Politics & The World

This last weekend of protests in the US and elsewhere has been a success story in itself. Can you imagine the horror of a Trump inauguration uncontested? It would have been like a funeral with a disrespectful long-lost relative who keeps on insulting the deceased, while the aggrieved (i.e. Sanders and the Democratic Left) are forced to remain silent so as not to disturb the ceremony even more. People on the street, from bandana-wearing bin destroyers to baby-carrying families, shared a common goal: crashing the party, making their opposition heard, and showing the world that the new President of the United States is not an accurate reflection of American society.

One of the common questions, however, coming from both sympathetic and contrarian groups, was the following: why is it that these marches are “for women”, and not just “against Trump”; or for other groups also attacked by his campaign, such as Latinos? There are two ways of answering this question. The first and easy one is to say that, since Trump is not really in power yet, only women can, for the moment, embody a legitimate response based around the “grab’em by the pussy incident”, and other similar comments. Consequently, we’d have to wait to see how his presidency develops, whether he works towards building the wall with Mexico, deporting Muslims en masse, and other promises, in order to call for similar protests on behalf of those groups. This logic, implying a division of ‘issues’ between groups (rights for the LGBT movement/debt cancellation for students/labour protection for industrial workers) leads to dissolving the strenght of multitudes into unconnected pipes leading to nowhere.

Why is it, then, so tempting to make this about women and women alone? Probably, because it is satisfaying to see the ‘snowflake’ response from the alt-Right. Take a look at the Facebook comments on the news reports and private posts about the Women’s marches. I’m sure it’ll only take two seconds to spot some commentaries such as: “Ship all these bra burning libs out to Mosul and see who the real bigots are !!”, “Go make me a sandwich!”, “What a load of brain dead lefties think they can influence the United States democratic system ?”, “In one day, Trump got more fat women out walking than Michelle Obama did in 8 years” (these are real ones I just dug up, all of them with several “likes”). This brief satisfaction of standing against abuse, nonetheless, is counter-productive as it corresponds with the narrative of Trump’s followers.

How is single-issue “identity politics” (i.e. basing political action around belonging to a certain group) detrimental in opposing Trump? Simply, there is a specific argument this group of “deplorables” will be quick to make: these women are frustrated because “their candidate” lost the election, so they are questioning the US democratic system as whole in the name of “Shrillary”. They’ll wonder, “can you imagine if Hilary had won? Would we have had the same sort of global solidarity if we had led our own “March for Trump (or for America, or whatever they think they stand for)”? The answer is, of course, no. But they will still have legitimacy to make that claim, equalising the white nationalist cause with the women’s cause, on behalf of liberal pluralism.

This is why a limited identitarian approach, based on the idea of women opposing Trump, “because they’re women” (whether they are Sheryl Sandberg or Angela Davis) is the wrong way forward for developing a true opposition. As long as it is based on defending “toleration” or “respect” for victims, this movement will play in the hands of the Trumpian narrative by which he is defending another “oppressed minority”, the white working class forgotten by globalisation. Why should not we also tolerate Nazis, the KKK, pro-segregation people, etc.? They are also identities, minority opinions overlooked and ridiculed by the nation’s progressive media. The only way to break from this impasse is to understand that those women on the street today, like those in Black Lives Matter, are not speaking for their ‘interest’ group: they speak for all of us.

This is because the current economic system is not just an enemy of the white working class. While the coverage of the issues affecting these sectors of the population (endemic unemployment, alcoholism, depression, etc.) had been overlooked by most candidates and pundits (except, of course, Trump and Sanders), the weeks after the election saw an inverse shift on New York Times and similar outlets to reflect the concerns of the white working class. Suddenly, their lives were the only ones that “mattered”. But as a Black Lives Matter activist would be more than happy to clarify, more often than not, it is black lives (and deaths) that are forgotten by media and political institutions! Fighting for attention from liberal media quarters is certainly not another way forward to be pursued: one cannot measure suffering against suffering to see which is the worthier cause.

Instead, it should be clear that the current system (pre and post-Trump) does not deliver to any of these groups in particular, and is actually holding them all down. Poor students, illegal migrants, pensioners who’ve lost their savings: aren’t they all equally cut off from basic healthcare at the point of use, universal access to higher education, modern transport infrastructure and job security? Women, overrepresented in Federal jobs, and conducting many of the unpaid or underpaid tasks of “emotional labour” (child rearing, teaching, nursing, etc.) will definitely suffer more than other groups under a government promising more cuts to social services (not to mention the constant verbal abuse from Trump and his cronies).

This explains why women would be a leading organising group, but it doesn’t mean it is only their issues that should be regarded for a growing opposition. Marching women and their allies, contrary to what their detractors claim, should be seen as representing the future coming-together of groups, the potential universality of those threatened not just by Trump’s vulgarity, but by his vision of the world, his politics (in a wide sense).

“Particularlist” thinking has so far shaped the Democratic representatives’ attitude towards Trump’s nominees for top offices, who have been attacked on their lack of “credentials” and “professionalism” for their assigned policy areas. Remove the tit-for-tat exchanges on Congress, however, and the substance of economic and political thinking is the same: market knows best. If there are people suffering in America is because we still need a little financial inclusion and employment workshops here and there (Democrats); or because Obama, with his pro-State policies, blocked businesses from growing even more (Republicans). This is why activists, party sympathisers, churches, any organisation and possible ally against Trump must keep pushing and realise the only way forward is to initiate a process for a coherent political programme that can unite everybody around a different politics.

