Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Wed, 26 May 2004

Holy Enemies

I need to remind myself from time what I'm up to here. The weight, the sheer horribility of events, especially in the Middle East but also out of that frame, tends to induce a lean. I am tempted to develop eloquent rants about injustices and oppression but this would be to enemize, one of the diseases of dominance of which more below. And so I need to remind myself that this inquiry is about confronting the love of power, pointing to evidence of the love of power, figuring out how it can be confronted and doing something to actually confront it.

Alongside that, the inquiry is also about freeing the power of love, of learning to live from and with love. A weak but adequate definition of love is a life in which coercion is absent; perhaps an overly passive and ultimately unsatisfying way of approaching love and loving. Yet it is a good question, not by any means settled, whether love can thrive if coercion is tolerated or condoned, if we fail to confront the love of power in ourselves. Some people prefer to try to jump straight to love, to living in the light, without attending to the culture of dominance that they are overwhelmingly likely to bring to this.

This, it seems to me, generates a spirituality that can often take the form of a flight from politics, a spirituality that bystands oppression in favour of the sweet delights of local harmony, or inner peace. At its most corrupt—when there is an insistence on the literal truth of the 'word of god' of whatever flavor—spirituality becomes completely water-logged with domination.

For example a friend visiting yesterday told of someone they know who is a charismatic Christian who believes in the literal truth of the bible, and who argues that, since Arabs are not mentioned in the Bible they don't have any rights to the 'Holy Land'. Mighjt this be one of the reasons why the present 'Christianate' US administration is so heavy on the Palestinians?

Trance-breaking cont.
Which brings us back to events in the Middle East and the ways in which they are described, I was going to say sold, to us, not perhaps too far from the truth.

A thought about that. Part of bystanding is the passive reception of what comes out nthrough ewspapers, TV, other media, or gossip. A small but important move away from bystanding is to actively seek out alternative sources, alternative perspectives. Part of the point of what I'm doing here, so far as I get it right, is to show how that can be done, what it looks like in practice, and to provide, at least via the web, a gateway to more active rather than passive participation. By comparison the one-eyed, down-market bevity of TV news looks well, inadequate.

Here is a mini shortlist of resources that can help the move away from bystanding.
Matters for America
Working for Change
Occupation Watch
Baghdad Burning
home of Salon des Refuse message board
AlJazeera in English
Desperately rebuilding Iraq blog
Common Dreams: News Center
Palestine Monitor
Use write back at the end of the text t0 recommend others. Or question these.

Spellbinding story lines
Evidence of the ubiquity of cultures of dominance continues to be overwhelming. As I've outlined earlier, two takes on how we do it to others and to ourselves (there may be more, but these will do for the moment) are 'trance induction' and the invention, editing, and censoring of stories that justify and rationalize dominant elites and the subordination, i.e. 'bystanding', of others. Along side this there is the mirror image of trance induction and the editing, invention and censoring of stories that justify and rationalize subordination and victimization.

What would a catalogue of this trance-induction/story-telling look like?
The first thing that comes to mind is the gradual acceptance of the conflict in Iraq being described as a 'war' when manifestly it was an unprovoked and illegal attack.

The notion of an 'endless war on terror' is a trance induction that serves to propagate terror i.e. it terrifies all of us, not the same as alerting us to changed levels of risk. For people in love with power it justifies dispensing with previously core essentials of judicial procedure. i.e. creating 'illegal combatants'. This hides the reality of prison communities of people without rights, 'unmenschen', and justifies holding them without charge or trial.

The pictures from Abu Ghraib have wonderfully shattered the trance that many Americans and others have taken to themselves, of an American moral superiority matching its technological and economic superiority.

Other trance inductions have effortlessly slipped into place to paper over these cracks, including calling the interrogation methods at Abu Ghraib 'abuse', when the experience of the participants was of 'torture'. If you doubt this, see these sworn statements by Abu Ghraib detainees som eof whomappeared in the infamous pictures.

The Washington Post who obtained these documents warned: 'Some of the descriptions in these statements may be disturbing because of their sexually explicit or graphic nature'. A misplaced warning that points us in the direction of seeing this as a local aberration rather than normality exposed.

