Archive for Mai, 2011

Palästina: Unverständnis für Obamas Nahostpolitik

Montag, Mai 30th, 2011

Wird es den Pro-Demokratie-Aktivisten möglich sein, den Schaden zu beheben, den USA und IWF verursacht haben?

Zur Situation im Nahen/Mittleren Osten und dem G8-Gipfel in Frankreich

Von Patrick Bond

Hier, in Palästina, reagierten die Reformer der Zivilgesellschaft angewidert auf die politische Ansprache von US-Präsident Obama, vom 19. Mai, in der es um den Nahen/Mittleren Osten und Nordafrika ging. Sie hat bestätigt, dass eine politische Aussöhnung zwischen Washington und den arabischen Demokraten, deren Zahl rasant wächst, unmöglich wäre.

Es gibt viele Beispiele, die das belegen. Nehmen wir zum Beispiel die lange Tradition der USA, wenn es darum geht, Israel blind und in selbstzerstörerischer Weise zu unterstützen. Diese Tradition hat Obama (in seiner Rede) betont. Er sagte, der (von ihm so bezeichnete) “jüdische Staat” sei der amerikanischen Politik ein Anliegen. Er gab diesem Thema eine neue Wendung – denn die demokratischen Grundrechte der 1,4 Millionen Palästinenser, die in Israel leben, wurden verleugnet. Es ist schockierend, wenn ein Verfassungsrechtler wie Obama, der in Harvard studiert hat, so tief sinkt, weil er die Sache des Zionismus unterstützen will.

Obama ewähnte die “Grenzen von 1967″ (wörtlich: ‘1967 lines’) als Basis für zwei Staaten. Damit hat er sich anscheinend den Zorn des Erzzionisten Benjamin Netanjahu eingehandelt. Deswegen wurde der Version der Vereinten Nationen, die ohnehin minimalistisch ist, eine entscheidende Einschränkung hinzugefügt: Die Lösung soll mit “Landtausch einhergehen”.

Damit hat Obama implizit die illegalen israelischen Siedlungen (die von einer halben Million Reaktionären bewohnt werden) akzeptiert. Sie durchziehen die Westbank wie Pockennarben und bestätigen, dass die Westbank, mit ihren 2,5 Millionen Bewohner/innen, im Grunde den Status eines Bantustans hat. Die Westbank ist wesentlich zerstückelter, als es die “Homelands” im damaligen Südafrika waren. Im isolierten Gazastreifen leben weitere 1,6 Millionen Palästinenser und leiden.

Obama behauptete in seiner Rede: “Amerika schätzt die Würde, mit der (sie) in Tunesien auf die Straße gingen mehr als die rohe Macht des Diktators”. Dadurch wollte er glaubwürdiger wirken.

Doch Omar Barghouti, ein Aktivist, der für die Befreiung (Palästinas) eintritt und hauptsächlich in Ramallah lebt, weist dies zurück: “Er (Obama) stand bis zur letzten Minute an der Seite der Diktatoren, sowohl im Falle des tunesischen Staatschefs Ben Ali, als auch im Falle von Ägyptens Mubarak. Obama hat nicht begriffen, worum es beim ‘Arabischen Frühling’ geht. Es geht nicht nur darum, Straßenpräsenz zu zeigen. Es geht um soziale Gerechtigkeit. Die Ausbeutung der Ressourcen der Region durch die USA muss ein Ende haben“, so Barghouti.

Dass es Obama um die Ressourcen – und um die Stärkung Israels geht -, erklärt die jüngsten Annäherungsversuche gegenüber reformunwilligen Tyranneien in Libyen und Syrien und die kontinuierliche Unterstützung der Regime im Jemen, Bahrain und Saudi-Arabien durch die USA. Daher kam der US-Präsidenten (in seiner Rede) auch nicht umhin, ein subtiles Eingeständnis zu machen: “Es wird Zeiten geben, in denen unsere kurzfristigen Interessen mit unseren langfristigen Perspektiven für die Region nicht perfekt abgestimmt sein werden.”

Es wird Zeiten geben? Ich denke, das ist die Untertreibung des Jahres. Und als er von “kurzfristigen Interessen” sprach, kamen einem die korrupten, von Konzernen gekauften US-Politiker in den Sinn. (Obama benötigt übrigens noch $1 Milliarde, um seinen Wahlkampf  für die Wiederwahl 2012 zu finanzieren.)

Das Streben nach derart niedriger Interessen bringt Washington praktisch kontinuierlich in Schwierigkeiten (beispielsweise die Unterstützung für die israelische Aggression, die zunehmende Abhängigkeit vom Öl der Despotenregime oder das dogmatische Aufoktroyieren einer Ideologie des Freien Marktes, weil dies im Sinne des multinationalen Kapitals ist (dessen Machtzentrum in den USA liegt)).

Die Folgen erlebe ich live in Gaza und in der Westbank. Ich hatte Glück, dass ich überhaupt in die Palästinensergebiete einreisen konnte. Ich kam am Dienstag (17. Mai) auf dem wichtigsten regionalen Flughafen – in Tel Aviv – an. (Ich bin weiß, mein Nachname klingt nicht islamisch und ich habe mehr als nur einen Pass). Mein Freund Na’eem Jeenah hingegen hatte weniger Glück. Er versuchte, wie ich, über Israel (Transit) nach Palästina zu gelangen. Er hat südafrikanische Papiere.

Jeenah kommt aus Johannesburg, wo er das ‘Palestine Solidarity Committee’ leitet. Die israelische Grenzpolizei hielt ihn stundenlang fest. Besorgte südafrikanische Diplomaten, die intervenierten, vermochten die israelischen Offiziellen für Immigrationsangelegenheiten nicht zu beruhigen. Diese zwangen Jeenah, mit dem Flugzeug nach Istanbul weiterzureisen. Dort hatte er einen Tag Aufenthalt, bis er einen Flug zurück in die Heimat nehmen konnte.

Alle Südafrikaner, (die nach Israel reisen) müssen die Einwanderungsbehörde durchlaufen. Diese Menschen bestätigen, dass die Bedingungen dort das Etikett ‘israelische Apartheid’ verdienen. Im April nahm (der südafrikanische) Richter Richard Goldstone seinen Bericht für die UNO (‘Goldstone Report’), über den israelischen Einmarsch in Gaza im Januar 2009 (Operation ‘Bleigießen’) wieder zurück. Dieser Rückzieher hat seinen Ruf ruiniert. In dem Bericht stand, dass die Israelische Armee damals in Gaza bewusst Zivilisten getötet habe. 1400 Leichen lassen sich nicht verhehlen – vor allem nicht, wenn höchstens die Hälfte der Getöteten Offizielle waren, die in einer Beziehung zur Hamas gestanden hatten.

Die israelische Journalistin Amira Hass glaubt, dass dieses Massaker eine Gelegenheit für die Israelischen Armee war, städtische Kriegsführung (‘urban warfare’) mit Hightech-Ausrüstung zu testen Gegen eine Bevölkerung, die wie im Käfig lebt, wurden weißer Phosphor, Kampfroboter, Drohnen und andere Terrorwaffen eingesetzt.

Am Freitag, zur selben Zeit, als ich den nördlichen Grenzübergang in den Gazastreifen – Erez – überquerte, feuerten Soldaten der Israelischen Armee (IDF) auf unbewaffnete, marschierende Demonstranten. Diese Menschen sind Palästinas – einzigartiger – Beitrag zum ‘Arabischen Frühling’. Zwei Personen wurden verletzt. Am Sonntag zuvor marschierten Zehntausende mutige Menschen, die unter anderem über FaceBook mobilisiert worden waren, zu den Grenzen von 1967. Es handelte sich in der Mehrzahl um palästinensische Flüchtlinge. Bei diesen Aktionen wurden insgesamt 15 Personen durch schießwütige israelische Soldaten ermordet.

Dies ist ein gewaltloser Kampf, eine Bewegung im Sinne des Satyagraha-Prinzips. Er richtet sich gegen die Macht Israels (neben Boykott, Divestment und Sanktionen). Taktiken und Strategien, die Gandhi bereits vor hundert Jahren zum erstenmal angewandt hat – in Durban, Südafrika – wurden übernommen. Diese Entwicklung muss bei den Sicherheitsbürokraten in Tel Aviv Angstschweiß auslösen. Es ist ihnen nicht mehr möglich, ihre Feinde als islamische Fundalisten darzustellen, die Raketen abfeuern und Osama bin Laden verehren.

Noch eine Lektion habe ich von den palästinensischen Aktivisten, die sich für die Zivilgesellschaft einsetzen, gelernt: Die westlichen Planer der Ausbeutung dieser Region sitzen im ‘Internationalen Währungsfonds’ und in der Weltbank. Im vergangenen Jahr haben diese Institutionen die Diktatoren der Region, in Tunesien, Libyen und Ägypten, genauso unterstützt. Der Schuss ging nach hinten los, was die Folgen anbelangt.

