Imperialism and Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the last post Boffy alerted me to a debate he has had on imperialism, the last few comments of which brought up the question of Ireland and its relationship to imperialism, and it is on this I want to make a few remarks.

He asks – “Does Ireland today conform to the ideas portrayed in Lenin’s “Imperialism, of a colony? Has development in Ireland been held back, by foreign investment or has it been advanced?”

On the first question the answer is partly yes – at least the North-East of the country, Northern Ireland – is a colony.  It is a part of one country ruled by a larger foreign neighbour that has not been integrated into the larger conquering territory, witness the howls of rage at the DUP supporting a Tory Government when not the slightest notice is taken when this Party is lauded for peacemaking in Ireland by being in government.

A settler-colonial population has historically claimed superior social and political rights over the native population, including most importantly, the claim that it needs a separate state because the native Catholic Irish cannot be trusted not to discriminate against Protestants the way Unionist Protestants have discriminated against them.

Sectarian social and political practices have been carried out that have been variously allowed, sanctioned and enforced by the British rulers.  When resistance to this erupted, the British State employed its superior force, armed the local settler colonial population and facilitated some of the worst sectarian atrocities by paramilitary thugs based in this population.  In the worst period thousands of Catholics moved in order to escape potential pogroms.

Even today the marking of territorial conquest is expressed through segregated residential areas with flags flown and footpaths painted to denote sectarian control.

A lot of this is widely recognised but the label colony is avoided in order to legitimise the role of the British, the role of the colonialists and the role of the erstwhile resistance to this British rule which has now accepted the partitionist framework.  It is also less easily appreciated because the native population are white West Europeans and could not have been, and generally have not been, subject to the barbarity of darker skinned native populations in other parts of the world.  The Great Famine, an Gorta Mór, is a major exception.

An English leftist, working for a while in Belfast in the 1980s and attending a meeting, noted that the ‘war’ that was taking place was indeed ‘low intensity’ and comparatively few people had or were being killed.  It was noted by a comrade of mine that while this was true the conflict was remarkably prolonged and protracted.  The two are undoubtedly related, but it is also the case that the North of Ireland is a small place and scaled up the scope of the violence looks less meagre.

But for all the reasons that the North is a colony the Southern Irish state is not.  It is as independent a state as any small Irish state could be.  As I have noted before, the last trappings of foreign British rule, including the oath of allegiance to the British monarchy and ownership by Britain of certain Irish “treaty’ ports, is history.

Some ‘anti-imperialists’ reject this level of independence and want a ‘real’ independent Irish State, one that can only come from being what is called a Workers’ Republic.  In fact, behind this ideal of ‘real’ independence lies Stalinist notions of state socialism, which involves nationalist politics and nationalisation, in other words it is much more likely to involve state capitalism.

What it isn’t is socialism and a Workers’ Republic.  It’s also utopian because there can be no independence, in the sense of a self-determining autonomy, for an Irish State within globalised capitalism.  It also has no support, as the tiny level of support for the Irish State leaving the EU demonstrates.  As for a real Workers’ Republic, it will enjoy much greater integration and unity with its neighbours than the current Irish State, so if you’re supporting socialism in order to be a ‘real anti-imperialist’ and have ‘real independence’ you’re backing the wrong horse.

These considerations matter for the approach of Irish socialists to the fight for socialism.  Whoever thinks that anti-imperialism is the banner under which to organise the whole Irish working class has to explain what national liberation content there is for Southern workers who face their own state and not a British one.  On this score, the answer to Boffy’s second question – “Has development in Ireland been held back, by foreign investment or has it been advanced?” – is that it has been advanced.

In the debate, Phil remarks that “In Ireland the pro-Moscow Sticks (Workers Party) supported imperialist investment for precisely the reasons you give. But the choice was not imperialist investment or no investment. Completely missing from that approach is the overthrow of capitalism. Not waiting until some magical figure of output has been reached and the industrial working class has grown to be a certain percentage of the population. All thanks to imperialism.”

Ignoring the irrelevant flourish of the last two sentences, and the fact that we are nowhere near approaching socialist revolution in Ireland, as a real, concrete and practical proposal in the here and now, in the sentence before these, Phil will know that it’s not just the Workers’ Party that supports multinational investment in Ireland – everybody does!

As the political joke goes, the difference between the Official Republicans and the Provisionals is merely a matter of timing; Sinn Fein do not now oppose this investment.  And neither does the social-democratic left, in the guise of the small self-proclaimed Marxist organisations, who signal their acceptance of this investment by proposing only that the low corporate taxation especially set to attract this investment actually is 12.5%; that the tax rate does what it says on the tin and is not lower than this headline rate.

The real question at issue is whether the struggle for socialism must be prosecuted under the banner of national liberation.  Those who say yes have taken last years’ centenary anniversary of the founding blow for national liberation as the guide for future action.  As I pointed out in a series of posts beginning with this one, the 1916 Rising did not itself pose a solution to the division of Ireland and neither has any nationalist or republican struggle since.

A purely democratic struggle or revolution could on paper offer a solution to the undemocratic abomination that is partition and the sectarianism that passes both for the problem and the solution in the North.  A truly democratic platform would be enough to indict the colonial Northern state but what would it offer to Southern workers.  Even a classic capitalist democracy in Ireland would destroy sectarianism and destroy the power of reactionary unionism but it would offer little to Southern workers.

