'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Shameless (Part 3) 

UPDATE 1: As contemplated in paragraph 1 of the original post:

A Texas school district says a teacher won't return to work after being accused of mocking an American-born Muslim student by asking if she was grieving because her uncle had died, a reference to Osama bin Laden.

The teacher was put on leave after making the alleged remark May 2, hours after bin Laden was killed in a U.S. military raid.

INITIAL POST: The death of Bin Laden brings an old question to the forefront: why is it that people are willing to accept state violence, no matter how extreme and indiscriminate, while responding angrily to acts of individual or group violence that are minor by comparison? In the United States, it appears that many have a vicarious relationship with the violence of the government, exulting in a sense of collective superiority associated with its use against others, particularly those with whom they have developed a pre-existing bias. Socialists have always struggled to overcome this nationalistic sensibility, partially because of the gratification connected to such violence. Not surprisingly, to the extent that the people of another culture are different from the still predominately European, Christian one of the US, the use of violence against them is frequently considered an unavoidable necessity.

There are many examples: the near extermination of Native Americans, the continued support for the use of nuclear weapons upon the civilian populace of Japan to end World War II, the bombing of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, and, of course, more recently, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as part of a larger war on terror. During the 19th Century, European Americans believed that it was impossible for them to coexist with Native Americans on the North American continent unless Native Americans were violently suppressed and, thereafter, socially controlled, and such a perspective is central to the current approach to the peoples of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia, an approach that is an extension of prior European imperial practice. The US military made the connection explicit when it selected Geronimo as the code name for Bin Laden prior to the raid on his compound. Both constitute modernization projects based upon the principles of the Enlightenment, one in which the peoples of non-Eurocentric cultures must be forcibly incorporated into a neoliberal, nation state system that had its origins in, first, Western Europe, and then, in North America. Significantly, most people on the left supported this effort in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, and some still do, with people like Christopher Hitchens and Fred Halliday being prominent examples.

Of course, this is one of those binary oppositions that has little basis in social reality. The peoples of North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia are not monolithic, and they do not live in inferior, debased societies that evolved as a result of a separation from the peoples of other parts of the world, such as Africa, Europe, South Asia and East Asia. In other words, this effort is based upon a mythology of social superiority that has no basis in fact. There were, and remain, less violent, more collaborative alternatives of transformation, ones that the proponents of the purist Eurocentric imperialist vision cannot accept. But, beyond such an academized, abstract discussion, there is a more immediate, direct problem. Why is it that so many people that otherwise have no connection to it so strongly support this violent enterprise? An enterprise, that, if Libya is an indication, is now gaining more and more European participation? If there is any possibility for Osama Bin Laden to be embraced as a martyr, despite his heinous qualities, it resides in his symbolic opposition to American and European imperial domination. To the extent that this domination becomes even more remorseless, the greater the prospect that Bin Laden's perverse failings will become less and less prominent in future representations of him.

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