I have never held original documents written by officials in the Reagan administration or the intelligence apparatus that indicated the CIA armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan, yet we can be pretty sure they did. We have enough accounts from presumably credible sources (such as Zbigniew Brzezinski) the US was the major party involved. Evidence the US has deliberately supported ISIS has come to light in the form of classified documents leaked to Judicial Watch. In fact, we already had several reasons to believe the US had been supporting ISIS.
We can speculate on how the US might benefit from creating an enemy like ISIS. It is clear from the way ISIS sprang into the news in mid-2014 the people in power wanted you to begin to see the new face of the enemy. Why would they need such an enemy?
Contrary to the claims of both those who love and those who hate Barack Obama, the Iraqi parliament booted the bulk of US forces out of Iraq, setting the deadline for their withdrawal for January 1, 2012. The Iraqi security forces were apparently strong enough to fight (or make deals with) militias, but would of course need foreign assistance in dealing with a large group of battle-hardened zealots. My guess is by the time we were seeing ISIS all day on the news the White House had already decided to bomb ISIS in Syria and Iraq and send whatever troops they will send when things escalate further.
In mid-2013 you might recall Barack’s failed attempt to raise enthusiasm for intervention in Syria. Not only was public opinion lukewarm on the idea, Vladimir Putin actually wrote a very diplomatically worded letter in the New York Times to Americans (but really to Barack). The underlying message was clear: Don’t mess with Bashar alAssad or you’ll be sorry. So that idea fell apart. We forgot all about it. ISIS came along. Assad’s crew, as well as many of the groups fighting them, have done things that would disgust us as much as anything we have heard ISIS has done. But we have not heard about them in the news to the extent ISIS has been shoved down our throats. And remember, to a number of Americans and others, ISIS represents Islam, and Islam (or at least “radical Islam”) is the enemy.
The US made some noise of its support for the Free Syrian Army. This was in effect how they recognized a single opposition group as the legitimate rulers of Syria. A number of people are on record as saying many of the weapons and so on given to the FSA ended up going to ISIS. They have presumably been receiving weapons in Syria from the US for three years or more. In discussing Syrian rebels, John McCain has said “the whole National Security Team recommended arming ISIS” and “I know these people intimately.” Asia Times reported Pakistani defense sources as saying Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of what evolved into ISIS, received arms from the US via Pakistan as far back as 2004. The Express Tribune quoted an alleged commander of ISIS as having said the same. (Find more here.) Syrian rebels have also described training by American trainers in Qatar, and Der Spiegel reported Americans trained them in Jordan.
Judicial Watch obtained documents demonstrating the US government knew not only US-supplied weapons were being routed to Syrian rebels through Benghazi, but also the rebels were dominated by the radical types Americans are told their government is fighting–al Qaeda, Jabhat alNusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS. The White House knew and made no attempt to stop it. It is likely they wanted to use Syrian rebels as proxies to fight Assad.
It might well have been nothing more than an accident any given shipment of weapons slipped into the hands of ISIS, just as the last two times we heard weapons were dropped ostensibly first for Kurds in Kobane (not an enemy yet but there is no way they will accept US hegemony) and the other day to Iraqis defending the oil refinery in Baiji that ended up in the hands of ISIS might have been accidents. But it is not necessary to give the benefit of the doubt to an institution that has a long record of arming rival groups in wars and playing sides off one another. The results show a more consistent pattern than simple incompetence would imply.
Assad, Syrian rebels, Iraqi militias, even Iran have all failed to provide the Real Enemy, the “evil” that it took to legitimize reentering the region in a large capacity. ISIS has people screaming for blood.
Moreover, we have also learned from reliable sources that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar (see here, here or here, for example) and possibly Israel have indeed supplied jihadists in Syria affiliated with ISIS with what they needed to become a state—weapons, funding, training, recruits. It is implausible US intelligence services and thus the White House did not know about it, especially considering the New York Times reported as much and Reuters reported on the jihadist elements in the FSA in 2012. They either joined in aiding their most important allies, gave them the green light or were powerless to stop them. Strictly speaking, this is not evidence the US is complicit in making ISIS what it is, but again, given what we know from history, it is hard to believe otherwise.
Surely, if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States wanted to destroy ISIS, they would be attacking it. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen. Saudi hegemony over the Middle East is at stake. If the House of Saud is not worried about ISIS next door but feels threatened that Houthis would take over in Yemen, we can infer a lot about their priorities. ISIS is their ally. The US is their ally. They are in league.