Dafür gibt es Belege – unter anderem zwei Dokumente, die Weltbank und IWF am 13. April auf einer Geberkonferenz in Brüssel vorlegten. In der Sprache der Technokraten kommt darin zum Ausdruck, welches hoffnungslose Zukunftsszenario für die palästinensische Wirtschaft vorgesehen ist. So besteht der IWF auf der Kürzung der Gehälter für öffentlich Beschäftigte, auf der Privatisierung der Stromversorgung, auf einer Kürzung von Beihilfen und auf ein höheres Renteneintrittsalter. Die Weltbank plädiert für ein Freihandels-System (das den kleinen produzierenden Sektor ruinieren würde).

In seiner Rede am vergangenen Donnerstag (19. Mai) begrüßte Obama ein anderes Dokument, das ebenfalls von IWF/Weltbank stammt. Darin geht es um die Ökonomie in der Region Naher/Mittlerer Osten. Dieses Papier soll auf dem G8-Gipfel der führenden Industrienationen, der diese Woche in Frankreich stattfindet, vorgelegt werden.

Washington hatte zugesagt, mit $1 Milliarde zum Schuldenabbau (in ärmeren Ländern) beizutragen. Doch die Hilfen sind an Bedingungen geknüpft. So müsste beispielsweise die “Finanzstabilität und die Modernisierung der Finanzen gefördert” werden und “ein Rahmenplan für die Handels- und Investionsbeziehungen zwischen der EU und den USA entwickelt” werden.

Sie mögen darüber lachen. Ich weiß, es klingt absurd, doch in den Nachwehen der globalen Kernschmelze im Finanzsektor – in dessen Zentrum die USA standen -, ist Barack Obamas Geschenk im Grunde als “versuchte Bestechung an der demokratischen Revolution in Ägypten” zu sehen, meint Omar Bargouthi. Wie auch immer: Mubarak hat einen “unglaublichen Schuldenberg” von $33 Milliarden hinterlassen. Auch diese Schulden müssen gestrichen werden und Reparationen geleistet.

Bargouthi zieht folgende Schlussfolgerung: “Abgesehen von allem anderen – die USA haben eine äußerst negative Rolle gespielt. Das Beste, was Obama für die Region tun kann, ist sie in Ruhe zu lassen. Wir haben im Irak und in Afghanistan erlebt, was ‘Aufbau der Demokratie’ im Stile der USA bedeutet. Nein, danke also”.

Patrick Bond ist Mitarbeiter des UKZN (Center for Civil Society). Seine Reisen nach Palästina werden von TIDA-Gaza und der Rosa Luxemburg Foundation unterstützt.

 
Originalartikel:
Can Democracy Activists Undo US and IMF Damage?

Übersetzt von:
Andrea Noll
 

(Quelle: ZNet.)

Global: Nicht in unserem Namen, Greenpeace…

Montag, Mai 30th, 2011

REDD Light!

Indigenous say offset plan threatens traditional title

by Dawn Paley

 

Hector Rodriguez, posing defiantly in front of riot police, was among the thousands of Indigenous peoples, small farmers, women, environmental groups and other activists who took action and made their voices heard throughout the two-week COP 16 conference. “The market will not protect our rights,” reads a statement by the Indigenous Environmental Network, which represents front-line Indigenous communities. “Approaches based on carbon offsetting, like Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation [REDD], will permit polluters to continue poisoning land, water, air, and our bodies [and] will only encourage the buying and selling of our human and environmental rights.”

 

SAN CRISTOBAL DE LAS CASAS, MEXICO—The carbon market was the hottest issue at last year’s Conference of the Parties (COP)-16 summit in Cancun. Inside the meeting, delegates approved the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation and Conservation program (REDD+). However, outside the official meeting, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Indigenous-led organizations clashed over its merits.

Opponents of REDD+ (or simply “REDD”), say the mechanism is a false solution to the climate crisis which will intensify a pattern of land grabs by the private sector throughout the Third World. The final Cancun text on REDD does little to address these concerns, as it does not contain wording that would prevent conservation projects from encroaching on the rights and title of Indigenous peoples living in forest-rich lands.

Deforestation is responsible for at least 18 per cent of global carbon emissions—more than aviation and global transport combined—according to a report by carbon management company Carbon Planet. REDD is a mechanism by which forests in developing countries are “sustainably managed” or designated as carbon sinks in order to mitigate climate change. Though REDD primarily emerged from the COP-13 in Bali in 2007, the idea germinated during Kyoto Protocol negotiations in 1997.

In Cancun, a clear anti-REDD message unified many Mexican Indigenous, environmental and peasant groups, but NGOs such as Greenpeace International, the World Wildlife Federation, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Conservation International promoted the REDD agreement.

No REDD projects have yet been implemented in Chiapas, which, as a state with heavy forest cover, is a target region for the program. According to Gustavo Castro Soto, an organizer with Otros Mundos (“Other Worlds,” a social and environmental justice organization) in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, the mechanisms for measuring the effectiveness and impact of REDD programs have yet to be designed.

Already, precursors to the implementation of REDD have people like Castro worried. Barring people’s access to forests on ejidos (communally-held lands) is the first necessary step in putting these forested areas on the carbon market.

“This is how the government will ensure that there is a forest in each ejido, and this will obviously be sold as an Environmental Service [a UN-defined category of the carbon market], for which the government will receive a quantity of money, of which the community will receive a fraction,” said Castro.

“This is what they call sustainable community forest management,” he said dryly.

Decisions about how exactly to finance REDD have been postponed to COP-17 in Durban.

“If REDD is going to be financed through the carbon market, it won’t be a real solution to climate change,” Mariana Porras of Friends of the Earth Costa Rica told The Dominion in a phone interview from San Jose. “We’ve denounced this, but government groups don’t see it the same way,” she said.

Market-based financing for REDD will likely complement the ongoing privatization of forest reserves, which moves ownership and access rights of forests currently owned communally by Indigenous or peasant communities into the hands of individuals.

In Costa Rica, as in Mexico, the government is in the early phases of implementing REDD, which means engaging in public consultations. “If you see who gets invited to the meetings about REDD—to the consultations—it’s rare that you’ll see a peasant community, or peasant organizations,” said Porras. “Mostly, you’ll see people who own private lands, or people from private organizations.”

In Cancun, the Indigenous Environmental Network stood in opposition to the discourse of many other NGOs. In a final statement from Cancun, they berated COP-16 as the “World Trade Organization of the sky,” and harshly criticized the REDD plan. “The agreements implicitly promote carbon markets, offsets, unproven technologies and land grabs—anything but a commitment to real emissions reductions,” reads their final release.

In the streets of Cancun, Greenpeace International brought delegates from around the world to show support for popular movements, but the organization’s language fell short of grassroots solidarity. Days before the final agreement was reached, Executive Director Kumi Naidoo released a statement saying that “a good REDD deal would benefit biodiversity, people and the climate.”

Greenpeace was steadfast in its support for the outcome of the climate negotiations in Mexico, and after COP-16 wound down, Naidoo posed for a photo with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, and praised the president’s leadership in reaching a global climate agreement.

Resistance to the REDD program did not end with COP-16. Activists say that the COP-17 meeting in Durban at the end of the year will be decisive as to the future of REDD, and the carbon market is sure to be a key issue in the months preceding the conference.

Dawn Paley is a journalist based in Vancouver.

 

(Quelle: The Dominion.)

USA: Kultur als Waffensystem

Montag, Mai 30th, 2011

“Culture as a Weapon”

by Rochelle Davis

At the fourth Culture Summit of the US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) in April 2010, Maj. Gen. David Hogg, head of the Adviser Forces in Afghanistan, proposed that the US military think of “culture as a weapon system.” [1] The military, Hogg asserted, needs to learn the culture of the lands where it is deployed and use that knowledge to fight its enemies along with more conventional armaments. This conceptual and perhaps literal “weaponization of culture” continues a trend that began with the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. [2] Endorsed at the highest level by Gen. David Petraeus, head of Central Command, the Pentagon unit in charge of the greater Middle East, the idea of culture as a weapon grows out of the “‘gentler’ approach” to America’s post-September 11 wars adopted after the departure of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. [3] This approach is best articulated in the Counterinsurgency Field Manual, that Petraeus oversaw and that the Army released in December 2006.

