As Upheaval Spreads to 20+ Countries, U.S. Officialdom Wonders Why
The outrage has been spreading like a storm since September 11, 2012 when the film “The Innocence of Muslims,” an amateurish video that depicts the Prophet Mohammed as a child molester, buffoon, and womanizer, and that was clearly intended to provoke the Islamic world, first began spreading throughout the Middle East region via its posting on YouTube.
As this storm has grown, Romney, Palin, the Republican Party, and Fox News et al. blame the Obama Administration for three years of essentially appeasement towards the Muslim world, with Fox News’ Sean Hannity, for example, condemning Obama’s 2008 campaign claims that he would end torture (it’s not torture Hannity said, it’s “EIT – enhanced interrogation techniques”). Hannity forgot to add that in fact Obama has not ended torture (but then, that is perhaps too subtle a point for Fox to make). Sarah Palin and Romney attacked the Obama Administration for its early criticism of “The Innocence of Muslims” as clearly offensive to Muslims, inaccurately depicting the Obama Administration’s statement as an apology. But to the Right wing in this country, anything less than the mailed fist is an apology and therefore a source of shame.
“When you withdraw the power and the influence of the strongest country on earth from a region, the vacuum will be filled.” Charles Krauthammer, said to Sean Hannity at Fox News on September 14, 2012 and blaming Obama for the upheavals. Krauthammer said that what Obama should have done when the rebellions broke out was tell them to “go to hell.”
How telling them to “go to hell” would work is a fascinating question. Because the police and army can’t control the hundreds and thousands in most of the almost countless gatherings I suppose “Go to Hell” must mean bring out the tanks and start firing with live bullets at the crowds. That has surely been shown to work. Look at Syria, for example, or Libya. Then everyone would go home and be quiet again, right Sarah, Mitt, Charles and Sean?
Demonstrating the difference in tone and tactics of the Democrats, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the film “reprehensible,” but defended the film as free speech and declaimed the violent reaction to it, saying that all “leaders in government, leaders in civil society or religious leaders must draw the line at violence…. Any responsible leader should be standing up now and drawing that line,” she added.
I had to read that quote twice to make certain that I read it correctly. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is condemning those who resort to violence? What, I wonder, are those drones that her Commander and Chief uses constantly in the Middle East, Pakistan, and North Africa? And those soldiers that the U.S. has in around 800 bases in the world, who are told to shoot first and ask questions later, what are they doing? Our armies, navy, air force and marines must not be resorting to violence and those guns that they use, must merely be symbolic of the peaceful nature of our presence everywhere.
Why, the mainstream media and Obama Administration wonder, are the Egyptians, of all people, targeting the U.S.? We’re their friends and we’re helping them. How can they be so ungrateful? When we backed the tyrant Hosni Mubarak and when the U.S. gives money, tear gas canisters and other weapons to the governments in the Middle East, and Israel especially, we’re helping the people of the region. God knows the Palestinians should know this better than anyone.
The situation is out of control for those who normally rule, and they are fighting among themselves about how best to stuff the genie back into the bottle. The authorities want things to go back to normal where the violence is all meted out by them against the people who are now fighting back. We shall see, won’t we?
Eruptions like these are long overdue, but to really succeed, the people who are in the streets now need to wage a struggle that will really free them of imperialist domination and that of the regional and local overlords who profit from their savage subordination. For that they need revolutionary leadership and revolutionary science. There can be no authentic revolution if there is not a revolutionary theory to guide it.
In the lead story in today’s New York Times, Rob Malley, the Middle East-North African program director for the International Crisis Group, a consulting firm, is quoted as stating, “In a number of these countries, particularly Egypt and Tunisia, the state has lost a lot of its capacity to govern effectively.” This is true, but it’s the secondary point of a bigger issue.
The ability to govern and ability to provide for the people is being fractured everywhere, including even in the First World citadels. While the conditions are still more stable by far in the First World, the trajectory is clearly in the direction of the “demolition of society” in the sense of authorities’ and their system’s ability and willingness to provide for the people. This is part and parcel of the nature of neoliberal policies that eschew any kind of social compact between leaders and elites and the rest of the people and the environment.
Anti-state entities (al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, gangs, slum associations, etc.) are taking over many state responsibilities because the state is either failing to deliver on its traditional responsibilities or it has, by its actions (and inactions), become illegitimate in the eyes of growing numbers. Thus, neoliberalism, by undermining social services and fracturing the social compact, increasingly forces into being both anti-state terrorist groups and grassroots responses to take up the vacuum created by neoliberal policies.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast in 2005, gang members broke into stores and distributed water and food to people whom the state had spectacularly abandoned. The two most organized forces in the disorder after Katrina hit New Orleans, in fact, were Blackwater mercenaries and gangs.
In the burgeoning slums worldwide that are growing explosively in the utter absence and/or malign neglect by the state of any regulatory, supervisory, or service offerings, residents have adopted various stratagems. As Teo Ballve relates:
In poor cities around the world, millions eke out a living by scavenging recyclable materials from the streets that can be exchanged for fractions of a cent. They are at the lowest rung of consumer society, the very rock bottom of globalization. And they know it. “If we were any poorer, we’d be dead,” said Jorge Eliécer Ospina, a trash recycler in Bogotá, Colombia.
Ospina lives in a hillside slum on the outskirts of the city. Like a modern day hunter-gatherer, he leaves in the early morning to see what valuables city residents have thrown out in the trash. Ospina is part of an organization of self-employed, or informal, scrap collectors [numbering 18,000] called the Bogotá Association of Recyclers (ARB), one of the oldest waste picker organizations in the world.[i]
In Lebanon, Hezbollah has gained so much power because they have been able to deliver social programs and services as well as prove themselves a determined and capable military and police force. (Globalization and the Demolition of Society, pp. 182-183)
In other words, it’s not just “failed states” that are at issue here. It’s not, certainly except in the fantasies of the extreme rightwing, a matter of the lack of the willingness to use ever greater brutality against the people and those who dissent. It’s a matter of the whole system of imperialism and capitalism as we find it in the early twenty-first century.