Finally, if, in spite of all clues to the contrary, all that has happened has been unintentional, it is obvious all this meddling has not been worth it to you or me. And since it is not ending, we still have no idea what further blowback will come from it all. All these factors contribute to what I infer from the evidence (the results of the empire’s actions) is a larger goal of keeping the region unstable. Instability in the Middle East means higher oil prices, more weapons sales, more pretext for repressive policies, more terrorism (thus completing the circle) and more legitimacy for existing regimes as people get scared.
I have been the head admin of the Facebook page Shit Troop Supporters Say since its founding a year ago today. I have a lot to reflect on. It has been an interesting year.
Occasionally I think it is mean picking on troop supporters. Calling out the average flag-waving support-muh-troops guy for not using logic or knowing history is like making fun of a five-year-old for not understanding quantum physics. (And of course some troop supporters do know those things, so it is best not to stereotype.) But then I remember five-year-olds aren’t the ones beating the drums of war, encouraging murder without trial and torture without evidence. They don’t support the police no matter what they do and then claim to believe in freedom. They don’t tell people they don’t deserve to live somewhere because those people were from the wrong part of the world and didn’t pay the fees, and then tell themselves they believe in freedom for all people. Neither do 5-year-olds refuse to learn the history of the regions and conflicts they are so sure someone needs to bomb. People who have taught millions of 5-year-olds to share and play nicely with each other are willing to lend their unconditional support for actions that cost them thousands of dollars and kill thousands of people who posed no harm to anyone.
Calling out the politicians, meanwhile, which is what troop supporters and liberals (not necessarily mutually exclusive categories, of course) tend to suggest, is a good catharsis but not much of a plan for change. I think focusing on politicians might merely reinforce the status quo. Voters often say they don’t trust any politicians, but when election day comes they nonetheless feel it necessary to cast their vote for someone they don’t trust. There are good reasons you can’t trust politicians and they are mostly related to the requirements for winning in politics.
People who say we just need to change politicians but not blame soldiers for signing up seem to have this fantasy of politicians who will not send the troops into harm’s way on principle. But politicians do not have principles. They have tools and they have enemies. Signing up to carry out their orders requires you to understand that.
One group that does not seem to receive enough focus might be those the politicians work for. It’s not you, by the way. They are much richer than you. The people at the top of the business world are the ones really benefiting. So why do people always talk about politicians? Because voting and complaining about politicians is a brilliant way to let the masses let off steam and keep their eyes on the wrong people, like yelling at a poster on your wall.
So Shit Troop Supporters Say looks at how the elite benefit, but we also look at what troop supporters say. Why? Because as a huge and assertive part of the population, troop supporters are the people unquestioningly believing, reproducing and thus legitimizing or making true the beliefs that keep the wars going. That means a big part of the culture is based on a nationalist-warrior mythos that leads to all kinds of unnecessary violence.
But some people are listening and thinking. And some people already know and trust you. To those people who are actually listening you can show the long history of nationalist myths and racism in the US (or wherever you are from) and their legacies. You can show them the history of propaganda in the US, starting from World War One. You can show them how many statements made to sell wars have been misleading or outright lies, or how little truth the newspapers told about what was going on. You can show them how large groups of people can protect themselves by mutual aid rather than hoping hierarchical militaries will do it. If you can discredit the troop-supporter and war-supporter message by reaching those who might listen, especially people you know, you can change the culture.
But we can’t get there with the wrong approach. You don’t impress people by being arrogant, you don’t pull people in by being pushy and you make others turn their ears off when you insult someone. And most people are either not listening or not easily convinced. The latter need to hear the message clearly and repeatedly and the former are not worth your time. The only reason I would argue with the people you can’t reach is because others are listening, and then would only stick to the facts. I fear we lose many opportunities to communicate by simply using the wrong tone.
At any rate, I consider exposing the ignorance of support for war an important endeavour, one that requires research and patience and a little humour. I hope you will continue to support me!
It’s hard to believe how easy it is for troop supporters to tell themselves they are not being bigots right after saying something about how all Muslims are bad by saying something about “liberals” and “political correctness”. They just brush it aside. Islam isn’t a race, therefore I can make whatever hate-filled statement I want about all Muslims and not be racist. I’m not racist just because I said something hateful about a large, diverse group of people that I don’t understand, right? Nah.
