Saturday, September 30, 2006

In the absence of ideology

Brenden O'Neill's Spiked article, Iraq: the world's first Suicide State, is worth a read.
[. . .]

Iraq looks like a country committing suicide rather than aspiring to independence and liberty. It is striking, for example, that the bombers seem always to lash out against Iraqi civilians, including civilians who have signed up for Iraq’s ragbag police force, rather than against America and Britain’s occupying armies. Iraq takes today’s ‘cult of the suicide bomber’ a stage further: we could say that Iraq is the world’s first Suicide State, responding to war and occupation not by mobilising the masses in opposition or organising resistance armies, but rather by destroying itself, by committing suicide in front of the world’s cameras. As strange and unsettling as this may seem, it requires an explanation. It strikes me that the new Suicide State of Iraq is not quite as foreign or ‘evil’ as commentators and officials would have us believe. Rather, it seems to have been shaped by some very contemporary political trends, and by the denigration of international politics over the past decade.

[. . .]

The insurgency’s lack of political ideology is often also remarked upon. Steven Metz of the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute says ‘it is really significant’ that three years into the insurgency ‘there hasn’t been anything like any kind of ideology’. ‘If you look at twentieth-century insurgencies, they all tend to be fairly coherent in terms of their ideology. Most of the serious insurgencies, you could sit down and say, “Here’s what they want”’, says Metz (10). Not so with the Iraqis. They seem to be a new breed of post-ideological insurgents. At a time when political ideology is derided, and when fighting or agitating for a clear self-interest is looked upon with suspicion, we seem to have an insurgency fighting for nothing in particular: one that expresses itself almost emotionally rather than politically, in suicide bombings that can be seen as individuated expressions of frustration rather than part of a collective strategy to expel Coalition forces and take the reins of power in Iraq. The demise of the old ideologies of left and right, or West vs East, has given rise to seemingly aimless and unwieldy movements, especially in more volatile parts of the world such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

In present-day Iraq, we can glimpse what violent struggle looks like in the absence of politics. Without the old structures, or any new ones to take their place, the Iraqi insurgents express no distinct political interest or ideology, show no interest in winning mass support or strength, and focus their efforts, like many others today, on making an impact through the media. The insurgents’ separation from the masses and from any clear political goals goes some way to explaining why they seem so much more unrestrained and brutal than earlier militant movements. Freed from responsibility to a distinct community, and with few ties to national territory or political principles, they have fewer constraints on their actions. It is because the insurgents are really free-floating agents rather than rooted political actors, reflecting the broader demise of politics in recent years, that they can execute what appear to be unthinkable acts. In the absence of conventional political structures that might define and direct a violent campaign, they have little compunction about killing or injuring scores of innocent people. As Jonathan Tucker of the Monterey Institute of International Affairs has argued, because contemporary violent movements are often ‘not motivated by political ideology on the far left or right’, they are more likely to be ‘extremists…with an apocalyptic mindset’ (11).


At 8:32 AM, Blogger sonia said...

If it's true, the Iraqi insurgents will never win.

At 10:17 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

Sonia -

Winning is problematic if you have no goals. Thanks for the link by the way.

At 6:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They do have goals and ideology, we just aren't prepared to understand them (and haven't been since the religious wars of the 15th-17th centuries in Europe).

On one side you have the Wahhabists, who burn with a vision of a pure Sunni faith - all others are infidels, including muslims who do not embrace Wahhabism. On another side you have the Shia extremists who believe that the time of the "hidden imam" is near (think End Times in fundamentalist Christian terms). Both of those see us, and Iraqis who do not share their religious convictions, as either infidels - or worse, apostates.

So they kill anyone and everyone who gets in their way (and if you listen to the Zawahiri tapes, you'll note that he always makes a call to join the faith - meaning, Wahhabism).

The British faced this in India and Afghanistan in the 19th century, and mounted expeditions into the mountains to wipe out Wahhabists from time to time. We have the same problem, but back then, the fanatics were no threat beyond the immediate region. Today, given modern weapons and travel, they are.

James Robertson

At 8:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you may have missed the larger issue here. What is going on in Iraq is not an insurgency, it is a coordinated takeover effort by a foreign country. This effort is being conducted by Iran in a two pronged approach. First, the torture and killing of people who may have helped the new government, or worse, the U.S. forces. This makes it harder for those two entities to impose law and order by scaring everyone else into silence. Second, trying (possibly successfully so far) to start a civil war by killing civilians on both sides, therefore making a growing number of americans think that they have no business being there (in the middle of a civil war).

If this strategy works and America is pressured from within to leave Iraq, then the plan would have worked and the Iranians can move in and take over, not directly though, the world may not stand for that, but indirectly through the shiite strongmen like Al-Sader who already in Iraq and are loyal to Iran.

At 7:37 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

James –

I think one of the points O’Neill is trying to make is that religious hatred and extremism does not constitute a political ideology or agenda by itself. The US government has tried to create the image of Islamic extremism as a unified political ideology and threat, something akin to Reagan’s evil Soviet Union Empire. The Neo-cons and the Bush Administration have not proven that point in any substantive way. Events in Iraq refute their proposition everyday.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Lynn said...

Anon –

What is the material evidence for certain Iraqi groups being the dupes of the Iranian government? We hear this kind of thing coming from Rumsfeld, but he never supplies any hard evidence. You think he would if he had any. Another one of the points of O’Neill’s article is to refute an oversimplified Iranian connection by the random character of the violence in Iraq. Sadr might not be the tool, wittingly or unwittingly, some believe him to be. The desire for political power often trumps pristine ideological commitments and severs political ties. What is convenient today can be easily forgotten tomorrow when circumstances change.

At 11:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They do have an ideology of sorts - nihilism. They simply want... nothing. Not "want nothing" as in an absence of wants, but that nothing is the thing they want. They want to not exist, and for nothing else to exist either. I wrote about this a while back here:

"If freedom were perfect, they'd hate even more perfectly. It's because freedom is something..."

It partly stems from Islam, but with a lot of more modern philsophy thrown in. A literally deadly combination.
It's far more evil than we can even understand.


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