The resurgences of fundamentalist religions in the West and in the Middle East and East that feed off of fear and anxiety and that explain what is happening on the basis of faith are a vital part of this picture, since you cannot get people to tolerate and participate in terrible things on the basis of reason. Right-wing movements are also notable for this technique. The proliferation of right-wing pundits whose shtick depends upon fear and scapegoating is clear evidence of this. Sarah Palin’s “death panels” lie worked on all too many people precisely because there is an echo chamber of right-wing media outlets and the GOP that repeats blatant lies over and over again, and because the followers of the extreme Right are buffeted by unexpected and scary changes to their world—9/11, the financial crisis bringing the economy to the brink of disaster, the ongoing destruction of Main Street, downsizing, deindustrialization, globalization, the election of a black as US president—and they are desperate for certainties in an increasingly uncertain and perilous world. Fear as a method of political control represents the closest thing to coercion that is not itself quite yet coercion. Put another way, as coercion assumes a larger and larger role, persuasion approaches coercion more and more.
There are both structural/material and subjective/political dimensions to this. On the material level, compared to the welfare state, neoliberalism offers much more job and income insecurity and volatility, social and economic polarization, and increasingly diminishing public goods and services. Individuals must rely increasingly upon their own devices (and personal resources) because the state and the economy are doing less and less for more and more people, except for the very rich who are feeding off the trough in unparalleled ways. As the security state creates a much greater need for a social safety net, it simultaneously moves to eliminate it. Contrary to what most analysts say, the public mood of fear and insecurity is not the reason for the security state’s ascension. Rather, the security state’s ascension is chiefly (though not solely) responsible for the public’s uneasiness.
This insecurity and uncertainty, felt at nearly all levels of the society, creates fertile soil for fear to take root and thrive. On top of that, both demagogues and corporations are constantly watering and composting this soil. If social structures do not provide support for individuals, then individuals must fend for themselves. Since there is a limit to what individuals can do compared to what collectivities can do, individuals recognize that if they are to be safe and secure they must protect themselves from others who might do them harm.
Not only is the state less and less likely as time goes on to buffer you from trouble, but also globalization and neoliberal social policies ensure that nearly everyone is subject to much more economic and social dislocation. The consequences for the less privileged among us are exceedingly severe, including suffering and premature death.
But even for those who bask in prosperity’s glow, neoliberalism and globalization ineluctably undermine their security. On a general level this is because income polarization produces desperation among those on the bottom. That desperation assumes various guises—street crime, drug addiction, predatory behavior, and so on. While by far the main victims of this live in poor neighborhoods and in poor countries, this income and wealth polarization also makes the well-off more vulnerable to retaliation by those made so desperate. In the US, stationary, gated communities and mobile-gated communities (my name for SUVs) are advertised as sanctuaries from the uncertainties of the world outside your own bubble. The infamous Columbine high school massacre took place in a community expressly created for affluent whites thinking they were fleeing the crime and disorder of the cities. On a subjective level, the danger is even worse under neoliberal regimes because whether or not one actually becomes the victim of a street crime, the pervasive sense of fear of becoming a victim claims victims everywhere.
Social Darwinism, neoliberal states’ ruling ethic, says that you have got to watch your own back because no one else is going to do it for you. Even those who because of their income can escape the ugly privations of neoliberal economies are both objectively and subjectively more vulnerable to retaliations from the dispossessed in the form of street crime and the schemes of corporate white-collar crime; Jack Abramoff and Ponzi-schemer Bernie Madoff who stole billions are the most famous of these white collar criminals, but the 2008 stock market collapse fueled by market analysts, investment banks, and politicos’ ballyhooing the virtues of capitalism and cheerleading that “everyone’s getting rich” affected far more people. As the positive incentives for co-operating with authorities diminish (jobs, income . . .) and the likelihood of non-co-operative behaviors (e.g., rebelliousness, street crime, political protest) thereby increase, the state has increasingly employed more coercion relative to persuasion as a means of social control (e.g., harsher criminal justice sentencing, criminalizing previously non-criminal behaviors, and more and larger prisons housing rising percentages of the population). This increasingly punitive criminal justice system has been in operation even as street crime rates have fallen since the early 1990s in the US.
The increasing use of fear as a propaganda device is the necessary corollary to harsher state social control policies. Fear has been generously employed as a driving force in the criminal justice system’s ongoing historic expansion and in the state’s antiterrorist moves (see Chapter Two). The incessant invocation of 9/11 is the most prominent example of this, but there is a plethora of others. Well before 9/11, as I pointed out in Chapter One, a culture of fear and accompanying social control policies based on risk aversion was so pronounced that it provoked a spate of books and commentaries.[ii] (GDS, Pp. 179-181)
[i] Teo Ballve, “Informal Trash Recyclers Go Global,” Cetri.be, April 11, 2008, http://www.cetri.be/spip.php?article545&;lang=en, accessed January 31, 2011.
[ii] These include, for example, Frank Furedi, The Culture of Fear (London: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005); Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear (New York: Basic Books, 2000); David Altheide, Creating Fear: News and the Construction of a Crisis (Piscataway, NJ: Aldine Transaction, 2002).
Dennis Loo is Professor of Sociology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is a Harvard honors graduate in Government and received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He is the author of “Globalization and the Demolition of Society” and Co-Editor/Author of “Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney”. Website: Dr. Dennis Loo