What is required in Ireland therefore is the strengthening of the working class, and the prominence today of foreign capital, and the country’s history and current reality of foreign state intervention, should make it blindingly obvious that the alternative is not any sort of nationalism, under the banner of ‘anti-imperialism’ or not, but the international unity of Irish workers with their class brothers and sisters across Europe.  The idea that Irish workers will overthrow Irish capitalism because they want to get rid of foreign imperialism is utter nonsense.  Southern workers won’t go to war to fight British imperialism in the North and they won’t go to war to drive out multinational companies.

The stages involved in increasing the strength of the Irish working class include building stronger and more active trade unions; cooperative production that visibly heralds the alternative to capitalism, and a working-class party that expresses the best impulses to political independence among Irish workers, no matter how under-developed that may currently be.  It also means clarity on the nature of Irish reality and the lessons to be learnt from the history of the Irish and international socialist movement.

A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 6

article-1246958-08136931000005DC-434_634x410Belfast Plebian

We sort of know from the historical record that there have to be potential economic rewards reaped by intervening in conflicts in the region, but as Syria has very little oil and gas compared to some of the others, some political scientists have concluded that the war must be about future access to fresh water.

There has always been more to imperialism than mere economic determination, there is the question of State of power and what that ultimately means. The politics of States in conflict concerns itself with power, yet political theory has trouble explaining what this actually amounts to. The working definition is that a viable State must hold a monopoly on power and no political regime can afford to give it up without a fight, so what is happening in Syria is a tug of war over State power. It is less about the type of regime i.e. a democracy or oligarchy than it is about State power.

What type of political regime comes to hold State power in Syria is of some importance to the people of the region but less so for the external interveners, none of them have democratic intentions or credentials, especially the democrats who form the Western interveners, the recent example of Egypt proves it. The western powers have been nearly coming to blows over who gets to sell the military regime military and police equipment.

Most people say they are sickened by politics, some complain about government policies, some about financial corruption, but everyone is sickened by the lies that come with politics. A few political theorists, for example Hannah Arendt cling to a romantic account of a life dedicated to public service or politics.  She respected, even admired, those statesmen dedicated to politics but still thought it necessary to account for the super abundance of lies that stain the reputations of them all

She once made an argument that philosophers, starting with Plato, had too much sway over our understanding of politics; that they held a negative viewpoint about it, and were too preoccupied with finding the truth to bother with the nonsense of it all.  She worried that if good people refused to care about politics the very worst would have their way with it. She felt that the European Jews suffered so much at the hands of Hitler and Stalin because they wanted to know as a people who took no part in politics. The philosopher Blaise Pascal explained the existence of the works about politics coined by Plato and Aristotle by reminding us that ‘this was the least philosophic and the least serious part of their life . . . they wrote of politics as if they had to bring order into a madhouse.’

What I found most interesting about the Lance Armstrong documentary was the part the intelligent telling of lies played in shaping the story. His story started out with one major lie known about by a few friends to get the cheating process started and it just got bigger and more elaborate.  All sorts of friends had to be inducted into a growing web of lies, new lies to cover up for gaps in the old ones. It is interesting, that I did not think he was abnormal in the psychiatric way of having a personality disorder until near the end of his career as a champion, until he started telling lies on national television about others including friends. It seems that abnormal behaviour does not show up much as any sort of failure in logic or rationality, or an inability to cope with life or anything feeble like that, rather it came to attention just as a proliferation of lies. People began to wonder why there is so much lying taking place.

If we follow the story as a political one, we can say that in democracies, political logic or rationality sometimes goes in the same direction.  A few lies are told to get things moving, maybe some lies are thought necessary to become party leader, then some more serious lies are told to get elected into government, and when in power the politician begins to tell even more lies and the longer they stay in government the more the lies accumulate, until in the end they are often denounced as an out and out liar. How many successful political careers now follow the same path?  The question comes up, why does the quantity and quality of lies keep increasing until the day comes that the public demand a fresh start in the form of a new government or a new political leader?

If we think about the Lance Armstrong case things began on a big lie from the start, although this is not always applicable in politics. What happens is that the rationality, or political wisdom is not well founded at the beginning and then quickly falls apart in a welter of contradictions, or the rationality comes up against the tough reality of the world and can find no solution.  When reason can find no solution the lies begin to substitute for the rationality. The more inadequate the reasoning is, the more lies come to dominate. This might explain why governments fall prey to the need to steadily increase the quota of lies, when the policies that seemed to be grounded in rationality are defeated by reality governments do nothing else but invent lies to cover for the failure.

Imperialist politics comes out worst on this score; as I pointed out earlier the very theories of international relations seem to sanction lying from the very outset. The plan by the western governments to change the regime in Syria has failed, so we are into the failure and lying on an epic scale phase. Recent history is about to be rewritten to suggest that the western governments never wanted to get rid of the Assad regime in the first place, that they never encouraged the foreign fighters, that they were only ever in this conflict to smash Islamic State.

It is still the case that terms borrowed from a relatively unproven science called psychiatry are not generally used to describe the political field. The language of political theory is very stale.  Going right back to Aristotle almost every modern science began with an attempted revolution against this one philosopher. The first to oppose his conclusions were the Astronomers; then the Physicists overturned his physics, especially Galelio and then Newton; then the biologists overturned his account of animals and plants, here especially Darwin. Then in around 1910 the new theories of mathematical logic, starting with Frege, and Russell dethroned his syllogistic logic and his dialectic of categories; it is perhaps surprising that the revolution in logic came so late on. Then closer to our time, the German philosopher Martin Heidegger opened up a tribal battle against the metaphysics of Aristotle or his first philosophy.