In the Field Manual, this peculiarly military application of culture uses cultural anthropologists’ definitions of culture as the behaviors, beliefs, material goods and values of a group of people that are learned and shared. [4] The weaponization of culture posits that culture can be a crucial element of military intelligence, used to influence others, to attack their weak spots and, more benignly, to understand the others the military is trying to help. While scholars and military analysts have shown how “culture” was enlisted to play a role in the Vietnam war, [5] today’s wars are the first in which culture has been so clearly articulated. Maj. Gen. John Custer, commander of the Army’s Intelligence Center of Excellence, describes this shift as “a tectonic change in military operations.” [6]

Culture, in this understanding, is configured as yet another weapon in the arsenal of the most powerful military force in the world. The shift to “culture as a weapon system” allows the military to conceive of culture globally, a category that is not specific to one theater or one enemy. New military institutes are producing materials for cultural training, language study and thinking about what the term “culture” means. The Army TRADOC Culture Center, formally established in November 2005, is part of the Intelligence Center of Excellence at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. The Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning, also established in 2005, is focusing much of its effort on Marines deploying to Afghanistan. In 2006, the Air Force created a Culture and Language Center located at Air University, while the Navy established the Center for Language, Regional Expertise and Culture in 2007. While each of these centers hires experts and purveys knowledge, the Army TRADOC is far out in front, building a core curriculum encompassing social organization, political structure, cross-cultural communication, rapport building, cross-cultural negotiation, extremism and working with interpreters — as well as the foundational question of “what culture is.” These lessons, available to all members of the US military, start from what the Army has defined as “the four basic elements that define a culture: values, beliefs, behaviors and norms.” [7] As of early 2010, educational units are available for many of the countries covered by Central Command and the new Africa Command, from the Middle East and South Asia to the Horn of Africa, North Africa and the Sahel. These specific culture trainings are provided to personnel based on rank, military occupational specialty and deployment location. Since 2009 the TRADOC Culture Center has produced Smart Books for Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, as well as Culture Smart Cards for Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa, with more of these products in the works for the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Somalia, Korea and China.

Smart Cards

When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, “culture” was not part of the vocabulary of war. The US had established major military bases in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and, later, Kuwait following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of its neighbor to the south. Veterans of the subsequent Gulf war recall that certain units developed informational and training materials concerning Arab and Muslim societies, including a small pamphlet or “smart card.” But this effort was fleeting. There was no cultural training policy in either the Army or Marine Corps to prepare troops to serve in the Middle East or Central Asia in the post-September 11 era. Just as the US failed to plan seriously for what would take place in Iraq following the toppling of Saddam Hussein, so the military, under the direction of Rumsfeld, failed to prepare for its own role in the long-term occupation and rebuilding of the country. This role has required considerably more of US soldiers than combat readiness.

In 2003, the Coalition Provisional Authority under the leadership of L. Paul Bremer canceled regional elections in Iraq, disbanded the Iraqi army and fired all Baath Party members from government. With Iraqis thus prevented from doing their jobs within a functioning state, American soldiers, military contractors and civilian employees were tasked with “rebuilding Iraq.” Though the Americans had dismantled the state, many still attributed the failures of the CPA and the lack of enthusiastic Iraqi participation in its efforts to Iraqi “culture.” These experiences (and some similar ones in Afghanistan) provided much of the impetus for what the US military has deemed the cultural imperative, changing the military’s culture to take the culture of others into consideration. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, declared that the military needs to “change the operational culture to connect with the people. I believe we must interact more closely with the population and focus on operations that bring stability, while shielding them from insurgent violence, corruption, and coercion.” [8]

In the period from 2003 to 2007, the vast majority of the military, both leaders and troops on the ground, saw culture as either irrelevant to the mission or possibly corrosive of military effectiveness. The military had a scattershot approach to cultural training — recycling old material and hiring contractors to churn out handbooks, compact discs and Power Point presentations about Iraq, Arabs and Islam. In 2006, the Army created the Human Terrain System, in which social scientists are trained for nine weeks on the language, culture, politics and geography of Iraq and Afghanistan and then sent to work with combat units to provide relevant cultural knowledge for day-to-day interactions and the collection of intelligence.

All of this early material described Iraqi culture with recourse to the national character studies that typified the culture research and cultural anthropology of the 1940s and 1950s. Anthropologists long ago abandoned this approach — which posited that peoples and cultures had a uniform character akin to a set of personality traits — as they found it did not adequately address cultural change over time and was frequently inaccurate. The US military’s adoption of national character studies allowed for an easy portrayal of what constitutes being “Iraqi” and “Arab.” In this paradigm, Iraqi-ness is timeless, uniquely determined by religion and family. It is never a product of history or political forces or government policies. Instead, the materials present all Iraqis as essentially the same, thereby lumping together 27 million people of varied educational backgrounds, residential locations, generations, ethnicities, religions and economic incomes, among other differences. These frameworks of national character further contend that Iraqi behavior will conform to inherent characteristics of the national group. The conception of culture as national character rests upon two important assumptions: first, that servicemen and women can learn “culture” as a list of character traits; and second, that Iraqis actually behave in these ways. The first is a pedagogical issue; the second is one of accuracy.

The Iraq Culture Smart Card is the best visual embodiment of the national character understanding of culture. The Smart Card is a 16-panel laminated folding pamphlet, compiled by the Army and Marines as well as the contractors Kwikpoint and SAIC, and sized for the pockets of servicemen and women in the field. Produced first in 2003, and reprinted and reformatted continuously ever since, as of 2006 over 1.8 million of them had been requested. According to Paul Nuti, who interviewed the creators of the Smart Card, it is not just “culture-at-a-glance” but rather “a byproduct of the country study, a rigorous multidisciplinary analysis of the cultural context of the country for which the Smart Card has been requested.” [9]

The Smart Card provides basic information that US servicemen and women who know nothing about Iraq or the Middle East would find useful. The five pillars of Islam are listed concisely and, for the most part, accurately (it would have been better if the Arabic word for “fasting” had been spelled sawm instead of sawn, which in Jordanian Bedouin colloquial means “donkey manure”). Panels on “what to expect” during religious celebrations, as well as cultural history and “Islamic” terms, are serviceable. More dubious are the panels on clothing and gestures, cultural groups and cultural customs, which purvey information that is not only inaccurate, but also could be downright harmful to Iraqis, US troops and US policy in Iraq.

The clothes and gestures section contains images of three men wearing headscarves (in Arabic, the kaffiyya, shimagh or hatta) in white, black and white, and red and white. The Smart Card tells the reader that the white headdress signifies the man “has not made the hajj or pilgrimage to Mecca. The black and white is from a country with presidential rule (i.e., Libya or Egypt) and has made the hajj. And the red checkered is from a country with a monarch (i.e., Saudi Arabia or Jordan) and has made the hajj.” First, there is no item of clothing that designates someone who has completed the pilgrimage to Mecca. Second, it is not clear why the Iraq Culture Smart Card mentions the other Arab countries at all. Does this information mean that someone spotted in Baghdad wearing red and white is an infiltrator from Saudi Arabia? If so, should he be shot? And it is rare to see the headscarf worn this way in Egypt, except among Bedouins, who are a tiny percentage of the population. Third, by seeing Arabs’ dress as determined by the type of political rule under which they live, the Iraq Culture Smart Card authors suggest that Arabs do not have individual choices over what they wear; rather, they are subjected to the dictates of their “national culture,” which they follow obediently. Since Saddam Hussein was president of Iraq, such information would suggest that Iraqis wear the black-and-white headscarf. Does that mean that in 1958, when the Iraqi monarchy was dissolved, Iraqis threw off their red-and-white headscarves and donned black and white? In fact, clothing in Iraq, like clothing everywhere, is defined by things like seasons, fashion trends, disposable income and individual taste.

To be sure, this example of cultural knowledge (factually incorrect as it may be) says more about the US military and its conception of culture than it does about Iraqis or Arabs. For one thing, the strict order of meanings assigned to various types of headdress parallels the Uniform Explanation Chart of the Marine Corps, which determines who should wear what color uniform and when. Officers wear dark blue trousers or skirts to social events; enlisted personnel wear sky blue. Obviously, however, such rigid regulations about dress do not prevail within any culture outside controlled environments like barracks, factories and schools.

It is not that Arab male headdress does not have meaning; rather, the point is that the Iraq Culture Smart Card got the meanings wrong. Most of the time, a scarf on a man’s head is just a scarf on a man’s head, like a baseball cap is just a baseball cap. When a scarf on a man’s head is more than that, the meanings are specific to time and place. Among Palestinian political activists and militants from the 1970s through the 1990s, for example, black-and-white kaffiyyas were associated with the Fatah movement of Yasser Arafat, while red-and-white headdress signified allegiance to the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. In the Gulf today, wearing a headscarf marks the wearer as a citizen, and thus is a marker of privilege in countries where the majority of residents are foreign workers. In Jordan, Syria and Palestine, wearing the headscarf today is generational — it is mostly worn by older men from villages and the desert. The cases in Iraq where headwear actually signifies someone’s rank, profession and status — Muslim and Christian clergy, most obviously — are not included on the card.

