Some remarks on violence, democracy and hope (translated from the original in French)

We all cried “no blood for oil”, but it has been a long time that oil and blood have run together. Since the betrayal of the Arab world by the French and the British during the fall of the Turkish Empire in 1917 up to the current war, passing by the constant support accorded to Saudi Arabia and to Israel, the Persian Gulf war of 1991 and the embargo imposed on Iraq, western policy has been dominated by oil and has caused much blood to be shed. In 1945, the American State Department qualified the reserves of Saudi Arabia as a “prodigious source of strategic power” and as the “most valuable material in world history” [1]. At least, in those days, the Americans were sincere.

Today, everyone seems to rejoice at the replacement of the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein by what they call democracy in Iraq, as if adversaries and partisans of the war lumped together admitted that the Pentagon had, in the final analysis, done something good. From that point onwards, all armed resistance to the American occupant is to be denounced as being anti-democratic.

I would like to question this unanimity and briefly address three questions that vex the anti-war movement: the question of violence, that of elections and democracy and finally that of hope in the future.

Firstly, in its struggle for emancipation, the Third World has not only produced “Saddams”: Ho Chi Minh, Mao Tse Tung and Chou en Lai, Gañdhi and Nehru, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, Lumumba, Arafat, Ben Bella, Ben Barka, Nasser in Egypt, Mossadegh in Iran, Arbenz in Guatemala , Goulart in Brazil, Juan Bosch in the Dominican Republic, Allende in Chilli, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Amilcar Cabral in Guinea, the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, Sokarno in Indonesia, or Othelo de Carvalho in Portugal, all of thm, whether reformists or revolutionaries, socialists or nationalists, believers or atheists, whether they supported violence or not, have been, themselves or their countries, at one point in time or another, like Saddam Hussein, subverted, demonised, invaded, put in prison or assassinated by the West [2]. Mandela is today treated as a hero, but one should never forget that he had been in prison for 27 years with the complicity of the CIA.

When the Third World tries to free itself through essentially pacific and democratic means, whether it is the Palestinians during the Oslo period, or Allende, or the Sandinistas, or today Chavez of Venezuela, they have had their land stolen and have been subverted in a hundred ways. When they revolt violently, whether it is Castro, the Palestinian kamikazes or the present-day Iraqi resistance, the demonising machine rolls into action and the western humanitarians cry out in indignation.

It would be very nice of the oppressors to let the oppressed know once and for all which arms they consider legitimate for their defence.

It is an old story, that of revolutionary violence which responds to counter-revolutionary violence, but which does not precede it; it is also all of our history, that of the Commune of Paris, of the Russian Revolution, of the Spanish [Civil] War, of the struggle against fascism and of decolonisation.

Coming now to the elections. The ritual invocation of democracy and human rights as justification of imperial domination is today the veritable opium of the intellectuals, an opium that allows them to delude themselves as to the reality of the world. Imagine, for example, that the Ukraine should be occupied by Russian troops and that elections should be held there, without independent observers, without a free press and with the candidates approved by the occupier. Imagine, moreover, that the election is sold to the population by some religious leaders as a means of recovering their sovereignty, while others opposed to the occupation recommend boycotting these elections. I seriously doubt that, in these circumstances, a supposedly high, but un-verifiable [3], level of participation, would be seen in the West as an immense cry of “thanks” addressed to the occupants. What is more, this is the exact expression used by an American journalist [4] regarding the elections in Iraq and it sums up rather well the point of view of those who consider these elections a victory for democracy. Another example: who, among those who celebrate here [in the West], the liberty of the press, will be outraged because the press, concentrated in fewer and fewer hands, was able to convince, on the eve of the presidential elections, 50% of Americans that Iraq was linked to Al Qaida, thesis that is probably one of the best refuted in all of human history [5]? Finally, the CIA has just published a report saying that Iraq did not have any more chemical weapons since 1991 [6]. Which amounts to admitting, mezzo voce, that the genocidal embargo against the Iraqi people was in fact totally illegitimate. One will remember that Madeleine Albright, Secretary of State under the Democrat Clinton, declared that even if it meant the death of 500,000 children, this embargo was worth the trouble [7]. One wonders whether some human rights defence organisation will make a note of these facts.

Coming now, finally, to the question of hope. In 1991, with the fall of the USSR, its uncertain protector, the Third World seemed to be on its knees. One could dream of eliminating the Palestinian resistance through the Oslo accords. The mechanism of indebtedness could be used to organise a gigantic hold-up on their [the Third World’s] primary materials and their industries. Nevertheless, hope is in the process of switching sides. The New York Times admitted, after the anti-war protests of February 2003, that there were still, after all, two super-powers in the world: the United States and the global public opinion opposed to its policies [8]. Criticism makes it comeback against the force of weapons and no one can say where this will lead us. In Latin America, the neo-liberal illusions have failed and the neo-colonial system is sinking everywhere. The resistance of the Iraqis has shaken, for two years now, the confidence of the part of the world that believes itself to be civilised. In immobilising, even temporarily, the American army, and in putting in doubt its invincibility, the Iraqis, like the Vietnamese in their time, fight and die for all of humanity.

Finally, let us consider history in the long term: at the start of the 20th century, all of Africa and a part of Asia were in the hands of the European powers. The Russian, Chinese and Ottoman Empires were powerless in the face of western interference. Latin America was invaded even more often then than the present-day. In Shanghai, the English controlled a park that was not accessible “to dogs and to Chinese”. If all has not changed, at least colonialism has been overthrown, at the price of millions of deaths, in the dustbin of history (with the exception of Palestine). It is this that constitutes, without doubt, the greatest social progress of humanity in the 20th century. The people who want the re-birth of the colonial system in Iraq, even with what Lord Curzon called, in the epoch of controlled monarchy, an “Arab façade”, dream with their eyes wide open. The 21st century will be that of the fight against neo-colonialism, as the 20th has been that of the fight against colonialism.

Insofar as the progress of the majority of humanity is linked to European defeats in colonial conflicts, a narrowly Eurocentric point of view pushes us to see the evolution of the world in terms of decadence, which is one of the profound reasons behind the pessimism that dominates so many western intellectuals. But another vision of things is possible: during the entire colonial period, we, the Europeans, have thought that we could dominate the world through terror and through force. The absurd sentiment of our superiority and our hegemonic will have led us to kill each other, and with us a part of the rest of the world, during the two world wars. All those who prefer peace to power and happiness to glory must thank the colonised people for their civilising mission: in freeing themselves of our yoke, they have rendered, us the Europeans, more modest, less racist and more human. That this continues and that the Americans end up being forced to follow this path.

Jean Bricmont

Jean Bricmont is professor of physics at the University of Louvain-la-Neuve, and also collaborator of the analyst Noam Chomsky, prefacing some of his works.

P.S. Copied here from my chowk page.

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