What then happened with the politics and the economics of Aristotle, was he not also demolished here? Well in one sense he was but in another sense he was not. The Englishman Thomas Hobbes made the argument that in politics ‘Aristotle was the worst who ever wrote’.  When it came to the choice of ancient Greeks he much preferred the historian Thucydides to the philosopher Aristotle. This estimation is prevalent to this day in that the realist theory in international relations claims to find its own inspiration in Thucydides’ history. However in the mind of Hobbes, none of the ancients were of sound calibre because they had no proper conception of what science is and it was only after Galileo Galilei discovered how to apply mathematics to natural things that we really found out what science could become

It was Hobbes who thought that he was the one in the best position to knock Aristotle down from his ruling perch concerning political and legal education. He hoped to have his own works replace the ones of Aristotle in the best schools and universities. One can also make the case that Adam Smith and his students intended to do the same thing with regard to the science of economics. There could be no science without the imitation of the mathematical method, this is what Hobbes taught. He claimed that his own deductive account of politics was the future because it was based on knowledge of axioms.

The difficulty facing Hobbes and Smith was twofold; Aristotle did not believe that politics, ethics and economics could become a science in the modern sense. This philosopher thought that in science you must let your expectations be determined by the object to be studied.  Some objects are more resistant to scientific research than others and these included human objects.  He did not say that knowledge concerning politics and economics was never to be had, only that the knowledge we do have does not have all the attributes of theoretical knowledge.

The second difficult is that the deductions made in modern social science owe their worth to the fact that the object being studied is skipped over in favour of delight with the method deployed in the study. The followers of Aristotle argued that the new scientific method was implicitly idealist, meaning that the conclusions that are reached are due more to the method used than the object to be understood. This complaint is particularly strong in regard to modern mathematical economics that many believe has lost sight of the object to be understood. Also it was said that if Hobbes succeeded were Aristotle had once failed, then how come hardly anyone beyond his own lifetime agreed with the conclusions he made concerning the nature of good Government. The books of Aristotle were taught in the best schools for 700 hundred years, those of his opponents barely lasted for 50.

The problem we find with Aristotle is not that he did not pass down to us a sound method for the scientific study of politics and economics, rather he did not tell us much about the part played by unsupported dogma in science and crucially about lying and propaganda in political life. The enemy of truth in philosophy is error, the enemy of rationality is incoherence or contradiction, it is not deliberate lying and its soul mates conscious deception, propaganda, advertising and the PR machine. You will not find in the works of the philosophers an account of how these important things came to play such a central role in political life. The small drop of knowledge we have gleaned from the unproven science of psychiatry is of very recent origin, although it might be of some use if it can give us an insight in the twisted world of lies and deceit.

Finally it is not the case that capitalism and its economy is not something that cannot be understood within the bounds of normal reason. There is a rational core in capitalism and even in imperialism that is predictable. We can go a long way in understanding the power struggles of States on the world stage by just following the money. However we have become so used in recent years to following the story of the successes of imperialism that we have forgotten that it sometimes fails. It has failed in Iraq, in Afghanistan and is failing in Syria. When imperialism fails we are often confronted with an aftermath of immense destruction.

This aftermath is also to be easily found in the three failures mentioned. It is the pathology of political failure that we have been concerned with here not with the rationality of the success. The pathology of failure is not just about violence and destruction it is also about lies and deception on an epic scale. And in one way the lies and deception are more important than the violence and destruction, because to move on to the next struggle you have to make people think the previous one was not so bad after all.

I for one am not convinced that the western governments have for one moment really accepted that they got things drastically wrong over Iraq, for a little while they merely pretended that they got it wrong, Tony Blair and George Bush made fools of us all, especially concerning the weapons of mass destruction. They can always offer the sceptical voters a revised or false account of the reasons for the failure, with the rider that we will get it right this time. Lies are very important in politics.

concluded

A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 5 – sectarian war in Syria

Sectarian STRATFOR Map of Syria

By Belfast Plebian

Over the summer months we were given to believe by reports in the western media that a more suitable, moderate army might be recruited and equipped to fight in Syria, the army of the oppressed Kurds. For a few months we listened to upbeat stories about how the Kurds were pushing back the Wahhabi fighters, of pictures of liberated Kurdish women not secluded in veils but dressed in military uniforms. This only lasted as long as NATO’s ally, Turkey refrained from attacking the positions of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PPK) and destroying the Kurdish People Protection Units

At the recent G20 gathering to discuss, supposedly, how to beat back Islamic State, we find the same western politicians standing shoulder to shoulder with the political leadership of another ultra conservative Sunni Islamic Party, only this time of a rediscovered ‘moderate’ one, the justice and development party or the AKP, led by what the English Guardian Newspaper likes to call Turkey’s dependable strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The recent election in Turkey took place at the same as a massive military onslaught on the Kurds was taking place, crossing the international border into Syria. The raid was so big that the Strongman had to go the Americans to plea for a renewal of his diminishing stock of bombs. The strongman is so committed to beating back the Islamic State their fighters were able to explode two massive bombs directed against the AKP and other non-sectarian political opponents during the election campaign

The party of the strongman supplies and equips its own legion of fighting Sunni sectarians across the border called the Ahrar al Sham. The strongman then ordered attacks on Rojava, the free part of Syria held by the Kurdish forces. It was reported in the Wall Street journal that Washington wanted it to be known that it was anxious to keep the territorial ambitions of the Kurds in check to fit with the interest of its NATO partner Turkey, and suddenly stories in the western media supportive of the army of the oppressed Kurds quickly faded away again.