People will say ANYTHING about a religious, ethnic or any other group about which they know nothing—Arabs and Muslims (same thing, right?) today, Asians a couple of generations ago and Catholics—boy, those guys were dangerous. When Irish and Germans began moving to the US in the early 1800s, Americans of previous generations heard about Catholic plots to take over the country and indoctrinate everyone in fanaticism. Blood was spilled in the name of this irrational fear, which lasted more than a century.
Today, troop supporters and others say things like “they are trying to kill us” or “they hate us for our way of life” or “they are trying to impose their laws on us”, “they” meaning everyone and everything in this amorphous group they call Islam. All they need is an anecdote here or there about how a Muslim did a bad thing somewhere in the world—or, for that matter, an anecdote about how someone did something bad to a Muslim—and the flame of hatred burns a little brighter. “Don’t you remember 9/11?” they say, as if all Muslims were guilty of the crime. “Why don’t Muslims speak out against terrorism?” They do every day. You just don’t listen.
They consider thinking in stereotypes sufficient basis for hating and killing anyone in that group and anyone resembling that group. If they actually questioned their beliefs by meeting people and learning their viewpoints with an open mind, they would find they were wrong. If they thought about what freedom really meant, they would stop forcing everyone they are suspicious of to conform to their rules and standards.
Again, it is hard to believe how ignorant these people are. I wish I were exaggerating. But I observe it every single day I visit the troop-supporter pages. They make sweeping generalizations with no basis in fact about a huge group of people and if you call them out on it they say you’re just a liberal who can’t face reality, and that political correctness is killing this country. You wouldn’t say it is your refusal to question your beliefs by asking questions and doing research that is leading this country down the spiral of an imperial police state? Do you not get where the state gets its authority to spy on people, militarize the police, detain whomever they want indefinitely without trial and make war on distant people with impunity? It’s from fear. Your fear of people you don’t understand. Whatever the state does to others, it grants itself the power to do to you. Your ignorance is their power. But hey, if you want to stay frightened and paranoid, you had better learn to love your enslavement.
The world is a complex place and any simple description of it will be incomplete, but I think it is fair to say we are the subjects of an artificial system of theft and oppression that continues to make the world harder to live in.
Look at the sources of power in the world. Look at government, corporations and the media. Laws written for rich people have created a system where it is necessary for us all to sell our labour to the owners of businesses. They own the land, the factories, the offices, the infrastructure. We need to earn money to survive and the best and sometimes only way to make money is to work for a large corporation. We make money for the people who own and run the corporation and they give us back some of it. Next, the government takes its share, claiming it needs it for roads, schools, hospitals, pensions and security, and gives as much as it can (for example through contracts) to corporations. It does not give people a choice to keep that money, decide what to do with it themselves and get what they need through mutual aid (helping each other) like they used to. Some people work their whole lives making others rich and still end up penniless. Why? Because they didn’t work hard enough? Because they were evil in a past life?
The media tell us to consume. The remaining money we have earned, the last bones we have been thrown, we are encouraged to spend on things that make us feel rich: nice houses, cars, furniture, decorations, restaurants, two-week vacations and fancy coffee. Consumers spend their lives working for corporations and giving most of their money back to them. Instead of pursuing their dreams, they work hard in order to spend hard.
I understand people who do not do anything about it. Politics can be pretty boring. I disagree with people who say you should pay attention to politics even if you are not interested in it. You should not be compelled to pay attention to the news and what it tells you the people in power are doing. If they do not have your consent, they should not spend your money or pass laws over you. Moreover, most of the people who expect you to follow politics pay attention to the wrong things. They watch party nominations and election results and contribute to political parties and candidates who never make any real changes. But the media tell us those are the important things. That is how we can make a difference. There are no alternatives, except competing warlords or some USSR/North Korea nightmare. The system works. Stop questioning the system.
Enormous power is thus concentrated in the hands of only a few thousand people, most of whose names you and I have never heard before. A few million or so more wield power on the national level in different parts of the world with some autonomy (think the generals in Egypt) but they have mutually beneficial relationships with members of the upper ranks of the global elite. Look at what the elite do with their power. In the old days, a king would send soldiers somewhere and thousands of people would die. They had power over small parts of the world. Nowadays, power has become global, and as such the crises it leads to have gone global as well. Look at all the (supposedly unintended) consequences of all the wars the US government has been leading, all the people who have been tortured and killed, or who lost their homes and their livelihoods, and continue to do so even after the foreign militaries have left. And yet, consider who has got rich from those wars. Look at the economic carnage from the last financial crisis. Look how many people lost their jobs, homes and all their money, all around the world. And yet, the people who caused it actually made more money from it. And they tell you not to worry, because there will be an economic recovery. Do you believe them? Where is the justice?