Nori Samir Gunbar AL-YASSERI, Jan. 17:
Hiadar Saber Abed Miktub AL-ABOODI, Jan. 20:
Shalan Said ALSHARONI, Jan. 17:
Abd Alwhab YOUSS, Jan. 17:
Thaar Salman DAWOD, Jan. 17:
Mustafa Jassim MUSTAFA, Jan. 17:
Mustafa Jassim MUSTAFA, Jan. 18:
Kasim Mehaddi HILAS, Jan. 18:
Ameen Sa'eed AL-SHEIKH, Jan. 16:
[Name Withheld], Jan. 21:
Mohanded Juma JUMA, Jan. 18:
Asad Hamza HANFOSH, Jan. 17:
Abdou Hussain Saad FALEH, Jan. 16:
Hussein Mohssein Mata AL-ZAYIADI, Jan. 18:

An overarching relative of the denial of the experience of these prisoners is the failure to acknowledge, as anyone who, like myself, has worked with victims of torture and violence would know, that the damage, the traumatization generated by the Abu Ghraib interrogations is overwhelmingly likely to have life-long effects, generating flashbacks and nightmares decades later. Apart from a previously mentioned piece by Ariel Dorfman, I have yet to find statements in the US or UK where appreciation of this psychophysical damage surfaces.

Terrorist enemies of security and civilization
President Bush and other speak of being 'shocked' by the pictures. They don't speak of being shocked by the experience of the people in the pictures. Reading reasonably diligently accounts across the British and US press of the Abu Ghraib interrogation methods left me feeling that their exposure was regarded as a public relations disaster. In other words a failure of the dominant elite to contain and censor news or subsidiary plot-lines that undermined or contradicted the story it wished to have told.

The speech by President Bush that I saw yesterday contained many items of dominant elite story telling/trance induction that appear detached from reality. I'll take a look at a few of them.

Let's start with where it was held—the Army War College. Where as President Bush observed:

Generations of officers have come here to study the strategies and history of warfare.

Why, yet again, a speech to the nation from a military establishment? Because it guaranteed a tame compliant audience? I guess no one in the military is going to heckle a President.

I look through the speech for evidence of trance induction. A candidate emerges, Bush refers no less than 16 times to 'our enemy(ies)' in Iraq.

Trance induction—we have an 'enemy'.

But wasn't the invasion of Iraq an unprovoked attack? So how come people who, for whatever reason resist it, are 'enemies?' Perhaps they have little appetite for further humiliation in the name of freedom. And even the Saddamists, and religious fundamentalists, much though I deplore them, are entitled to their opinions and preferences.

There is a second candidate. President Bush refers to terror(ism)(ists) 19 times.

Trance induction— Terrorism. The more I have contemplated 'terrorism' as a political notion being sold as though it were a 'brand', the more I have had a sense that it is a rationalization, 'finding a reason for' how a supremely endowed nation, armed to the teeth with the latest and best in overwhelming weaponry, could be shown by the 9/11 events to be vulnerable to 'Independence Day' style attack by a handful of Afghan cave-dwellers.

A focus on Terrorism puts us into a trance that encourages us to bystand the denial of the reality on the ground for people in the Middle East and elsewhere, many of whom are likely to see their past and continued oppression as supported and financed by the US, Britain and other European nations.

The rise of a free and self-governing Iraq will deny terrorists a base of operation, discredit their narrow ideology and give momentum to reformers across the region. This will be a decisive blow to terrorism at the heart of its power and a victory for the security of America and the civilized world.

Here again we are invited to be entranced by the need for a victory by America and the civilized world. As though Mesopotamia has not itself been a cradle of civilization and as though the West with our reckless exploitations of peoples and planetary assets were so exemplary.

Keep in mind that trance works through restricting, narrowing awareness. Attention is captured by a narrow focus on a particular object and/or idea and from then on, depending on the depth of the trance, discrimination is more or less shut down. And then any of us can be highly suggestible.
We can come to believe, the reason for the attack on Iraq was that:

by removing a source of terrorist violence and instability in the Middle East, we also make our own country more secure.