It is generally accepted that Turkey is also buying oil and gas on the cheap from Islamic State. So it seems that the Kurds are not to be the West’s fabled boots on the ground after all. More and more the western governments are looking at Turkey as their agent of change in the region; we will have to wait to see how this turns out.  On the face it one might expect the western diehards to recalibrate their order of priorities, given that they have no willing army to substitute for the seventy thousand Wahabbi mercenaries already fighting and failing in Syria. The conflict is no longer a noble one, between the ‘just’, protesting on behalf of democracy and the ‘unjust’ who want to retain the dictatorship, it is an ignoble anarchy of competing local, regional and imperial interests all wrapped up in a frightful sectarian garb.

Syria is currently divided into at least four political territorial units. There is the part still held by the ‘Arab Socialist’ regime that is being backed by Iran and Russia. There is the part held by Islamic State that is being facilitated by Turkey and still being financed by sectarian backers in the Sunni Gulf States. There is the part that is in the hands of the partners linked to the western allies who still call themselves the Free Syrian Army, even though there is no unified army command any longer, and is endorsed in some fashion by the International Community i.e. the UN humanitarian agencies. Then there is the part that is in the control of the Kurdish factions, which have now to become self -sufficient. I don’t know how it will all turn out.

It should be mentioned that with this example I have only emphasised the strategic pact operating between the Western governments and the Wahabbi theocracy of Saudi Arabi, yet there is another side to the imperialist intervention, the pact between the Theocracy in Iran, the Arab Syrian dictatorship and the ruling element in Russia. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church has claimed that Russia is waging ‘a holy war’ to preserve Christianity in Syria, a view backed by Putin. The Iran regime has called for a worldwide Shite jihad to protect the sacred religious sites of the believers in Syria. The Islamic Republic of Iran has rallied thousands of foreign fighters to protect the golden domed Sayyeda Zaynab Mosque of Damascus which is said to contain the remains of the granddaughter of the Prophet, and who is also the daughter of the martyred third imam Hussein. As many as 5,000 Lebanese Hezbollah have entered the sectarian fight, also thousands have come from Iraq, they all fight under the slogan ‘Bashar is not our concern, it is the Shiites.’ The India media report they think as many as 30,000, Indians Muslims could be involved. For every youtube video and facebook page placed by Sunni fighters there is another put there by the Shiites. If anything the Sunni foreign have met their match on the battlefield at the hands of the foreign Shiite fighters

A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 4 – Wahabbi Islam

wahabimages

by Belfast Plebian

The ruling authority of the Saudi Princes can be traced back to a pact made in 1774 between one dominant Arab tribe and a Shia hating religious sociopath called Muhammad ibn Abdal Wahhab (1702-1792). The encyclopaedia Britannica tells us that :

‘ Abd al Wahhab’s teachings have been characterised as being puritanical and traditional representing the very early era of the Islamic religion. He made a clear stand against all innovations because he believed them to be reprehensible, insisting that the original grandeur of Islam could be regained if the Islamic community returned to the principles as first enunciated by the prophet.’

The pact intended that the clergy would be responsible for all religious-educational matters and the Al Saud warriors would be responsible for all political and military matters, including spreading an interpretation of Islam devised by Add al Wahhab. Unfortunately he describes both Christian and Jewish believers as sorcerers and devil worshippers, although he saved his real hatred for the other Muslim sects ie the apostates.

I am going to defer here to a historian who has written on these matters. I have on my book shelf a best selling book that I bought about five years ago by a historian called Reza Aalan called No god But God : the origins, evolution and future of Islam. He tells us that if it had not been for extraordinary political circumstances, Wahhabism would have passed away as a marginal and superficial sectarian idiocy.

‘Not only was this a spiritually and intellectually insignificant movement in a religion founded principally upon spiritualism and intellectualism, it was not even considered true orthodoxy by the majority of Sunni Muslims. Yet it had two distinct advantages, first it had the good fortune to emerge in the sacred lands of the ARABIAN PENINSULA, where it could lay claim to a powerful legacy of religious revivalism. Second, it benefited from a willing and eager patron, who saw in its simple ideals the means of gaining unprecedented control over the region. That patron was  Muhammad ibn Saud.’

The historian of Islam then tells us some important facts concerning the alliance between the two men, some of it is legend and untrustworthy but what we do know is:

The two men first met as Abd al-Wahhab and his disciples were tearing through the ARABIAN PENINSULA, demolishing tombs, cutting down sacred trees, and massacring any Muslim who did not accept their uncompromisingly puritanical vision of Islam….Abd al Wahhab’s holy warriors burst into the Hijaz, conquering Mecca and Medina and expelling the Sharif. Once established in the holy cities, they set about destroying the tombs of the Prophet and his first companions, including those pilgrimage sites that marked the birth place of Muhammad and his family…they set fire to every book they could find save the Quran. They banned music and flowers from the sacred cities and outlawed the smoking of tobacco and the drinking of coffee. Under penalty of death they forced the men to wear beards and the women to be veiled and be secluded.’

Then when much of the peninsula had been terrorised ‘they marched north to take their message to the Sufi and Shi’ite infidels. In 1802 on the holy day of Ashura, they scaled the walls of Karbala and massacred two thousand Shi’ite worshipper.in an uncontrolled rage they smashed up the tombs of Ali, Husayn and the Imams, giving particular vent to their anger at the tomb of the Prophet’s daughter Fatima.