More to the point, these materials do a disservice to both Iraqis and US servicemen and women themselves. Pedagogically, the presentation fails to make clear why the factoids are important. Why does it matter if soldiers see a man in a white headdress? Should they not address him as hajji (as Iraqis are generically known to soldiers) because he has not been to Mecca? These questions could be asked of much of the material on the cards. Another section, titled “Islamic Flag Meanings,” features pictures of four flags with words on them — green (Islam), red (sacrifice), white (purity) and black (martyrdom). The accompanying text reads: “Muslims often fly colored flags to observe various holidays or dates of personal significance. Each color carries a specific meaning: Green is the color of Islam and is particularly meaningful to the Shia.” Aside from the fact that Iraqis might fly flags for a variety of reasons — to signify that someone in the family is on hajj or to display loyalty to sports teams, for example — why would green be especially important to the Shi‘a? Does that mean that all Shi‘i Muslims are more pious than Sunnis? And what is the particular necessity of knowing that white means purity? Most obviously, this information is imparted to servicemen and women so that they know that flags have meanings other than signals between insurgents. It may be salutary to admonish soldiers to stop reacting to flags as signals, but then will insurgents use them as signals? Paul Nuti asked Art Speyer, who in 2006 was cultural programs head at the Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, about who vetted the Smart Card information. The answer: Smart Cards are assessed “by scholars and military personnel known as FAOs — Foreign Area Officers. As the principal cultural specialists within the military establishment, FAOs are well positioned to evaluate Smart Card content because they understand the customer (the 19-year old Marine from Iowa). The FAOs quality-control bottom line is guaranteeing that scholarly research is presented in data that Marines can use.” The cards do not seem very smart on this count.

Sense and Sensitivity

It is not surprising that the vast majority of the 50 soldiers and Marines interviewed for this article assessed their formal cultural training as “not useful” because “culture” was described as a fixed reaction or behavior, often a list of dos and don’ts that could be obeyed like orders, rather than a contextual understanding. [10] Of those 33 who received formal cultural training from either the Army or Marines, only five reported it to be useful. A 35-year old infantry company commander described his cultural training this way: “I mean, the things that they said were important. However, there was a lot of stuff you had to discover. But the things that we were told were in their own way, very useful. I mean it’s important not to show…the soles of your feet to an Iraqi. It can really make them uncomfortable.” This captain thought an advantage of such cultural training was that it helped the US military to avoid offending Iraqis. Many Iraqis, and other Arabs, will certainly agree with the proposition that it is rude to sit opposite someone showing them the bottoms of one’s feet. They will concur as well that one should not use one’s left hand to shake hands with a stranger. But behind their understanding is a lifetime of experience containing numerous subtleties. They know that if they are sitting with their grandmother or father-in-law, that they should not sit with feet pointed at their elder’s face, out of respect. Their young cousins and close friends will not necessarily take offense. Distilling culture into dos and don’ts does not capture the essence of why behaviors are meaningful. One Army officer recalled that “everybody was all freaked out about touching with the left hand and, you know, when you sit down, don’t show the bottom of your foot. That’s all true, but it’s all in context. If it’s a friend or someone you’ve known for a while, they are not going to give a shit.” Most personnel on the ground turn to sources other than formal channels — other troops and translators — to gain what they define as “useful information.”

A persistent conundrum for US soldiers was trying to figure out whether Iraqis were “bad guys” or “good guys” — when to have their guard up and when to deploy their cultural sensitivity. Specific rules and regulations also forbade certain kinds of social interactions that made US servicemen and women’s contacts with Iraqis more difficult. One Marine colonel described taking his Iraqi counterpart (a general in the Iraqi army) who was on base in his official capacity to the store for a soda. The general was refused entry because he was Iraqi. The American recalled how hurtful this experience was to the Iraqi, who felt he was being excluded from places on his own soil, and how awkward it was to be put in the position of enforcing the exclusion upon his colleague.

The US servicemen and women are presented with the paradox of a directive for cultural sensitivity during a military occupation. Presumably, the cultural training material is supposed to be used when interacting with Iraqis in non-combat situations. And yet, while the Marine colonel treated the Iraqi general as a colleague in the field, the standing orders on base reduced him to a “potential enemy.” The very nature of occupation means that the occupier has the power to restrict the movement of the occupied and exclude them from decision-making. In this paradox, US troops see Iraqis as both their enemies and victims of Saddam Hussein’s repressive regime, and Iraqis also see the US soldiers and Marines as both liberators and occupiers. How, when and with whom the US troops are to use cultural knowledge is not inherently obvious. The dilemma has been further complicated by some of the early discussions of cultural knowledge, infamous among Iraqis and worldwide because of the abuses in Abu Ghraib prison, where the “cultural relevance” of specific kinds of torture and humiliation — related to sex, for example, or dogs — was cited in the testimonies of the perpetrators and revealed in the photographs. Cultural knowledge is not just another arrow in a quiver, not just one “weapon system” to be chosen from among others. The US military cannot take culture into its arsenal without evoking associations with a past that often reflects poorly upon its sensitivity.

Deciding Who Iraqis Are

Even as these materials set out to inform Americans about Iraqis, the vision of Iraqi culture that they presented undermined the stated goals of the invasion. The First Infantry Division Soldier’s Handbook to Iraq, first published in late 2003, pledged to provide “the basic information on Iraq’s culture by offering you an overview of the country, its people and their language, as well as their lifestyle and beliefs.” The Handbook declares, among other things, that the Arab worldview contrasts “wish” with “reality.” For instance, Iraqis’ “desire for modernity is contradicted by a desire for tradition (especially Islamic tradition, since Islam is the one area free of Western identification and influence). Desiring democracy and modernization immediately is a good example of what a Westerner might view as an Arab’s ‘wish vs. reality.’” Wishful thinking and unrealistic expectations are characteristic of many polities, of course; Americans notoriously refuse to pay the taxes necessary to finance the high-quality public schools that they demand. But, its inaccuracy aside, this cultural lesson was surely counterproductive to the US mission, because by the time it was widely taught the White House had announced that the purpose of the war was to bring democracy to Iraq. Indeed, the soldiers who studied the Handbook deployed in Iraq just as (after much delay) Iraqis went to the polls in January 2005 to vote for a 275-member transitional assembly. What kind of message was the military communicating to the soldiers who it was asking to put their lives on the line so that Iraqis could dip their fingers in purple ink? It would seem to be that while Americans have freed them from Saddam, Iraqis are not ready to reap the benefits. Such ambiguity cannot have been good for US troops’ morale.

The military’s cultural education material also fed into the omnipresent image of a sectarian Iraq, well before sectarian fighting became sectarian. One panel of the Iraq Culture Smart Card from a 2004 edition presents what it titles as the “Cultural Groups in Iraq” — Sunni and Shi‘i Arabs, Kurds, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Turkmen. If a soldier read this material carefully, she would learn that: Arabs view Kurds as separatists, look down on Turkmen and view Iranian Persians negatively. Tension exists between Shi‘i and Sunni Arabs. Kurds are openly hostile to Iraqi Arabs and distrustful of Turkmen. They do nOt interact much with Christians. Assyrians experience persecution by Kurds and Arabs, Chaldeans distrust Kurds and Arab intentions, and Turkmen fear Kurds. The only positive relation is that Chaldeans have peaceful relations with Turkmen and Assyrians have much in common with Chaldeans.

Earlier, the Smart Card had portrayed Iraqis as having a unified national character, one that could be summarized in bullet points. But in this panel’s vision of a nation in existence for more than 80 years, there seem to be no Iraqis who are united by a sense of national interest, patriotism or love of country. It seems instead that ethnic and/or religious tensions trump all else. Put another way, soliders are instructed that the national character of Iraq is hopelessly riven by primordial ethnic and sectarian hatreds.

Such material, put in the hands of every single soldier and Marine serving in Iraq, all of whom patrol the country, dictating people’s movements and more, is not neutral information. This assertion does not excuse Iraqis for the violence they have done to each other. Rather it is to suggest that the US training material helped to crystallize divisions that might have remained inchoate, by allowing the common soldier to understand the US mission as protection of the Shi‘a from the Sunnis, as many did before the civil war became entrenched. During the civil strife, the Smart Cards encouraged soldiers to view inter-communal violence as something inherent to Iraq or the Muslim world and therefore beyond human control, rather than a struggle for power, money and influence in the scrum of war.

A number of scholars of Iraq have written about the post-2003 sectarianism in Iraq and how US policies encouraged it, either directly or indirectly. Bremer’s decision to allocate seats on his Iraqi Governing Council according to a sectarian-ethnic calculus, for example, was replicated by the Iraqis themselves when it came time to split up the ministries in the interim government of 2004. But individual American soldiers, armed with the facile delineations of the Smart Card, must also have helped to constitute the very sectarian mindset they were nominally in Iraq to police. It is necessary to consider the multiple levels at which the power of the US to constitute culture and define what it is to be Iraqi have played out.

The Cultural Imperative

In keeping with the new military imperative to foster cultural awareness in the US fighting force, two civilian psychologists working for the Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences, Allison Abbe and Stanley Halpin, penned an article titled “The Cultural Imperative for Professional Military Education and Leader Development.” In this article they suggest ways to shift from what they describe as “cultural knowledge” to “cross-cultural competence.” They criticize the current cultural knowledge training as insufficient, because “region-specific training provides descriptive facts and figures about a locale,” but a “weakness of this type of training is that its effectiveness depends on the quality of the content, which can sometimes be inaccurate or outdated due to over-reliance on subject-matter experts lacking recent experience in the region.” [11] As should be clear at this point, the cultural knowledge material produced in the first five years of the occupation of Iraq exhibits major errors in content, as well as in shaping servicemen and women’s attitudes about Iraqis.