Finally, “education” tells us what to think. I’m sure you can think of reasons why the system we live under is the best possible system. You learned it in school, and if you learned it in university like I did (political science major), you have even more reasons why it works best. We need leaders because without people making our decisions for us, society would collapse. We need rich people because without them, who would start businesses for us to work in? We need police to protect us from all the bad people around us. We need hierarchy: all societies have hierarchy, right? All other ways of living go against human nature. Don’t think too much about it: watch TV instead.
As far as I can tell, most people are neither interested in understanding the system nor willing to take the risk of fighting it. Again, I understand and I don’t judge. I just think they should understand it better than they do. If they choose to do something to change it or to change their circumstances, that is their choice and I will support them. I warn you, however, if we do not fight back, one day it will be too late.
It is hard to see how at any point in American history, whether it’s the Civil War, World War One, the Cold War or the War on Terror, it’s hard to see how these infringements on the right to dissent, infringements on basic civil liberties actually have any military value whatsoever. Does anybody think that Germany would have won World War One if Eugene Debs had been allowed to speak in the United States? Or is it really the case that we can’t allow people basic civil liberties, the right to a trial, the right to see the evidence against them, because otherwise Osama bin Laden is going to take over the world? – Eric Foner, professor at Columbia University and president of the American Historical Association
Necessity is the excuse for every infringement of human freedom. – William Pitt
Since its inception, the state has existed to make war. In this age of imagined liberty, some people expect certain rights. They believe, for instance, they have the right to say what they want on the internet without being targeted by law enforcement. But during war, the state does not permit rights. The age of imagined liberty is in fact the Age of Perpetual War. Along with fighting fabricated enemies abroad, the war has been expanded to the home front, and every dissenting group is targeted.
What Professor Foner does not point out is the actual reasons the state took away all our liberties during the various wars. Among others, dissent from the official line, especially loud, public dissent (such as that of Eugene Debs), undermines the state’s power to wage the war. The state, at all times but especially in war, desires uniformity of thought, as getting the masses to tow the official line enables the decision makers to do as they please. During the 1960s in the US, young people protested the war on Vietnam. The state cracked down on them violently for protesting, but dissent grew. What did Richard Nixon do? He declared war on his home-front detractors—not on demonstrations but on drugs. Smoking pot was common among those who opposed the war. Nixon found it politically useful to escalate violence by claiming marijuana would destroy the country, and not enough people defied him to reject his policy and humiliate him. Since Nixon’s resignation, other power-hungry people have given the War on Drugs a life of its own, with the purpose of attacking the lower classes or entire racial groups, as well as the politically unpopular.
Naturally, the US government’s attacks on dissent go back to its founding. Consider the Alien and Sedition Acts, Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus, Wilson’s Espionage Act and his jailing of dissenters. But while those measures established the precedent that war would mean no freedom, they were temporary measures. Today, war is not meant to end, and freedom is not meant to return.
The War on Terror has been even more destructive of liberties. The Patriot Act and the NDAA instantly bring to mind the practices of torture and indefinite detention to anyone who has been paying attention. The US government has suspended the Bill of Rights and the Geneva Conventions indefinitely. The NSA’s extensive spy network and the drones over American skies—that’s 30,000 drones by 2020—ensure the state knows if you are violating any one of its millions of statutes. The police have been militarizing since 9/11 (or before, thanks to the War on Drugs), ostensibly to combat the miniscule terrorist threat but probably to prevent any kind of insurrection. The FBI uses blatant entrapment to jail and destroy the lives of otherwise innocent people for life under trumped-up charges and spread the lie that the terrorists are everywhere. (See here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here, for example.) It has harassed activists its clients do not like, such as anarchists, Greenpeace, PETA and Antiwar.com. The state legitimizes its war on you by claiming it needs to defeat an enemy that exists largely in our imaginations—“the terrorists”. It has claimed complete control over you in its endless war. (See more here.)