What happened next was that the Ottoman Caliph sent a massive army to annihilate the Wahhabis. After some fierce battles, the Ottoman army restored the old order, ‘the Saudis had learned a valuable lesson; they could not take on the Ottoman Empire on their own. They needed a stronger alliance. …The opportunity to form such an alliance presented itself with the Anglo-Saudi Treaty of 1915. The British who were eager to control the Persian Gulf, encouraged the Saudis to recapture the ARABIAN PENINSULA from Ottoman control. To assist them in their rebellion the British provided them with shipments of weapons and gold. Under the command of Ibn Saud’s heir, Abd al-Aziz (1880-1953) the plan worked…After publicly executing 40,000 men and imposing Wahhabism over the entire population, Abd al-Aziz renamed the Arabian peninsular the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia….Here there was no debate between Modernists and Islamists, there was no debate whatsoever. Nationalism, Pan- Arabism, Islamic Socialism- none of these vibrant movements had a significant voice in the Saudi Kingdom. The only official doctrine that was tolerated was Wahhabi doctrine, any deviation was violently suppressed.’  

Now here is another BBC  iplayer film for the reader to take a look, it is called Bitter Lake. It tells us something of the still developing story of the connection between western imperialism and the ideological politics of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. At about 25 minutes in to the film we are presented with colour film footage of a meeting that occurred at the end of the Second World War, in February 1945 on a warship on the Great Bitter Lake, a part of the Suez Canal, between President F.D.Roosevelt and Saudi King Abd al Aziz. The voiceover says and I am paraphrasing a bit:

‘No one could possibly imagine the consequences of this meeting…The King knew that America needed oil ,Roosevelt wanted to forge an alliance between American industry and the Saudi King…The king was aware that there could be dangers posed to the customs and religion involved…we will take your technology and your money and political protection, on one condition, that you leave our religion alone’

wahabbi1

The pact in a nutshell was that America accepted the centrality of an unreformed Wahhabi religion in Saudi Arabia in return for unhindered market access to the oil and gas reserves it required for its industries. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia represents an extreme form of what Leon Trotsky once referred to as the combined and uneven development of capitalism. A peculiar characteristic is the standing side-by-side in the same place of the very modern – advanced technology – and the pre-modern, ancient religion and barbarous customs

There is an aspect of this that is of some importance for our understanding of contemporary culture, the great divide between theoretical science and distribution of useful things. It is still the case with world culture that many societies appropriate all of the practical successes of science e.g. air travel, computer technology, phone technology, medicines, while blocking out all the theoretical innovations of the sciences that makes the many useful things available to everyone

This occurs even in America itself, most Americans are well clued into the various uses of technology, but a substantial number of them manage to completely neglect the theoretical claims of the sciences. The best example is the theory of evolution; in some surveys up to seventy per cent of Americans have dismissed it as real science. It is a happy accident that for such anti-intellectual people making use of the successes of science does not require them to know or care for the underlying theory. One result is that Wahabbis get to use modern technologies while screening their mind off from scientific theory, like evolution or the big bang. In our time we can experience the successes of science and technology without us making any intellectual effort.

The Saudi King and theocracy then decided that the Arab ‘socialism’ of Egypt’s Colonel Nasser was the new enemy to be contained. He had attempted to defy Britain and France by nationalising the largely British owned Suez Canal Company in 1956. The British and the French sent an army to take back the canal after conspiring with the government of Israel to instigate a phoney invasion of Egypt.

Hoping to take advantage of the instability in Egypt the Saudi’s began assisting the Muslim Brothers – who had been expelled from Egypt and from the other main Arab ‘Socialist State’ Syria. Our historian tells us that ‘the Muslim Brotherhood discovered more than just shelter in Saudi Arabia they discovered Wahhabism, and they were not alone. Hundreds of thousands or poor workers from all over the Muslim world began pouring into the Kingdom to work in the oil fields. By the time they returned to their homelands they had been indoctrinated into Saudi religiosity.’

‘Religious adherence to the Saudi model became the prerequisite for receiving government subsidies and contracts. The vast sums the Saudis paid to various Muslim charities, the foundations they established, the mosques, universities and primary schools they built – everything the Saudis did was inextricably linked to Wahhabism. In 1962, their missionary efforts gained momentum with the creation of the Muslim World League, whose goal was the spread of the Wahhabi ideology to the rest of the Muslim world…since the creation of the Muslim World League, the simplicity, certainty and unconditional morality of Wahhabism has infiltrated every corner of the Muslim world. Thanks to Saudi evangelism, Wahhabi doctrine has dramatically affected the religion of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mawdudi’s Islamic Association, the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to name only a few groups.’

The next episode brings us right up to date. During the American led 1991 Gulf war to turn back the ‘Arab Socialists’ conquest of Kuwait, then commanded by the dictator Saddam Hussein, a small group of alienated Saudi aristocrats calling themselves al Qaeda began to agitate for to return to the original founding doctrines of Wahhabism and turned against the Saudi Royal family itself, for permitting the corrupt treasure seeking American Crusaders open entry onto the holy land of Islam. They then defied the historical authority of the House of Saud by sending mostly Saudi born suicide fighters to crash civilian airplanes into the Twin Towers building in New York, starting a trans-national holy war against ‘Crusader Imperialism’ that has spread right across the Muslim world.