Cross-cultural competence, as proposed by Abbe and Halpin, contains three components: knowledge, affect and skills that

combine to provide capabilities required to work in a foreign culture. Knowledge begins with an awareness of one’s own culture and includes an understanding of culture and cultural differences, but has to progress toward an increasingly complex understanding of the sources, manifestations and consequences of a particular culture. Affect includes attitudes toward foreign cultures and the motivation to learn about and engage with them. Skills encompass the ability to regulate one’s own reactions in a cross-cultural setting, interpersonal skills and the flexibility to assume the perspective of someone from a different culture. [12]

But even if the military’s new vision of culture creates servicemen and women who have cross-cultural competence, a larger issue remains. The failures in Iraq and Afghanistan are not about culture, but about attitudes—individual attitudes and behaviors that are allowed and even promoted by the attitudes and policies of the US government and military.

The Iraqis interviewed for this article told tales that illustrate this point. First, most Iraqis complain about the ways that Americans have treated them as civilians, both in terms of danger and disrespect. Most have a direct relative who was unintentionally killed, injured or shot at by American troops while driving down the street or standing on his roof. They find that some servicemen and women are respectful, and others are not, and cite things such as using dogs for searches, male soldiers touching women and incidents of theft. But most importantly, when asked directly whether they thought culture was relevant to the role of the US military in Iraq, most replied that it was not. More important to them was ending the occupation and general respect, not in cultural terms but in terms of respect for their country and the capabilities of its people.

The issue of respect is pivotal in the experience of Iraqis with Americans after 2003. As one sergeant in the military police responded to the queries about the usefulness of formal cultural training: “I don’t need training to treat people with respect.” Indeed, respectful behavior may largely be a matter of personal integrity and emotional intelligence — qualities that many American soldiers no doubt have in abundance. Yet soldiers are agents of a policy, and the fact is that the invasion and occupation of Iraq were never based on knowledge of or respect for Iraqis or their accomplishments. Iraqis have been seen as subjects to be liberated, and later, what Timothy Mitchell might call “objects of development.” This attitude necessitated that Iraqis accept what was given to them and complain, if they had to, only in the prescribed forums. From the official US point of view, respect was neither desired nor necessary.

Judging by the proposed content of the fresh “what is culture” material, servicemen and women are to develop attitudes toward others that are built on flexibility, acceptance and lack of judgment. It is ironic that this most anthropological of understandings about how to approach culture is becoming part of the military’s plan to make “culture a weapon system.” It remains to be seen, however, if such attitudinal change can take root among the troops. US attitudes toward the outside world have long been infused with a sense of American exceptionalism and superiority — a sense heightened by the grievance of the September 11 attacks and broadcast since then by most every politician near a microphone. It seems that the proposed shift in US troops’ attitudes toward the cultures and people they work with on the ground may end up being the gentler face of violent imperial policies that envision invasions and occupations as justified, sustainable and ethical.

Author’s Note: Research assistance was provided by Omar Shakir, Dena Takruri, Dahlia Elzein, Elizabeth Grasmeder, Rola Abimourched, Brian Seibeking and Jonathan Ouellette. Funding was provided by grants from Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, the Oman Faculty Grant from the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, the Georgetown Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and The American Academic Research Institute in Iraq.

Endnotes

[1] Sierra Vista Herald, April 19, 2010.
[2] See Hugh Gusterson, “The US Military’s Quest to Weaponize Culture,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (June 2008); Keith Brown, “‘All They Understand Is Force’: Debating Culture in Operation Iraqi Freedom,” American Anthropologist 110/4 (2008); and Hugh Gusterson, “The Cultural Turn in the War on Terror” in John Kelley, Beatrice Jauregui, Sean T. Mitchell and Jeremy Walton, eds., Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).
[3] Sheila Miyoshi Jager, On the Uses of Cultural Knowledge (Carlisle, PA: US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, November 2007), p. v.
[4] David Price argues that this use of anthropologists’ work on culture, down to borrowing whole sentences from a who’s who of cultural anthropology without attribution, is a patchwork of plagiarism. See “Pilfered Scholarship Devastates General Petraeus’ Counterinsurgency Manual,” Counterpunch, October 30, 2007.
[5] James Petras, “Procuring Academics for Empire: The Pentagon Minerva Research Initiative,” Dialectical Anthropology 33/1 (2009); Hugh Gusterson, “Project Minerva and the Militarization of Anthropology,” Radical Teacher 86 (2009); and Jeffrey Mervis, “DOD Funds New Views on Conflict With Its First Minerva Grants,” Science, January 30, 2009.
[6] Army Culture Education and Training Curriculum 2010, p. 3.
[7] Army Culture Education and Training Curriculum 2010, p. 10.
[8] Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Commander of NATO International Security Assistance Force Initial Assessment, 1–1, August 30, 2009. The document was obtained by the Washington Post and is accessible at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/21/AR200909….
[9] Paul Nuti, “Smart Card: Don’t Leave Military Base Without It,” Anthropology News (October 2006).
[10] Rochelle Davis (with Dahlia Elzein and Dena Takruri), “Iraqi Culture and the US Military: Understanding Training, Experiences and Attitudes” in Anthropology and Global Counterinsurgency.
[11] Allison Abbe and Stanley Halpin, “The Cultural Imperative for Professional Military Education and Leader Development,” Parameters 39/4 (Winter 2009-1010), pp. 21-22.
[12] Ibid., pp. 24-25.

 

(Quelle: MERIP.)

USA: Mon ami atomique

Freitag, Mai 27th, 2011

THE FRENCH BOMB, WITH SECRET U.S. HELP

Documents from Nixon and Ford Administrations Show U.S. Assistance for French Nuclear Forces Earlier Than Previously Reported

Kissinger Sought to make French “Drool” for Nuclear Aid

For more information contact:
William Burr – 202/994-7000
wburr@gwu.edu

Washington, D.C., May 26, 2011 – The U.S. government secretly helped France develop its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program, and much earlier than previously realized, according to declassified documents compiled and edited by National Security Archive senior analyst William Burr and published jointly with the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project, an Archive partner.

Over twenty years ago, Princeton University political scientist Richard Ullman revealed the existence of this program in a headline-making article, “The Covert French Connection,” published in Foreign Policy magazine. Drawing upon interviews with former officials, Ullman disclosed that the Nixon administration, believing that a more effective French nuclear force was in the U.S. interest, began a secret program in 1973 of information sharing on ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons technology, and nuclear weapons safety, which continued into the Ford administration and beyond. The documents published today move the timeline earlier, to 1970-71.

Ullman’s most sensational revelation was that U.S. government officials had circumvented atomic energy laws by providing the French with indirect assistance to their nuclear weapons program. Through “negative guidance,” Washington indirectly–20-questions style–helped the French perfect their nuclear warheads. Today’s publication fills out, and goes beyond the record established by Ullman. Declassified documents indicate that:

* The French made the first move in December 1969, earlier than Ullman’s sources had indicated, when the Armaments Ministry asked the Pentagon for assistance with the ballistic missile program.

* A key moment was a February 1970 meeting between President Nixon and French president Georges Pompidou when the two tacitly agreed on the possibility of “nuclear cooperation” which led Nixon to make a “decision to be forthcoming” to French requests.

* Reflecting internal controversy within the U.S. government, in 1971 the Nixon administration made a decision on “minimal” aid: besides assistance with nuclear safety and computer exports, the United States would help France improve the reliability of existing missiles, but not develop new ones.

* The French valued U.S. assistance on ballistic missile technology (propulsion, quality control, reliability), but during 1972 and early 1973 they stepped up pressure for more information, including warhead miniaturization and “physics package” and submarine-launched ballistic missile technology, so they could move into the “next generation” of ballistic missiles.

* To make France’s case for more advanced technology, during mid-1973 defense minister Robert Galley met secretly twice with senior U.S. officials, including national security adviser Henry Kissinger and Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger.

* A key issue in these discussions was the possibility of “negative guidance” which Kissinger said would allow Washington to “critique what you are doing. We can say, ‘That’s the wrong way.'”

* Seeking to manipulate France for his European diplomacy, Kissinger wanted to whet Galley’s appetite for more information–to make him “drool”–but “negative guidance” was controversial and it is not clear when it actually became available.

* In June 1975, President Gerald Ford, continuing Nixon’s efforts to improve relations with Paris, updated the 1971 guidance by authorizing aid to decrease the vulnerability of French missiles, including reentry vehicles and missile hardening and information on multiple reentry vehicle technology.

Read more about today’s posting on the Web site of the Nuclear Proliferation International History Project:

http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=643248&fuseaction=topics.item&news_id=700258

 

(Quelle: National Security Archive.)

Honduras: Schwamm drüber?

