a constructive critique of left reactions to september 11 and the afghanistan war

the antiwar position i would like to see obviously has to deal with how the events of 11. september are being used by the elites of “the west” to expand repressive state power in general and enforce repressive migration regimes in particular.
it also needs to face the racist mobilisation that is going on in the rich western countries and

to win some positions in the ideological struggle against the racist offensive after 11.9. i believe some weaknesses in the radical left’s ideological arsenal urgently need to be addressed. i think the left response to the deployment of “civilization” as a racist-nationalist rallying cry, for example, has been weak because there is an inadequate understanding of the dialectic of enlightenment in many quarters of the left, i.e. it is not understood that civilization, enlightenment, even capitalism are not things that you can, as a radical leftist, be WHOLLY for or against. there is much foolish taking sides going on, i think.
it would be cool if we could get as far as adorno and horkheimer were in the 1940s concerning reason etc and apply these ideas in situations like the gulf war or the war we’re in now, but really we need to advance far beyond them by linking critical marxist and anarchist thinking with feminist and postcolonial critiques of western “rationality”, “civilization” etc…

i think an antisexist approach can help in avoiding the fallacies of a reductionist “anti-imperialism” that derives the actions of islamist fundamentalist groups from the exploitation and oppression of “the islamic masses”.
this is not to deny that the frustrations of many impoverished people are being used to fuel the islamist project, even though the social base of some islamist movements seem to be the middle and upper classes (while others do seem to be based in a stratum of impoverished “self-employed” people). but whatever its class base or social rhethoric, islamism can in no way “express” the social aspirations of poor people in the “islamic world”, it is an ultra-patriarchal, antisemitic, pro-capitalist, protofascist movement (with various wings and variations of course).
the kind of anti-war position i am looking for should be explicitly anti-fundamentalist and put “islamic” fundamentalism in the context of fundamentalism as a modern cross-cultural phenomenon, i.e. relate it to the “christian” fundamentalism that helped fund bush’s election campaign, for example, “jewish” fundamentalism that preaches anti-arab racism and “traditional” gender roles etc.

i would like to see an approach to the situation that is opposed to the policies of the us government, attacks the ruling elite of the united states, criticizes the nationalism and racism of the majority of us citizens, but does not lapse into culturalist anti-americanism.
obviously, popular culturalist anti-american resentments in latin america (for example) exist in a completely different context and, in part, have different motivations from those in germany (for example), thus have a different meaning and need to be analyzed (and countered) in different ways. still, i believe a transnational radical left consensus on opposing the culturalist demonization of “yankees”/”the americans”/”the us” etc is possible and necessary.
it should be clear that a world capitalist system requires a state or league of states to violently enforce the rules of the game. there is nothing inherent to the “character of the american nation” that predisposes it for this role. it should be clear that a world capitalism with the european union as world policeman, for example, or even one in which some global military force in the hands of a multi-ethnic global ruling class fulfilled this function, would be at least as murderous as the kind(s) of world capitalism we have had for the last 30 years…

an anti-war approach of the kind i would like to see should go beyond traditional left anti-imperialism in making an issue of european imperial ambitions, criticizing the role of britain and france but also, and particularly, the ambitions of germany to dominate the european bloc and become a global player not only economically but militarily as well (all the while not forgetting that in europe it is almost exclusively social democratic regimes that are involved in all this blatant warmongering etc). the interests of the putin regime in russia (legitimizing the genocide in chechnya and the expansion of the police state), of the capitalist dictatorial regime in mainland china (crushing islamist opposition along with all other opposition) and of the reactionary elites of many “islamic” nations like saudi-arabia should also not go unmentioned.