The Saudi rulers have a political/religious interest in common with the west in seeking to destroy the last bastion of ‘Arab Socialism’ in Syria. Western hostility is based on the fact that the regime is allied to both Iran and Russia. However the fighting boots on the ground that the West requires are all too frequently boots supplied with the stamp of the Wahhabi ideology imprinted on them

Today when the Gulf States are asked to explain their strategy to inquisitive western journalists about the removal of Assad and his regime they maintain that they are only financing and equipping foreign legion fighters who are deemed to be moderate in their religious belief. They say they are not helping Sunni extremists and mention various Sunni armies and militias they are not assisting. The distinctions are of little importance for it is the Wahhabi version of the Islam that unites all the fighters directly or indirectly connected to the Saudi political-religious theocracy. The division of moderates and extremists is a disingenuous western spin on the Wahhabi ideology. Behind the endless strife between many factions, micro distinctions and personal rivalries, there stands an intolerant and sectarian ultra conservative ideology.

Those western governments most engaged in the frequent desert military interventions maintain economic and personal ties to the same Saudi political regime that is primarily responsible for spreading the ultra-conservative Wahhabi ideology across the world Muslim community. The Saudi Princes deposit billions of dollars into western banks and investment funds; they maintain investments in corporations like News International and therefore in Fox News; and they buy up prime real estate like hotel chains, gulf courses and other prestigious sporting assets. At the same time they finance Wahhabi schools, build hundreds of Wahhabi Mosques, insist that only Wahhabi trained clerics staff them, and publish millions of books incubating their own very conservative version of Islam. They are estimated to be spending about six billion dollars per year on spreading educational materials. In September it was reported that the Saudi King had offered to build 200 Mosques in Germany to take care of the religious needs of the new wave of Syrian refugees entering the country.  It may be a good idea for the German government to decline the offer.

This brings me back to war torn Syria. If the Western governments are unable to put fighters on the will resort to all the nefarious techniques of cheating and lying to all participants, manipulating political friends, making political promises they don’t intend to keep, blackmailing strategic allies, rearranging the order of imperial priorities, and even arranging minor carnival stunts like the revenge killing of Jihadi John to save face. Killings ground that they can control, then they will fail to realise their primary ends.  Licensing the Gulf Monarchies to supply a foreign legion of sectarian Sunni fighters is no viable alternative. However the sociopath political leaders of the West are unlikely to quit what they started even though the initial plan has been thwarted. They like this attempt to say to a confused public that we are still on top of all this.

A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 3 – Libya, Egypt, Syria

13920919000462_PhotoIThe violence and brutality exploding out of the conflict raging in Syria has a lot to do with the machinations of western politicians, following the rationality of the sociopath, only until now they have been unable to find political enemies and allies as gullible as found in other places. One probable reason for this failure is that all of the possible partners seem to understand that the Western governments should not be trusted. Many of the primary actors realise they have a common interest, so you would think it would be easy to apply the same routine logic to get to the same end as transpired in Libya, but this has not been realised in practice.

The declared interest of the western political sociopath seems on the surface at least to be clear-cut. First to unseat the political regime of Bashar al Assad; second to establish a pro-western political regime in what remains of Syria, a regime that will put in jeopardy the one next door, the theocratic republic of Iran; third to reduce the influence of Russia in the region to an absolute minimum; fourth to ensure that the political neighbour on the other side, Israel does not have to ultimately intervene if Assad looks like being replaced by something much worse.

Despite knowing the ends to be pursued, the conflict gets ever more confused and chaotic. What relationships do the priorities have to each other? Do they even form a rational whole? Can the priorities be changed in order of importance? Finally, reason can easily come to grief when faced with finding the means to bring into being the prospective end.

Something that is not rational and not yet completely irrational comes to fill up the dark space, something resembling the adjustments made by a sociopath when his plans are exposed to obstacles. The common man’s term for it is, of course, failure but imperialism does not recognise failure as a working hypothesis.

The Western allies began this entire political cycle appearing to be uncertain as to how to respond to the democratic Arab Spring. When it appeared to be happening in Libya they made it clear they were in favour of a popular uprising, so they acted to push it on and help it to victory using air power. When the popular uprising occurred in Egypt they were slow to make up their minds.

It seemed to the outside observer that the western governments were in favour because the reporting in the normally obsequious media was generally supportive of the democratic protests against the dictatorship. But those to the wise always thought the western governments were playing a waiting game, knowing the US government had been supplying the dictatorship with dollars and weapons for decades.

It turned out that the western governments were not in favour of plain old democracy in Egypt. They were quite content for the old military dictatorship to come back to power with a new front on the grounds that the evolving democracy was flawed by the presence of a Islamic Party winning the election. So Islamic extremism serves more than one political purpose, in this case it is a rational case against good old democracy.

With Syria, the western governments were more certain what they wanted.  They were in favour of the popular uprising and there is evidence that they had been assisting the opponents of the dictatorship with money and assets for some time. The problem they faced when things took a violent turn for the worse was the old stumbling block of the United Nations and the norms of international law. It was not just that Russia has had a strategic military presence in Syria for years, which could also veto a UN motion facilitating direct western military intervention intended to tip the balance in favour of the popular uprising.  It was also that the regime of Assad constituted something more than a just a personal dictatorship.

His regime was representative of a substantial section of the population, not representative of a democratic majority, but representative of a privileged minority. This meant that merely killing Assad the individual would not bring about the demise of the Baathist regime. What the western governments really needed was some private army on the ground.