Freitag, Mai 27th, 2011

“Honduras versöhnt sich

Staatschef Porfirio Lobo und Ex-Präsident Manuel Zelaya unterzeichnen Vereinbarung

Von Harald Neuber

Knapp zwei Jahre nach dem Putsch in Honduras [1] könnte sich die politische Lage in diesem mittelamerikanischen Land wieder normalisieren, nachdem Staatschef Porfirio Lobo [2] und der Ende Juni 2009 gestürzte Manuel Zelaya am Samstag ein Versöhnungsabkommen [3] unterzeichnet haben. Beide Politiker firmierten das Dokument im Beisein des kolumbianischen Präsidenten Juan Manuel Santos. Dieser hatte – gemeinsam mit seinem venezolanischen Amtskollegen Hugo Chávez – die Annäherung zwischen den Konfliktparteien erreicht.

Mit der Vereinbarung wollen die Putschisten und die Anhänger von Zelayas demokratisch gewählter Regierung die Pattsituation überwinden, in der sie seit dem Putsch vor knapp zwei Jahren gefangen sind. Zelaya wird den Ankündigungen zufolge schon am kommenden Wochenende in Begleitung rund eines Dutzends hochrangiger Politiker seiner Regierung aus dem Exil nach Honduras zurückkehren. Sie waren nach dem Staatsstreich ebenfalls ins Ausland deportiert worden oder geflohen. Zugleich wird die Nationale Front des Volkswiderstandes [4] (FNRP), das zentrale Bündnis der Demokratiebewegung, als politische Partei offiziell anerkannt [5]. Offizieller Vorsitzender der FNRP ist Zelaya.

Die international nicht anerkannte De-facto-Regierung unter Porfirio Lobo steht kurz mit dem Abkommen kurz davor, die Isolation zu durchbrechen, in welche die Putschisten das Land gebracht haben. Wenige Tage nach dem gewaltsamen Sturz Zelayas war Honduras Anfang Juli 2009 aus der Organisation Amerikanischer Staaten (OAS [6]) ausgeschlossen worden. Nun könnte das Land wieder in die OAS und ebenso in das zentralamerikanische Staatenbündnis SICA aufgenommen werden. Damit hätte Honduras auch wieder Zugang zu wichtigen Finanz- und Kreditquellen. Das benachbarte Nicaragua jedenfalls erkannte [7] die Regierung Lobo bereits am Montag wieder an, weitere Staaten in Süd- und Mittelamerika sowie der Karibik könnten der Regierung in Managua gleichtun.

Die tatsächlichen Folgen der Annäherung werden sich allerdings erst in den kommenden Wochen und Monaten zeigen. Bislang war die Allianz der Putschisten – unter ihnen die etablierten Parteien, Unternehmer und Militärs – nicht bereit, sich einer politischen Beteiligung der demokratischen Kräfte zu öffnen. Nun aber hat Lobo sich auch dazu verpflichtet, die Einberufung einer verfassunggebenden Versammlung zu ermöglichen. Gerade aber wegen des Versuches von Zelaya, das Grundgesetz des Landes unter demokratischen und sozialen Gesichtspunkten zu reformieren, war der linksliberale Politiker vor knapp zwei Jahren gestürzt worden.

Links

[1]

http://www.heise.de/tp/blogs/8/141229

[2]

http://www.heise.de/tp/artikel/31/31981/1.html

[3]

http://www.prensa-latina.cu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=290628&Itemid=1

[4]

http://www.resistenciahonduras.net

[5]

http://proceso.hn/2011/05/23/Pol%C3%ADtica/Convertir.C.A/37763.html

[6]

http://www.oas.org/en/default.asp

[7]

http://spanish.peopledaily.com.cn/31617/7388716.html”

 

(Quelle: Telepolis.)

Tunesien: Die Revolution fiel nicht vom Himmel

Freitag, Mai 27th, 2011


“The Tunisian Revolution
Did Not Come Out Of Nowhere

Interview with Sadri Khiari

The Tunisian revolution has been the detonator of the wave of protests and uprisings which have spread across North Africa and the Middle East since January, 2011. Sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi on December 17, 2010, the Tunisian revolution quickly spread from the towns in the central mining and agricultural regions of the country to the
coastal cities, including the capital Tunis. Mass demonstrations, riots and strikes compelled President Ben Ali to flee the country on January 14. The ultimate outcome of the still fluid revolutionary process remains undetermined. So far popular mobilization and the forces activated by them – a series of parties, associations, unions, and intellectuals now organized
in a loose coordinating committee (Le comité de salut public à la tunisienne) – have succeeded in forcing the retreat and partial dissolution of the networks of repression of the Ben Ali regime, changing the composition of the interim government a number of times and implementing their demand for a constituent assembly, from which Ben Ali’s old ruling party, Le Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (RCD) will be excluded for ten years. Governed by a new electoral law passed on April 11, elections for this assembly are scheduled for July 24.

Sadri Khiari is a Tunisian dissident now living in France, where he is a leading intellectual of Le Parti des Indigènes de la République (PIR), an anti-racist political party founded in 2010. He has published a number of books on Tunisia – Tunisie, le délitement de la cité – coercition, consentement, résistances (Paris: Karthala, 2003) and on the post-colonial situation in France [Pour une politique de la racaille (Paris: Textuel, 2006); La contre-révolution coloniale en France (Paris: La Fabrique, 2008), and Sainte Caroline contre Tariq Ramadan (Paris: La Revanche, 2011)].

Béatrice Hibou (BH): What is your interpretation of the Tunisian events?

Sadri Khiari (SK): One can explain a popular revolution as little as one can anticipate its beginning. It appears as a break in the normal course of things, an abrupt acceleration of political temporality, a historical rupture that expresses itself by the surging crowds that insert themselves into the centres of power in order to brutally push aside those who are supposed to lead and represent them. The popular revolution can thus be identified in the exceptional moment when politics dispenses with its mediations; direct democracy becomes reality, raw, tumultuous and alive. On the occasion of recent developments in Tunisia, numerous commentators remembered Lenin’s famous formula: ‘a revolutionary period is characterized by the inability of those at the top to rule and govern in the old way and the stubborn refusal of those below to be governed in the old way.’ From this point of view, the revolution is the instant when the conflict between those ‘at the top’ and those ‘below’ reaches a boiling point.

The Tunisian revolution is no exception in this regard. Mohamed Bouazizi’s tragic suicide represented this breaking point. But the strategist of Russia’s October Revolution spoke of a ‘revolutionary period,’ not of revolution. He recalled the period of uncertainty when the conflict rages on but is not yet settled, when the relations of force are unstable and open up a horizon of multiple possibilities without guarantees. In Tunisia, the powerful popular mobilization that forced Ben Ali to take to his heels is a revolution, a moment in a revolutionary period which is obviously not over yet today. In ‘the land of Jasmin,’ the pot was about to boil over. The question that imposes itself is the following: why did we not see that the revolution was imminent?

BH: If one cannot explain the revolution, can one nevertheless explain why no one saw it coming, or, to put it differently, why the situation before the revolts was explosive?

SK: If there was one country in the Arab world that appeared sheltered from revolutionary influence, it was Tunisia. Saturated with publicity about the peaceful tranquility of a Tunisia destined to produce sand and parasols, and a few golden-skinned waiters as well, European public opinion could not possibly imagine this country as the site of dramatic political conflicts. Tunisia seemed to be a country without history. This tourist imaginary did not necessarily determine all of the political, intellectual and media spheres, in which there was general confidence in the ‘stability’ of Tunisia. However, the blindness of these spheres undoubtedly grew out of a measure of self-delusion. One only sees what one wants to see and what one wants to show to others. Determined to support the regime of President Ben Ali, the big powers (U.S., France, the E.U.) and the international financial institutions never stopped promoting a discourse of Tunisian ‘stability’: proper levels of growth and satisfactory macro-economic equilibrium; slow but sure integration into the world market; the formation of a ‘middle class’ destined to play the role of social shock absorber; reasonable and peace-loving foreign policy; and, finally, a democratic transition, albeit one slowed by a lack of ‘transparency’ in ‘governance’ and hampered by the imperative of maintaining security against the ‘threat of Islam.’ In other words, the only potential of political destabilization was detected where it did not exist: in Islamic fundamentalism.

This type of discourse was carried widely by the big international media outlets and a good number of commentators and social scientists. It was not only a result of self-interested complacency vis-à-vis the Tunisian regime. It was also helped along by elitist, bureaucratic and state-centred ways of understanding society. There was little interest in observing the real development of public opinion among the disadvantaged strata of the Tunisian population; their (occasionally spectacular) forms of resistance garnered no, or very little, attention. All that analysts took into account were the attempts of organized oppositional forces to act in the ‘rational’ sphere of politics, even as they were either not officially recognized or severely repressed.