The trance seems intended to help us forget a series of other potentially very plausible reasons for the attack on Iraq: that Iraq was never the slightest threat to the US, Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction (yesterday's trance induction) didn't exist after 1991; Iraq's contribution to terrorism was that of a murderous Stalinist repression of its own people; it was intended to be seen by 'evil axis' nations as 'making an example' of a 'rogue' nations; securing oil supplies in light of the oil production predicted to peak in 2008 (and the possibility that everyone in China will want to own a car); the likelihood of a fundamentalist meltdown in Saudi Arabia; an act of vengeance and revenge for the 9/11 attacks and so on.

Elsewhere In President Bush's speech there is the outright denial of reality, as in this section on the US response to the killing of four civilian contractors in Fallujah.

In the city of Fallujah there has been considerable violence by Saddam loyalists and foreign fighters, including the murder of four American contractors. American soldiers and Marines could have used overwhelming force. Our commanders, however, consulted with Iraq's governing council and local officials and determined that massive strikes against the enemy would alienate the local population and increase support for the insurgency.

For anyone disposed to look at the non-mainstream sources of information on the attack on Fallujah, (see earlier entries here) the use by the US of overwhelming force was the reality, that massive strikes against the 'enemy' did alienate the local population and did increase support for the 'insurgency'.

'Insurgency', here is another dubious trance-inducing label. It denies the reality that many Iraqis are likely to see the US as alien, 'infidel' invaders displaying too many of the 'shock and awe' characteristics of overwhelming force of the previous regime. Abu Ghraib being an iconic reinforcement of this, if any were needed.

Another example of the highly dubious use of language occurs in President Bush's frequent reference (10 times) to 'sovereignty'. Various commentators have cataloged the severe limitations on the power that Iraqis will have at their disposal under the emerging sovereignty. I won't add to that here, except to argue that talk of sovereignty is a trance-induction that hides the reality that what the US has in mind is that of 'client state'.

President Bush notes that:

America has dedicated more than $20 billion to reconstruction and developmentprojects in Iraq.

To ensure our money is spent wisely and effectively, our new embassy in Iraq will
have regional offices in several key cities. These offices will work closely with Iraqisat all levels of government to help make sure projects are completed on time and on budget.

Again, others have documented the extent to which this 'gift' involves a huge pork barrel of business opportunities that overwhelmingly favors US corporations and that recycles the the American reconstruction 'gift'. What seems to have been missed is that there is a clear precedent for what this would look like on the ground in Shah Palavi Iran.

I have eye-witness experience of what a post Saddam client state might look like. In the mid 70's, along with several dozen other Brits, I spent many months making a film history of Iran for David Frost's production company. I'll end with a few recollections of this.

Looking for locations and resources for the large historical reconstructions meant a lot of driving, many hours of flying around in a helicopter and many visits to army installations. All of this was unusually privileged, and only feasible because, as I eventually realized, the whole project was literally being signed off personally by the Shah.

Some items from this experience included flying over military installations, where I saw literally hundreds of 40ft articulated trucks parked, a sea of them, all in military colors; counting five 747 military transport planes lined up at Tehran airport, this at a time when the 747 was a new and very expensive airplane. Using for daily location transport to a Chinook twin rotor helicopter, flown day after day very expertly by American trained crews. In case you don't see the connection, this hardware belonged to the Iranians, who had bought it and the training from the US. Persuaded perhaps that without this 'support' the USSR might look unkindly on the Shah's regime.

Lastly, when now and again we visited a military commander, or his deputy, down the corridor a door or two away we commonly saw the office of the US military 'adviser'. Add to this the creeping but unconfirmed emergence of a suspicion that my assistant/interpreter was a Savak secret police agent and you see how the US had secured the 'cooperation' of the Iranian nation.

Though much of the material we filmed was uncontaminated by the circumstances of its production, from today's perspective the work now seems politically indefensible, and something that I'd now decline. With the over-throw of the Shah, the film series itself became history and has never to my knowledge been shown anywhere.