So who will be the boots on the ground?

This has been the heart-rending lament of the western governments and their puppets in the corporate media for the past two years. The western governments have attempted to bring about regime change in Syria without it being their own boots.

They asked their allies in the greater region to solve the problem for them. So a free licence to make war was given to the oil rich Gulf States of the wider region, to recruit the fighters to make up a proxy army acting on behalf of the west in Syria. The weapons were supplied indirectly via the famous Lebanese arms dealers.

Just as the fictional James Bond has a licence to kill, the seven dictatorships of the Gulf led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia have a licence to recruit and equip fighters to do battle in designated zones of strategic interest as they already had in Libya.  It was Qatar that largely financed and equipped that one, in its early stage.

In Yemen the Saudi theocracy is fighting another serious war that is also being brazenly supported by the western governments.  What sort of private war made up of foreign fighters is likely if it is being licensed and equipped by the Gulf Kings and the Saudi Princes?  The origins of the Saudi kingdom may just tell us the answer.

A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 2 – from the individual to the political

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by Belfast Plebian

I now want to make a connection between the abnormal personality in private life and the one in public life. If the individual mind can be natured in such a way that an acute episode of stress can make for behaviours psychiatrists associate with abnormal  and often disreputable behaviour, can something similar happen to a whole society or community under intense duress? If a community or society is going through a prolonged period of stress and abnormality will it not generate an increased number of people and events exhibiting similar traits to those associated with a personality disorder? How might that condition present itself in political life?

If we go back to the Lance Armstrong film, early on we don’t find a man who is irrational or obviously out of control.  In fact he is controlling, sophisticated, articulate, convincing in making friends and very rational in setting out his goals and finding the means to realise them. Yet there is something chilling about him in the later section in the way he bullies people, the way he uses and abuses friends, the way he lies in a very systematic way, and of course in the way that he succeeds big time in persuading an entire class of influential people to come over to his side. One gets the feeling at one time he could have ran for President and won.

Disreputable behaviour was present from the start but it was only when his quest for success began to meet with serious obstacles that his bad behaviour began to be noticed by others, just like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The proposition being put forward is that governments or States do something similar and more often than in private life; their policies can look rational to begin with but when they start to meet with serious obstacles states begin taking the twisted logic redolent of the sociopath. The result is a sizeable expansion of lying and maybe acts of violence. They become more like Mr Hyde.

It would be my hunch that success and failure in politics resembles this disreputable state of affairs more frequently than people living largely private lives like to think. In short, the political world contains more than its fair share of sociopaths and maybe even a few successful psychopaths. It is not my contention that the world of politics is a special draw to people with pre-existing personality disorder, rather it is that the normal political condition is, compared to the more clement one prevailing in private life, set out for people who are then conditioned to act out behaviours we might associate with mental abnormality

The typical political condition is one of conflict and stress and of unnerving uncertainty.  This makes an ideal laboratory for the unleashing of a type of abnormal rationality, a rationality more in keeping with one psychiatrists ascribe to abnormal individuals; the objective state of political life is one made for making a rational deviation. This generates an unusual sort of rationality, a perplexing combination of logic, lies and destruction.

A well-known statement concerning the role of the State in relation to the friend/ enemy distinction is one attributed to Lord Palmerston, an aristocratic politician especially detested by Karl Marx, ‘that Britain had no permanent allies and no perpetual enemies, only a perpetual interest.’ This is often quoted in support of the thesis in foreign relations known as political realism. Some of the most influential foreign affairs ministers are devotees of the theory like Zbigniew Brzezinski, the man credited with the first plan to arm and finance the Mujihideen in Afghanistan.

The idea is that a rational State actor participating in international affairs must always focus on the interest to be had without much regard for conventional moral issues, covering things like sticking with old friends and allies and refraining from suddenly switching sides in an international conflict. The interest is often an economic prize but it does not have to be. Yet is this not what a rational sociopath would do?  He goes after the top prize with a single minded dedication and zeal without regard for conventional moral scruple or past promises undertaken, subverting the normal ethics of friendship and decency.

When a private individual breaks promises without a care in the world and betrays friends it feels abnormal but when a politician like Lord Palmerston or Tony Blair does it it feels normal.  It is an unconscious thought that most of us expect serving politicians not to be fully accountable to moral law. It is almost like we are voting for people whom we excuse in advance.

In international relations it is wisdom to be as devious with old political friends as it is to be implacable with your current enemies. So if it means you win the prize – be ready to break with previous promises. In the case of western imperialism it is proper to act as if the rule of law exists only for the less powerful states but not really for the more powerful. A possible substitute maxim for the less powerful would be – always side with the evidently stronger state power, which today happens to be the USA. This maxim is the basis of NATO.

A delicious example occurred with the recent betrayal and ultimate execution of Colonel Gaddafi of Libya by his British and French allies. The Colonel thought he had made up with his old political enemies and was doing good trustworthy business with them again, especially in defeating Islamist groups. After years of enmity, in 2004 he did his famous deal in the desert, with Tony Blair acting on behalf of the western allies to destroy his weapons of mass destruction in return for diplomatic recognition. We know that his regime was sharing intelligence about al-Qaeda and other violent groups.

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You might have thought had he had become an expert on the lies and duplicities of Western politicians but it appears that he did not completely understand international realism, that the only norm in western politics is that there are no ethical norms when it comes to political friendship; he seemed genuinely surprised that his new political friends in the west had moved so energetically to destroy him.  Still, there was a big prize to be had, first call on the country’s oil and gas wealth.