But no matter how active they were, political organizations and resistance groups represented an extremely small fringe of the population. In part because of repression, their marginality was frequently but wrongly interpreted as a sign indicating the absence of effective opposition against Ben Ali’s regime. I could also evoke this suspect ideological representation of Tunisians as docile and peaceful, with a penchant for reform and negotiation. This form of culturalism is congruent with the tourist imaginary that confuses the professional servility of the elevator attendant with an almost natural tendency to prefer reconciliation to conflict. While I cannot elaborate further on this point, I would like to finish by pointing to the tendency of numerous researchers to focus only on structures, institutions and other mechanisms of power without taking into account the forms of resistance they provoke. Politics, understood as relations of force, is thus emptied of its content and Tunisian history appears condemned to eternal inertia.

BH: Did this appearance of stability only exist in the eyes of foreigners? Why did the domestic opposition not see the revolts coming?

SK: Indeed, even in Tunisia, the explosive political situation was hardly recognized by observers, even those engaged in one resistance movement or another. Or, to be more precise, if a large-scale spontaneous revolt similar to the bread riot of 1984 was considered possible, this revolt was not expected to take on an explicitly political dimension, let alone lead to the downfall of the President of the Republic. Outside a few far left groups like the Communist Workers’ Party of Tunisia (Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens (PCOT)) directed by Hamma Hammami, or a personality like the former leader of the Tunisian human rights league, Moncef Marzouki, the prospect of large popular mobilization did not figure prominently in the strategic horizon of oppositional forces. In this light, it is significant that in 2008, during the revolt in the mining basin of the Gafsa region, the decisive moment I will come back to later, most opposition forces stayed quiet for a number of weeks before demonstrating timid support. This support was meant to underline the severity of the social situation and the urgent need to pass reforms rather than to widen the realm of popular contestation.

One could develop a sociological analysis of the parties and associations in question and note the degree to which their cadres belonged to relatively privileged sectors of Tunisian society, but such an approach, while not without pertinence, would ignore other equally important factors like the long history of political militancy of many of these cadres. For example, a number of Tunisian opposition leaders began their long trajectory in political groups whose revolutionary ambitions and attempts to appeal to the people had been systematically dashed. Also, the models of radical rupture to which they subscribed in the past collapsed or turned out to be ineffective when the myth of soft ‘democratic transition’ based on negotiations between certain fractions of power and ‘reasonable’ currents of the opposition started to spread.

I also need to underline that the Tunisian opposition, isolated and persecuted, was forced to seek support outside the country in the hope of exercising pressure on the regime. One of the perverse effects of this political choice was that strategies of lobbying for human rights became substitutes for attempts to change the relations of force in Tunisia. These are only a few dimensions of the problem but, in any event, it is clear that just as the signs of a political crisis were difficult to miss even for those without a sociological microscope, spontaneous or organized forms of mobilizing the disadvantaged strata of the population were not part of the political equation for most Tunisian opposition forces.

BH: Despite these signs of mobilization, the regime appeared solidly in place…

SK: It is true that this may seem paradoxical. Allow me to use this opportunity to remind you of the fragile foundations that allowed Ben Ali to stay in power during a considerable twenty-three years. The success of the coup d’état on November 7, 1987, can be explained above all by the profound decomposition of the top layers of power within Habib Bourguiba‘s state. This was a crisis of succession prolonged and intensified by another crisis: the growing inadequacy of the sociopolitical pact put in place after independence in 1956 and the emergence of new social realities. Widely contested, the hegemony of the Destour movement was transformed into simple authority resting much more on coercion and clientelistic mechanisms than on consent, to use a Gramscian concept. Examples of this transformation were the alignment with power of the Union générale tunisienne du travail (UGTT) in 1985 and the ferocious repression of the Ennahdha party (political Islam) in the months preceding Ben Ali’s coup. Ben Ali moved into the Palais de Carthage, the presidential residence, while those ‘at the top’ appeared ‘incapable of governing as before’ and ‘those at the bottom,’ which were in ascendancy since the 1970s, suffered a grave defeat with the repression of their two principal forms of expression, the UGTT and Ennahdha.

Thin as a sheet of rolling paper, Ben Ali’s legitimacy rested for a few months on the illusion that he was going to annul Bourguiba’s last years and reform the regime by incorporating the different social and political forces. An apparent ‘trade union reconciliation,’ a democratic opening administred in homeopathic doses, and tolerance for the activities of the Ennahdha movement allowed him to neutralize opposition. The latter became more virulent toward the end of 1989, and then the Gulf War started. Ben Ali refused to participate in the anti-Iraqi military coalition and thus won momentary popularity; he managed to garner the support of certain elements of the democratic opposition while the leadership of Ennahdha was divided between pro- and anti-Saddam factions. The police apparatus was then set in motion, benefiting from the crisis of Ennahdha. Already begun before the Gulf War, the dismantling of the party accelerated and took a rare form of violence, particularly between 1991 and 1994. The slogan ‘no freedom for the enemies of freedom’ allowed Ben Ali to benefit from a decade of passive complicity on the part of the overwhelming majority of the Tunisian democratic movement, and, until his downfall, the major Western powers. In lockstep with the repression of Ennahdha, the most combative trade union tendencies as well as all forms of democratic protest were brutally silenced.

This brief reminder of the first years of the Ben Ali regime is important, it seems to me, to understand some of the underlying reasons why Ben Ali was able to install authoritarian rule despite his notable incapacity to build a new moral legitimacy and a renewed social compromise. I will refrain from describing the mechanisms of repression, restriction, and control put in place in the 1990s to compensate for the lack of legitimacy of the regime. I must however add that the mafia-like practices at the highest levels of power – arbitrary police and administrative rule, generalized clientelism and corruption – contributed to a sense, widely shared among all social strata, that power was an incarnation of authority without moral standing. Ben Ali’s regime was thus fundamentally different from Bourguiba’s. In fact, the morality of Bourguiba as ‘supreme combattant’ (combatant suprême) was never questioned, not even when Bourguiba’s rule was most contested. Everyone knew about the privileges the top layers of the bureaucracy claimed for themselves, but, unlike with Ben Ali, the system itself was never identified as one that functioned essentially to allow a morally corrupt family network to enrich itself illegally and claim absolute power.

BH: But how and since when did this perception of immorality spread?

SK: In this case, too, the important moment was in the early 2000s, when illegal diversion of goods, a racket of corruption involving major enterprises, and suspicious accumulation of wealth became more widely known in the guise of satirical comments denouncing the nepotism of the ‘families’ around Ben Ali. This rumour, which was impossible to verify then, spread with ease because it was common knowledge that the various representatives of the Rassemblement constitutionnel démocratique (RCD)[1], the bureaucracy or the police had few scruples when it came to profiting from their positions of power. Quite often, the intricate links between the networks of power, money and delinquency (such as smuggling rings in the border regions) were there for everyone to see.

To illustrate, I think back to the revolt in the Gafsa region cities in 2008. This popular movement, which lasted six months, began in the small town of Redeyef and spread to the principal mining centres in the region before hitting a wall of repression. Importantly for my purposes, this revolt took off when a local job recruitment process was circumvented by company directors, administrative branches of the state and local representatives of the trade union. Of course, unemployment was a key background condition of the revolt but what sparked and amplified anger to such an extent were the practices of the regime, which were perceived to be contrary to social morality.

In the same vein, I have to mention also, and perhaps above all, the growing role of Leïla Ben Ali, a power- and money-hungry woman considered of low moral standards. Even more than the President himself, this woman symbolized the moral corruption of the system. Tunisians blamed the regime of Ben Ali for his immorality more than his authoritarianism. To put it differently, the regime not only lacked moral authority, it was perceived to be an authority without morals. An authority without moral standing is a form of power that imposes itself on society; it is seen as external to it, so to speak, and whoever possesses it is considered an usurpor driven by his personal interests, which he is willing to satisfy by any means possible. One does not criticize him for inadequate or unjust policies but for threatening society’s moral foundation. One does not dismiss him, one brings him to justice. The perception of Ben Ali’s power as an authority without morals is undoubtedly key to grasp some of the particularities of the Tunisian revolution, and the widespread consensus that supported it.

BH: Contrary to what many observers presupposed, ‘the social question’ was not the primary factor in the movement for you.

SK: This is indeed an important point. In my opinion, a strictly socio-economic analysis of the Tunisian revolution is incapable of discerning its deep dynamic. It is true that the movement began in the most deprived regions of the country and social demands were formulated from the beginning (often by groups of politicized militants and trade unions). These demands, important as they were, were not at the heart of the process which led to the departure of the President. The same is true for the question of democracy. Any Tunisian dissident with a degree of experience can testify to the difficulty of translating the concerns of disadvantaged populations into the normative language of democracy, that of parties and civil rights groups. When this language is taken up at a mass scale, one needs to ask oneself what kind of expectations it corresponds to. Neither the socio-economic nor the democratic explanation (nor a combination of the two) suffices to explain the degree to which this sentiment against Ben Ali is shared across social cleavages. To understand this consensus, one needs to make use of a notion that is difficult to define and is often neglected, yet is at the heart of numerous currents of revolt: dignity.