The state’s unwitting accomplices in the legal war on freedom are the millions of Americans who never cease to yell at anyone who disagrees with what the military is doing. These people repeat the state’s line about the wars’ being about freedom and security and democracy, not realizing they have in fact got it backward. They believe the US as a nation (represented, of course, by the US government) has a divine purpose to spread these things around the world. Their job as loyal citizens is to lash out verbally (and sometimes physically – see here) at anyone who does not believe the gospel. (See this page for countless examples.)
As such, anyone who thanks soldiers for securing their freedom has it backwards. Soldiers make war possible, and war is the excuse to take away freedom. If soldiers want to fight for freedom, they can stop going to war.
If you want to understand why a coalition of states invaded Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, why drones are bombing people in a dozen countries and why Syria and Iran will probably be next, consider, as one reason, the logic of empire. Empires are always attempting to expand. For at least 20 years now, if not 50, people have been talking about the decline of the US empire. It’s not declining. It’s still expanding. But it’s a new kind of empire.
This empire does not consist solely of the US government. It includes considerable cooperation from other states. Contrary to what some realist scholars believe, states do not represent the people they rule over (and never have), but the elite of the given territory they rule. In recent decades, however, as legal regimes have converged and states have made it easier to make and move money across borders, the elite and their corporations have gone global. National and regional governments have become, to one degree or another, subordinate to this empire.
This empire is becoming less about the US than about multinational corporations and pliant states around the world. The UN and all affiliated organisations designed for global governance, aided in part by well-meaning non-governmental organisations, have spread constitutional and legal norms. Corporations now have the law (ie. words they have written to give them the use of hired guns) on their side when they repress and displace locals, whether kicking native people off their land in far-flung regions or tossing people out of foreclosed homes all over the US.
If states do not play by the rules of empire, they become targets for regime change. While the US is integral, as I mention elsewhere, this modern empire is not only about the US military but whichever militaries the elite want to use so they can enjoy a piece of the action. Look at how they carved up Iraq’s oil reserves. They went to oil giants from the most powerful countries, not just Shell, Exxon and BP, but the China National Petroleum Corporation, Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., the Korea Gas Corp, Malaysia’s Petronas, Turkish Petroleum International and Russia’s Lukoil and Gazprom. The conquerors auctioned off the oil in Iraq those who might otherwise have had the power to block future wars. Now that they profit from war, they are likely to support it more willingly in future.
Historically, all empires have declined and fallen. There are a variety of answers as to why. Suffice to say, we have it in our power to push this empire over the cliff of history as well. But it is not inevitable. The people of the world could eventually cave in, succumbing to the boot on their faces and accepting their enslavement. Most people do not even know what is going on. It is up to those who can see the system for what it is to show others. Resist. Disobey. Fight for freedom and justice. We can have it if we want it enough.
The nation state is a very new invention. It originated in Europe in war and conquest, as armies conquered some tribes and massacred others. It has expanded and grown and continues to do so to this day. The state was forged in war to subdue others. This basic form remains constant, though the scope of the state has grown, along with expectations about what it can and should do.
The nation was shaped by other processes. Benedict Anderson famously explains that print capitalism was the strongest driver of the forming of the nation and nationalism, as it spread a common language within the borders of the state that did not exist prior to conquest. Since then, the idea of a common culture has taken hold and the nation grows more certain of itself. The advance of media technology in the twentieth century continued this trend. Anderson called nations “imagined communities”, because they were huge groups of people who would never meet with a communitarian identity.
From a different angle, Ernest Gellner writes,
nationalism is, essentially, the general imposition of a high culture on society, where previously low cultures had taken up the lives of the majority, and in some cases of the totality, of the population. It means that generalised diffusion of a school-mediated, academy-supervised idiom, codified for the requirements of reasonably precise bureaucratic and technological communication. It is the establishment of an anonymous, impersonal society, with mutually substitutable atomised individuals, held together above all by a shared culture of this kind, in place of a previous complex structure of local groups, sustained by folk cultures reproduced locally and idiosyncratically by the micro-groups themselves.
In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended the 30-Years War (yes, the history of the state is of chaos; it is hard to think one’s idea of “anarchy” could be as bad), effectively baptized the nation state. State borders grew stronger. It was assumed among states that sovereignty, meaning the mutual acceptance of the other’s monopoly on crime within its boundaries, was to be respected. Of course, the urge to use an army at one’s disposal is too great, and the fighting continued until the number of states in Europe shrank and the power of each one to kill grew.