such an approach needs a non-reductionist idea of what “capitalism” is. capitalism is not just about who owns what, it’s about the structure of the state, the command over labor, the form of labor, the kind of technology, how things are produced, about social relations in general, about how time is felt and measured, about people’s inner life etc. etc. (in my view, this means that the soviet system, that preserved the commodity, money, dictatorial command over labor, a certain type of industrial production, a certain form of labor, a certain rationality, a certain kind of time etc. always was capitalist, albeit in a very specific way).
you can’t fight capitalism by just attacking the elite. they’re a problem, but not the only problem, capitalism is a system we all reproduce whether we want to or not. so the struggle is for a different life, a liberation from capitalist labor, capitalist time, the capitalist structuring of our feelings…
capitalism must not be reduced to finance capital. that’s a structurally anti-semitic error (the abstract aspect of capitalism is split from its concrete productive aspect and tends to get fused with the paranoid image of the invisible, superhuman, hidden, omnipresent, hyperintellectual, abstract power of a jewish world conspiracy – read moishe postone’s text!) and opens the door to alliances between leftists and fascists who want to use the issue of (economic) social inequality to further their own reactionary goals.

the radical anti-war approach i would like to see should include:
an uncompromising position against islamist fundamentalism (of course this shouldn’t preclude strategies of staying in touch with moderate islamists where that makes sense – i am thinking of the kind of “islamist feminism” that seems to exist in iran for example – if it is possible to strengthen the position of more “progressive” islamists against more “reactionary” islamists without giving too much recognition to islamism as a whole, then that should be done); a profession of solidarity with those libertarian left and feminist tendencies in the so-called “islamic world” who have been struggling against these reactionary forces for decades; a critique of western powers for furthering the growth of islamist movements to combat the left; a criticism of anti-semitic tendencies in many left and feminist movements in the “islamic world”. this needs to be complemented by a criticism of the policies of the state of israel and of the nationalist, capitalist, sexist and racist formation of israeli society. it’s impossible to keep the issue of israel/palestine out of the discussion about the attacks of 11. september and the ensuing war against afghanistan.
it should be made clear that neither zionist tendencies in israeli society nor israeli society as a whole are more racist than the rest of the world. it should also be made clear that any solution to the israel/palestine conflict must acknowledge not only the legitimacy of the palestinian demand for a better life, but also the legitimacy of the desire of jews, who are the object of different degrees of antisemitic defamation and persecution all over the world, to have a place where they can live in safety. what precise form such a solution could take and whether there can be any solution at all in a world of patriarchal capitalist nation states is a question best left open…
it has to be understood, though, that although in many quarters ashkenazi jews at least are considered – and many of them consider themselves – as part of the “white, civilized, western world”, this status is a precarious one, undercut by the existence of virulent anti-semitism in many forms in many places.
the maneuverings of europe and the united states in the israel/palestine conflict need to be seen as motivated in large part by geopolitical ambitions. antisemitism is alive and well in the us and, although it is true that “jews in general” are less marginalized in the us today than they were in the 1930s for example, the notion of a very strong jewish influence on us foreign policy is grossly exaggerated, the image of jewish domination of the “east coast” being an antisemitic myth.

i think this war situation makes the necessity of beginning to forge transnational alliances between libertarian leftists and feminists all over the world, including the “islamic world” and israel, and the necessity of finding a transnational consensus over capitalism, sexism, racism and antisemitism clearer than ever.

i haven’t said much here on the specific patriarchal content of this war or war in general because in general it all seems so obvious and when you get to the specifics it gets really difficult, i find. of course it’s a struggle between competing patriarchies and islamist fundamentalism tries to compensate a certain kind of colonial insult by recourse to a thoroughly modern hypermasculinity (or hypomasculinity, depends on how you want to look at it).
and i always ask myself how growing up in a war zone like afghanistan as a boy and then being put into one of these “schools” the taliban run in pakistan – from what i hear it’s rote learning of stupid pseudoislamic dogma, brutal authoritarianism and not much else there – might form your body and psyche. i have many questions regarding what kinds of masculinities are being produced these days in the world, in elite colleges and in war zones, and what consequences this will have….

daniel mang