirators, multinational corporations, and the US government and the death and destruction that feeds this machine. In that way it’s typical of all Intercept coverage: Greenwaldized reblogs of things already covered elsewhere, lots of dry facts recited in lengthy articles with unsubstantive conclusions and no important impact.

Neh.

But perhaps the punchline is when Silverstein described his investigatory visit to Messina’s corporate trust-owned house. He took with him on that trip The Intercept‘s new editor, Sharon Weinberger, whose shilling for the military-industrial complex puts some of these other guys to shame. Maybe she gets a pass from Silverstein since so far the only riches she seems to have been gifted is the helm of a publication whose main product is self-unaware mountebankery.