Enemies of Trump in America unite, you have nothing to lose but an orange president!

Politics & The World

In 2015, Michael Lüders wrote a seminal book on the hypocrisy of Western[1] politics in the Middle East. Allegedly driven by Western ‘liberal values,’ interventions from outside powers have been anything but constructive, leaving the region in a much worse, much more chaotic situation than before. Taking Lüders’ major claim as a guiding narrative, it is difficult to not see how the current quagmire in the Middle East, the growth of failed states, violent conflicts, the refugee crisis and the surge of terrorism are largely Western, self-inflicted dilemmas. This does not imply that the illusive concept of the West as a superior state order is responsible for the long list of terrorist attacks over the last months. However, without any doubt, the bottom line is that Western countries, first and foremost the United States, bear a great responsibility in creating their own enemies and accelerating chaotic circumstances and radicalisation.

The good, the bad and the ugly

The first fallacy of several American governments and their European allies has been to distinguish between “the good and the evil” among conflict parties in the Middle East. Policymakers claim to understand the local culture and political situation and choose local leaders to be “evil” where deemed appropriate. It’s a process chain that has been largely repeated on various occasions, probably starting with the ousting of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran 1953. Mossadegh had been a democratically elected chef d’état, and Iran was thriving as a showcase of liberties in the whole Middle Eastern region. Largely unknown to most of the public nowadays, the US and the UK were the main instigators behind the regime change in Tehran, putting into place a puppet government (led by the Shah), which catered to British and American economic interests in the country. Guaranteeing foreign domination of Iran’s oil sector for twenty years while neglecting the local population created a breeding ground for anti-US resentments among ordinary Iranians. Numerous are those who believe the Islamic Revolution of 1979 could have been prevented/would probably not have happened without the Western interference in Iran. As if history repeats itself, the same naming and shaming of evil leaders recurred on various occasions, from Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Qadaffi in Libya to Assad in Syria. Former US President George W. Bush coined a famous phrase when speaking of ‘the axis of evil’.

The West is always the best

Of course: contrary to the evil, Western forces feel the need to represent enlightened values and disregard their own severe mistakes (that have cost the lives of thousands of innocent people in the region). They feel empowered to impose sanction regimes (as in Iraq and Iran) – which – by the way – never led to the envisaged regime change and improved social/political climate. Instead, Iraq is a horrific case where a society of well-educated people, including some of the best doctors and scientists in the Middle East, was destroyed by an externally-sanctioned regime. Throughout the 1990s, the country was so badly hit that at times even first-aid mechanisms and vaccinations for childhood diseases were missing. Western ignorance also surfaces when it comes to the choice of “friends” in conflicts in the Middle East. While cooperation with Russia was always seen as an option of last resort, supporting dubious proxies on the ground was done without the blink of an eye. Blatantly, the American decision to dissolve all armed forces of Saddam Hussein and replace them with an Iraqi army of their own liking pushed thousands of former soldiers into the arms of more radical forces such as the Islamic state. Equally opaque, US weapon support to allegedly moderate Islamist forces ended up arming Jihadist groups in the Syrian civil war. The Islamic State would not have been able to acquire such weapons without indirect, unintended American assistance.

The axis of instability

Speaking of an axis of evil has been an American narrative, and the war against terror has been continued by Barack Obama with much smoother language, using drones and surrogate warfare without any ‘boots on the ground.’ Hypocritical positions by consecutive American administrations have magnified the situation. Take Egypt, a de facto military dictatorship, tolerated by all Western forces for reasons of stability and even financed with trillions of dollars (making it the largest rentier state on earth). Take the Gulf States, whose citizens often finance radical Islam in the region, but who are still best partners, mostly Saudi Arabia. Or the Israel-Palestine conflict, which the West has considered for a long time as so one-sided pro-Israel that the real underlying problem has not been understood.  Could it be worse? Well, the EU has admitted to its own ambivalence and narrow-mindedness by adopting a far more distanced, differentiated neighbourhood policy towards Middle Eastern countries.  Accepting one’s own mistakes, not forcing one’s own views on states in the region are some first steps to be taken … but from the American side there is no such thing to be expected in the near future. There’s a new President about to be elected, either a candidate that wants to abandon NATO and pull back all American troops. Or an expansive agenda by the less radical, yet still belligerent democratic candidate, which could lead to new tensions/errors in the Middle East. Finally, supporting the Arab uprisings has been the right and only choice by Western countries, but not following up afterwards has been a cardinal error, as the crumbling state structures in Libya and Iraq demonstrate. The reality is that the Middle East resembles an axis of instability stretching from Syria to Libya, and the US remains invested in all major conflicts – without a clear idea where this investment will lead to.

 [1] The „West“ is here understood as a concept delineating mainly the United States and its allies in Europe – all countries which claim to support liberal democracy, rule of law etc.

inspired by:  Michael Lüders (2015): Wer den Wind sät: Was westliche Politik im Orient anrichtet. German Version.

photo from flickrccl.