Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Fri, 07 May 2004

The Falluja Siege

Today has been the first full day of revising and building g.o.r.i.l.l.a. It took me in some surprising directions. I began the day with a feeling that there was a hole in the media coverage of the siege of Falluja in Iraq, now coming into its third week and I searched the net for some information. The first pages that offered themselves were from AlJazeera, pictures of many dead, mostly civilians, including women and children. I had ringing in my ears the figures from a day or two earlier of 2xx women and 2xx children killed out 300 hundred dead and a 100 or more wounded. Perhaps this was an 'exaggeration' and yet these scenes suggested otherwise So why wasn't this in the mainstream media I had seen? Digging deeper showed why that might be. The only crew inside the siege was the AlJazeera one. Vice Donald Rumsfeld dismissed their coverage of the American assault on the town as 'outrageous nonsense', and the US general running the siege had made the departure of the AlJazeera crew one of the conditions in the negotiations for lifting the siege, while describing the US approach to the siege as 'humane'. And then digging a bit further I found "Inside the fire" Jo Wilding's courageous account of driving into Falluja and of what she saw. Her eye witness account tripped me into tears. Why is the inside story missing from the media? Is it because, with the exception of alJazeera, the reporters are embedded with the troops?

I have to keep reminding myself that I'm building a site devoted to confronting domination. Falluja, like Jenin and Shatilla appears to be an example of the of wholly disproportionate use of overwhelming military power. Revenge (reprisal?) for the previous week's atrocious killing and humiliation of four US mercenaries appears to be costing the lives of hundreds of women and children. The Falluja equation of four American deaths with the terrorizing and killing of hundreds of Iraqis echoes the similar racist attitude to the indigenous population that shapes events daily in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.</P>

In my search for details of the Falluja siege I came on an apparently unrelated presentation in the Washington Post "One Land, Two peoples" that for me shockingly added to this sense of gross disproportion. I had not understood the extent to which Israeli governments had colluded with, or supported, the creeping expropriation of Palestinian territory. Like you I had heard of the 'settlements' and what a 'provocation' they were to Palestinians, while representing for Israeli Jews the consolidation of their 'return' to their biblical roots. But take a look at screen six of this presentation...'Israel today', check out the number of settlements and the way they are sprinkled evenly across the West bank and the Gaza strip. What does it look like to you? If you had been dispossessed of the rest of your homeland by the Jewish colonization of the last century what would you be likely to feel about the accelerating 'facts on the ground' that these settlements represent? Anger? Outrage?

We all live in Israel now
And then there was an interesting support for my relatively uninformed intuition that "we all live in Israel now" that, since as it seems to me having triggered the Intifada, Israel had succeeded in exporting the content and style of its grossly imperial ways of dealing with its Arab neighbors to the rest of us. (Not that we can claim, especially if British, to have been innocent bystanders in the generation of the mess the "Holy Land" is in). In an article in the London Guardian, "Sharon's Banana Republics", Afif Safieh explicitly tells of two alternate takes of the Arab/Israeli conflict by historians; one that the Israeli client state has mimicked the methods of the US along with the fire-power they have delivered... and secondly, which more than matches my intuition; that the reverse is often happening, that successive US governments have been spellbound by the Israeli approach to the Palestinians. As Safieh puts it, "This is seen as a result of a powerful pro-Israel lobby that succeeded in turning "Capitol Hill into another Israeli-occupied territory". From this perspective might not the US in Iraq be mimicking Israeli's heavy-handed and racist methods in its efforts at 'pacification' there? Maybe even had some tutoring from Israel? Further, not that controversial, I guess, a US administration facing a tightly contested re-election is not about to alienate the substantial pro-Israeli vote (which apparently includes large numbers of fundamentalist Christians) by restraining or even criticizing Sharon's government.

The Law of Conquest - the Justice of Civilization
One of my recurrent preoccupations here in g.o.r.i.l.l.a. is with the ways in which domination is threaded through the grain of the times. With how we live with it through ignoring it to death, by splitting off domination and the damage it causes from conscious awareness. Psychologists call this dissociation. Some of the most telling images of dissociation involve the use by American businesses of imagery and naming derived from Native American peoples. This use splits off the romantic image of the noble savage from the reality, as has been lately re-iterated by I. Charney, of by far the biggest genocide that we know about, the virtual elimination of indigenous peoples by the Spanish, Portuguese, British and then the American settlers as they colonized North America.

Genocide Chic
The use by Jeep (Daimler/Chrysler) of "Cherokee" for one of their vehicles that is driven by innumerable people, even near neighbors, where I live in west London, seem one of the most offensive dissociations between image and reality that I know (but you may be about to tell me of others). As though Mercedes were to name one of their vehicles the "Warsaw Ghetto: limited edition". There are innumerable parallel examples, a restaurant in West London has for several decades promoted its food with an over-life-size plaster statue of an Native American Chieftain and from my collection here are some Native American corn chips. But to get back to the Cherokees, I started to explore again their story, parts of which, for example, the forced removal from their homelands to Oklahoma, echo the Palestinian experience. Among this harrowing material I tripped over this footnote to the the genocide of Native Americans by L. Frank Baum, later to be famous as the author of that delightful children's story 'The Wizard of OZ'. Here is what the 'wizard' had to say about the Native Americans near him in South Dakota.

'About a week prior to the slaughter at Wounded Knee, Baum, the editor of South Dakota's Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer newspaper advocated the extermination of all America's Indians. "The nobility of the Redskin is extinguished and what few are left are a pack of whining curs who lick the hand that smites them. The whites by law of conquest, by justice of civilization, are masters of the American continent, and the best safety of the frontier settlements will be secured by the total annihilation of the few remaining Indians. (WHY NOT ANNIHILATION?) Their glory has fled, their spirit broken, their manhood effaced, better they should die than live the miserable wretches that they are". Shortly after the massacre, (at Wounded Knee) Baum stated his approval, in the "Aberdeen Saturday Pioneer, stating that; "we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up and wipe these untamed and untameable creatures from the face of the earth."

As you might imagine in this enquiry I sometimes need to find a moment of elation and delight. And there on the front page of the Washington Post was LockheedMartin's celebration of the great work that they have done in creating 'Iraqi Freedom'. A classic of the genre of dissociation, an example of how deeply we can split off results from intentions, damage from imperious gestures, made and sold by people whose commitment to the delivery of death and destruction pays their mortgages and puts their children through college. It is self- explanatory, or perhaps I should say, self-obscuratory. So far as I felt elated it was at the prospect of re-editing the LockheedMartin brochure to better match the 'facts on the ground'. Perhaps I'll yet do that.