Around 1789, the idea that the state should represent the people, preserve liberty, equality, fraternity, or other revolutionary slogans, caught on. National education systems were erected, inculcating everyone in the logic of the state and the primordiality of the nation. The nation state became timeless, obvious and unassailable. The nation state expanded beyond its borders, as European empires built big ships and conquered the globe. To reach their goals, they killed whomever they had to kill, on any continent they felt like taking.
Ultimately, what the empires left their conquered peoples with was the nation state. The nation state has broken down old social structures and erected new ones. It groups millions of disparate people and assumes they can be represented by a ruling class. It assumes rule by a ruling class is preferable to whatever it has destroyed. It has institutionalised theft and slavery. It has militarised the criminals and disarmed their victims. And even though it legally covers every inch of land in the world, its power over the people within those lines continues to expand. One result of modern state expansion is a war on the native.
Indigenous people all around the world have been persecuted since the inception of the state. They have been forcibly moved so they could be taxed or so the powerful could gain access to land and other resources. They have been killed when they have resisted. Many groups we have never heard of have been wiped out over the years. Others have been decimated and pacified and pushed onto “reservations”. In recent years, much of this wanton violence has been at the request of large extracting corporations. Such corporations, oil and gas concerns, for example, function almost as the right arm of the modern state. The state is a vehicle for accumulating power; the corporation is the most powerful modern tool for accumulating wealth. Heads of state and corporations work together to extract wealth and repress those who challenge them.
Under the nation-state system, the real owner of all land (and thus resources on that land) within the borders of the state is the state. Some states afford a measure of land or property ownership to those not connected to the state, but not many. Even Canada has seen a number of oil spills on supposedly-private land in recent months. Perhaps the people living on the poisoned land will be compensated. But the fact that someone else could ruin their land and they will need to petition the state for restitution is evidence they did not own the land to begin with. Moreover, secession is an option for free members of a federation, but not for citizens of the modern nation state.
A number of indigenous groups in the Amazon, such as the Kayapó, above, have protested the state’s plan for the Belo Monte Dam. This dam promises to flood a large area of land, dry up other land around the river, devastate parts of the rainforest and hurt fish stocks. Tens of thousands of people in the Xingu River basin are in danger. The locals have protested since the initial proposal of the dam in the 1980s and their demands have been ignored. They are now being attacked and moved. The dam will be built. The people with deep, spiritual ties to this land never had any recourse because those in power did not recognise their claim to the land. The state treats those it can use as tools and those it cannot as waste.
Similarly, in Indonesia, conflict is growing as large corporations have been tearing down forests and erecting palm oil plantations. Henry Saragih, founder of the Indonesian Peasant Union says
The presence of palm oil plantations has spawned a new poverty and is triggering a crisis of landlessness and hunger. Human rights violations keep occurring around natural resources in the country and intimidation, forced evictions and torture are common. There are thousands of cases that have not surfaced. Many remain hidden, especially by local authorities.
Naturally, no one is ever consulted or compensated when their habitat is stolen from them. Local security forces protect foreign corporations. The beneficiaries of globalisation and economic growth do not need to pay its prices.
Unsurprisingly, some people have resisted with violence. Under modern state parlance, they are called terrorists and insurgents. People who once farmed land in much of India until they were kicked off have formed a loose movement known as the Naxalites, led by Maoist intellectuals. Companies such as South Korea’s Posco Steel have appropriated other people’s land for their own purposes, with the help of local police. A peaceful anti-Posco movement has arisen, but protests have gone nowhere. Politicians are under pressure from the companies they have already promised to let build and the villagers who will lose their land; they make more money off the corporations so they just repress the villagers. The Naxalites oppose the advance of the state, and have killed civilians and security forces alike.
India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has called the Naxalites “left-wing extremism” and “the single biggest internal-security challenge ever faced by our country”. Bolstered by the advent of 9/11 and the War on Terror, the Indian government has arrested and killed thousands of Naxalites and their supporters in order to maintain its monopoly on crime. On the violence committed by both sides, Arundhati Roy opines
I think you’ve got to look at every death as a terrible tragedy. In a system, in a war that’s been pushed on the people and that unfortunately is becoming a war of the rich against the poor, in which rich put forward the poorest of the poor to fight the poor, [security forces] are terrible victims but they are not just victims of the Maoists. They are victims of a system of structural violence that is taking place.