I noted earlier that Ben Ali, his wife and those close to them were perceived to embody the moral corruption of the regime. I now need to add that each Tunisian was forced to be complicit with corruption to a certain degree. This phenomenon led to a form of collective and individual self-degradation. The system of repression and surveillance developed by Ben Ali thus led to a sentiment of indignity as much, if not more so, as fear. Multiple compromises, different ways of paying allegiance to power, even active participation in its networks (all of which were often necessary to find a job, get promoted, open a business, get administrative matters resolved, or simply avoid everyday problems) produced frustrations, humiliations, and feelings of disrespect for oneself and others in all social classes.

In Tunisia, power substituted institutionalized contempt for intersubjective and institutional recognition, which are necessary for all forms of ethical hegemony. The degrading of the collective self-image of Tunisians compounded the sense of degradation of each individual. The hero of the revolution, the young Mohamed Bouazizi who set himself on fire, may have provoked such a widespread sense of identification not because he lived in misery but because he was purposely humiliated by a municipal bureaucrat who slapped him in the face after confiscating his merchandise. The revolt that followed in the wake of his act of desperation can in this sense be interpreted as carrying forward a demand for social recognition that everyone knew could not be satisfied by the regime and, in fact, required the ouster of Ben Ali as the architect of generalized indignity. Although various slogans chanted during the protests revealed concerns with democracy and economic matters, the Tunisian revolution expressed above all a will to recover a sense of individual and collective self-respect.

BH: You recently wrote Tunisie: Le délitement de la cité. Coercition, consentement, résistance (Paris: Karthala, 2003). Was the revolution made possible by a disruption in the equilibrium that existed between these three components (coercion, consent and resistance)?

SK: Contrary to superficial representations, Tunisia was not an inert and rather contented society. Only in non-revolutionary periods does there exist a more or less forceful integration of people into mechanisms of domination. But one has to admit that this integration, real as it often is, does not exclude insubordination. Docility, even collaboration, is itself mixed with a lack of discipline, transgression, or direct or masked forms of resistance, which remain hidden most of the time because they are individual or do not take the classic forms of protest or political action. If numerous Tunisians asked themselves every day ‘how to profit from the system,’ many, often the same ones, asked themselves also how to slip through the net and escape requests for collaboration, if not reject the machinery of power. These were the people who withstood the pressures to join the RCD and its satellite organizations, who ‘forgot’ to donate to the one of compulsory solidarity funds (Fonds de solidarité nationale, police raffles etc.), who refused to go through the mandatory intermediaries for the purposes of career advancement, or those who struggled to circumvent censorship on the web, those who stayed at home during RCD ceremonies or on election day, those in the office, at home or with friends who reported the latest jokes or rumours about the real or supposed depravities of the ruling ‘families,’ those who built networks of solidarity among family, in neighbourhoods and regions, the youth who risked clandestine emigration or the others who confronted the police in the stadia. Evasion, subterfuge, individual rebellion, and all the molecular forms of sedition that go along with authoritarian regimes continuously increased during the last years of the Ben Ali regime. To grasp this reality of everyday resistance, it was enough, methodologically speaking, to exhibit more empathy for ‘those below’ and show less fascination with power and its operations.

By the way, like individual rebellion, collective forms of resistance rarely made it onto the observers’ radar. Even though it did not grow in a linear fashion and faced much repression, more or less organized collective resistance has developed for at least ten years. Between 1999 and 2001, after a decade of repression and disarray, the democracy movement in Tunisia reinvigorated itself. The first sign of this was the founding of the Conseil national des libertés en Tunisie in December 1998, which was followed very quickly by the constitution of other independent organizations, the revival of the Tunisian Human Rights League, journalist Taoufik Ben Brik’s hunger strike (which was widely reported in France), lawyer activism (the importance of which the mobilizations of the last few weeks have demonstrated), stirrings within the judiciary, the increased resolve of two of the legal opposition parties (PDP[2] and Ettajdid[3]) as new parties like the CPR[4] or the FDTL[5] emerged and PCOT and Ennahdha tried to restructure themselves.

These initiatives were covered in Tunisia by the Arab media such as Al-Jazeera and stimulated other forms of resistance. They remained largely confined to the traditional sphere of protest and failed to attract new generations of activists. Although the powerlessness of the opposition and the weakness of their influence over the population were often subject to ironic comments, the small margin of manoeuvre these forms of opposition managed to eke out since 1999 despite persecution and repression have undoubtedly helped to spread critical information among a growing public opinion. They also facilitated efforts to build spaces and networks of resistance, which, despite their intermittent and muddled character, were not without efficacy (as their participation in various mobilizations, including those at the beginning of the revolution, demonstrated).

It is also important to underline how in the last few years, political dissidence via internet networks emerged and rapidly expanded together with the generalization of cellphone usage. In spite of the sophistication of control and censorship, these new tools of communication also made it easier to spread information, create networks and virtual organizational forms which also became vectors of democratic contestation, particularly among youth. Also important to mention is the formation of a radical Islamic scene that broke with the Ennahdha party and rejected the regime’s policies in its own way.

BH: You speak about a social movement but you only mention political parties!

SK: Be patient, I am getting there. To this awakening of the democracy movement, one has to add the reconstitution of what one can call, for the lack of a better term, social movements, which are difficult to grasp given the scarcity and inaccessibility of information. It seems to me that social forms of resistance reemerged in two phases. Revolts by students and the unemployed in various cities in the early 2000s, organized strikes in the public sector and private sector enterprises, wildcat strikes and other forms of protest (particularly in the textile and tourist sectors) were expressions of change compared to the preceding decade. This renewal manifested itself in particularly striking ways since 2008 in the long struggle of inhabitants in the mining region of Gafsa that began to spread before being brutally repressed. This was undoubtedly the major turning point. Since then, Tunisia witnessed other, more limited, protest movements in Skhira, Feriana, Jebeniana, and, in the summer of 2010, in Ben Guerdane, as in many small towns in the most disadvantaged regions in the country. In the end, there was Sidi Bouzid and we all know the rest. Despite their sporadic character, weak if not inexistent media coverage, repression, defeat and the lame compromises that resulted from them, and despite the apparent lack of links between them, the social movements Tunisia witnessed in the last decade helped foment an atmosphere laden with protest, an accumulation of experiences and the construction of informal activist networks of which the Tunisian revolution is a product.

This schematic representation of social mobilization would be even more incomplete if I did not mention the struggles within the UGTT against the bureaucratic grip of its secretary general, Abdessalam Jrad, and against the trade union central’s subservience to power. These struggles allowed the most militant labour activists to gain influence in certain sectors (postal service, education etc.) and in the local and regional branches of the labour movement. This made it possible for the UGTT to play a more important role in the revolution against the stated positions of the Secretary General, particularly in the last week of mobilization. As we know, the board (Commission administrative) of the UGTT ended up supporting the popular demands and the general strikes that proved decisive in setting in motion the revolutionary process, notably in Tunis and Sfax.

BH: Is it already possible to detect the lines of force in future developments?

SK: Alhough the departure of Ben Ali was likely organized by a few leaders of the RCD and their foreign ‘advisers,’ there is no doubt that this scenario was only considered under the pressure of popular mobilization. The latter was also strong enough to force the departure of the RCD ministers in the first transition government after the President’s escape and, more recently, the resignation of the Prime Minister and other members of government. While the fall of Hosni Mubarak and the revolutionary mobilizations in Libya have shown that the impact of the Tunisian revolution goes much beyond the Tunisian border, it is too early to evaluate the magnitude of internal political upheaval.

It seems clear to me, however, that a satisfactory understanding of current developments is not possible without questioning the modes of analysis that have shaped perspectives on Tunisia. More sustained attention needs to be given to the ‘politics from below,’ non-institutionalized forms of resistance, and, more generally, the more or less subterranean dynamics at work within the different layers of the population. Finally, and without wanting to unduly isolate and rank each of the multiple factors that have determined the popular explosion in Tunisia (growing economic difficulties, the weight of authoritarianism etc.), it appears pertinent that analyses of political processes and protest movements pay more careful attention to that intangible need for recognition and dignity.

This interview was conducted by Béatrice Hibou. It was first published in Politique africaine no. 121 – March 2011. The translation is by Stefan Kipfer.


Endnotes:

1.
Bourguiba’s old Parti socialiste destourien, which was taken over by the Ben Ali regime.

2.
Parti démocratique progressiste led by Ahmed Néjib Chebbi, a lawyer and now a member of government.

3.
The new name of the Tunisian Communist Party after it opened its ranks to democratic and secular oppositional currents.

4.
Congrès pour la république, a non-recognized party founded in 2001 by Moncef Marzouki, the former president of the Tunisian Human Rights League (Ligue tunisienne des droits de l’homme).

5.
Forum démocratique pour le travail et les libertés, a legal party founded in 1994 by Mustapha Ben Jafaar, a former leader of the Mouvement des democrates socialistes, which split off from Bourguiba’s party. The FDTL is a member of the Socialist International.”

 

(Quelle: Socialist Project | The Bullet.)