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The western media found no difficulty with his public execution, even though he had moved away from confronting western governments to cooperating with them.  They gloated over his murder with some gusto.  When a scratchy video showing his brutal execution was released, Hilary Clinton was seen laughing and high-fiving.  The western media said Gaddafi was a dictator, they also assumed he was a psychopath, this was probably true at the end of his long political run, but they neglected to mention that he was duped by a gang of cunning political sociopaths and that he was a bit too naïve for international politics western style.

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A footnote on the pathology of imperialism part 1 – Lance Armstrong

lance imagesby Belfast Plebian

Just a few nights ago I watched a television programme broadcast on BBC Four about the career of Lance Armstrong, the many times winner of the most gruelling sporting event known to man, the Tour de France, and was riveted by it. To win that thing once takes some doing, you almost have be prepared to kill yourself to succeed. Now, Lance won that damn thing seven times. It is hardly surprising that American big business was inspired by Lance’s achievement

He became the pride of America, corporations invited him to represent them; he spoke to the workers about the importance of mental discipline, ambition and dedication; he became the friend of successive Presidents and near Presidents; he founded a multi-million charitable foundation that was endorsed my countless movie stars and celebrities.

What was extra special about Lance was that after winning his first Tour he was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer. Now this condition can be treated if it is recognised early. However Lance’s cancer had already spread into other parts of his body including his brain. So Lance’s road to recovery was fraught with difficulty. Yet recover he did, and he went back to France to win the race another six times. No wonder then that American capitalism was in awe of Lance the over achiever. I have to admit that even me, a full time slacker, was impressed.

However it later transpired that Lance had won his tours by cheating on a grand scale. He had linked up with an infamous sports scientist who knew how to juice up the body to make it perform well beyond its natural state. If you wanted to be part of Lance’s all conquering team you had to participate in his well-orchestrated cheating.

Most of Lance’s support team went along with it because they believed every other cycling team on the tour was likely doing something similar. In fact Lance was taking so much juice that it might have been the toxins that brought on the cancer in the first place

While watching the documentary film two thoughts formed in my mind. The first was that Lance was the perfect match up for a certain type of ruthless capitalism; the business press often celebrate the top business executives by labelling them alpha males, they seem driven to succeed and will stop at nothing.

My second thought was he was a type of sociopath.  This thought only came into my mind near the end of the film when Lance telephoned a former teammate and his wife to apologise for all the bad things he had done to them by lying about them at a judicial hearing and to the press. They were at first a little gob smacked that he had taken over an hour to apologise to them and even seemed open to believing him. But then they realised that Lance’s apology was in fact just another Lance tactic, it was merely a PR ploy invented by Lance and his public relations team to save what was left of his damaged reputation and declining financial position after he had been shown to be, not just a cheat, but also an unrelenting liar.

Now I am no psychiatrist, so I went to the World Wide Web to find out what the professionals have to say about the term sociopath that had popped into my mind while watching the documentary.

I found out that the term originates from the America of the 1930s and was considered a useful one for separating those with specific anti-social characteristics from people who were criminal and dangerous i.e. the psychopaths. Today it is a common description for a type of personality that belongs in a group who may be said to exhibit a syndrome known as anti-social personality disorder. The popular use of the term is a little bit worrying for professionals because it gets mixed up with another state of mind disorder that also belongs to the group syndrome, namely the psychopath.

People with anti-social personality disorder exhibit the following behaviours:

1 They often breach the moral codes and conventions of the community they were socialised by.

2 They routinely lie and deceive family and friends.

3 They are impulsive and don’t foresee the likely consequences of rash decisions.

4 They are more prone to confrontation and conflict with other people than is normal.

5 They don’t feel guilty about harming other people who they believe are placing obstacles in their way.

6 They easily forget about bad things they have done to others in the past and expect family and friends they have hurt to always welcome them back no matter.

7 They are selfish most of the time, and have little thought for the troubles of others.

This is not the full list of criteria used by professionals but it is the essence of the matter. It has been argued that in the USA about 3 percent of the population can be assumed to be in the sociopath group and 1 percent in the psychopath group.

Now I dare say that most people might think that they could qualify as fitting the description if faced with abnormal circumstances, but the sociopath and the psychopath belong there given normal circumstances, they have a right to belong there.

I put Lance in the sociopath box mainly because he appeared not to be violent and a danger to others in the physical sense. He is not Ben Logan, brilliantly acted by Ben Kingsley in the film Sexy Beast, as convincing a portrayal of a murdering psychopath, as you are likely to see on the big screen.

It is to our benefit that people with personality disorders are thought to be a minority within our community. However all things are relative and there is a difference between the number of probable sociopaths and the number of probable psychopaths. It is generally believed by people who research these things that psychopaths are a tiny minority because they are produced by a fault in their physical nature, while sociopaths are more likely to pop up because their condition is attributable to nurture.

Well if the number of sociopaths can change due to changing social conditions then we have to be made aware of how this works itself out. It seems that a very stressed family situation, involving the rearing of children, is the place to start, being the social condition that makes for an individual acquiring the personality disorder syndrome. If a probable 4 per cent belongs to the groups; that is still 1 in every 25 people that you might know. It should be pointed out that most people who have the condition do not suffer from what is called a psychosis, meaning a detachment from reality due to the experience of suffering delusions or hallucinations. In short they do not strike one as being mad.