In some places the Naxalites enjoy popular support. As with other violent, persecuted groups, however, some Naxalites have used violence against unarmed locals, and have been less popular. As with the War on Drugs and countless other cases of aggression, violence begets violence.
At the same time, the Indian government has pursued a hearts-and-minds campaign of offering “development”, such as roads and schools. The simultaneous application of force and the promise of economic incentives has been praised by the Economist and others of similar persuasion. Vandana Shiva, on the other hand, believes “If the government continues its land wars in the heart of India’s bread basket, there will be no chance for peace.” This strategy is bound to fail as it does not address the roots of the problem. Indeed, it has failed. The people are not interested in being absorbed by the nation state. Explains BD Sharma, “[f]or them, development means exploitation.” This should not be surprising. The nation state views incorporation into its ambit a step up, from barbarism to civilisation. The discourse assumes a model of progress from life outside the state, thought of as unhealthy, backward and hostile to life as part of the state, meaning education, health and higher culture. It defends displacing people from their ancestral homes with its offer of schools, hospitals and integration into the wider economy. But the state always achieves its goals with violence.
James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed explains the logic of the state and escape from it through the case of the highland people of Southeast Asia. The evidence is strong that many or all of the people living in the mountainous region recently dubbed Zomia are there because some time over the past thousand years or so they have chosen the life of barbarity over forcible incorporation into the state. One of a number of groups Scott considers is the Karen.
Many of those we now call the Karen consciously fled the predatory state to escape appropriation of their land and agriculture, forced relocation or slave labour. The Burmese military government has attempted to subdue and incorporate the Karen. They fought back for many years, but eventually, technology caught up and the last major Karen base was destroyed in 1995. The people continue to hold out, however, in small groups. The Burmese military continues to wage its campaign against them. It burns down fields and lays mines there. Soldiers fighting Karen guerrillas, conscripted and paid a pittance, take whatever they want from villages on the front lines, and end up terrorising their inhabitants. Like other persecuted groups of Zomia, the Karen have adopted flexible agricultural techniques, mobility, shifting ethnic identities and social structures that split easily over political, social or religious issues. But the state advances and the Karen get easier to destroy. Scott believes it is only a matter of time before the people of Zomia become tax-paying subjects of the state once again.
Nigeria has also seen terrorism as natives of the Niger Delta have defended themselves against oil companies. The campaign to defeat the locals long enough to extract oil and dump waste has involved police and military, who have done their best to turn ethnic groups against each other. As a result of two decades of conflict, the entire region has militarised. Royal Dutch Shell was implicated in the murder of activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. As with other corporate malfeasance punished by a monopolist court system, it cost a trifle and enabled the firm to return to business as usual. Shell is not the only company working the area, as Chevron and Nigeria’s national petroleum company are involved as well. The struggle for freedom from the state in the Niger Delta is not over.
Is there hope in democracy? Under Rafael Correa, the government of Ecuador sued Chevron for billions for the destruction of the environment of thousands of people. Of course, a few billion is a drop in the bucket for such a firm, but at least a symbolic victory is possible. Says Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch, Chevron
left hundreds of toxic waste pits. It dumped billions of gallons of toxic waste. And really, the whole time that this trial has been going on over the course of 18 years, the communities continue to live with that legacy, and they continue to suffer the impacts, the health impacts, the cultural impacts, the environmental impacts of that destruction. And so, this is an important day for the communities. It’s just one step; it’s not a victory. But it is very crucial for them. It’s also an important day for the broader struggle for corporate accountability around the world, for broader struggles for environmental justice and human rights.
Perhaps. Will it set a precedent? An example for other indigenous people? The damage has been done. The environment has been wrecked. And it might just leave the same people open to abuse from Petroecuador, which has caused its share of oil spills. And other Andean people are even less fortunate. (See here and here.) The people have been forced to work through state structures, further integrating them into the nation state, and have been lucky enough finally to have someone in the state who will fight for them. None of these things will last if their sovereignty, over their land and their labour, is not recognised.
It is important that we learn the history of both states and nations. On the history of the state, I recommend Franz Oppenheimer’s The State, James C. Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed, Hans-Hermann Hoppe’s Democracy: the God that Failed, Martin van Creveld’s The Rise and Decline of the State and Bruce D. Porter’s War and the Rise of the State. For more on the nation, Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities, Ernest Gellner’s Nation’s and Nationalism and Eric Hobsbawm’s Nations and Nationalism since 1780 are basics of the canon.