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

Monday, March 12, 2012

an Invisible Children guidebook 

UPDATE 2: So why are they making it seem like Uganda is one big hellhole because of Kony, because it's not.

UPDATE 1: This is the same narrative about Africa that we have seen for centuries.

Hat tip to Jews sans frontieres.

INITIAL POST: Blissfully, I live outside the universe of viral videos, so I only heard about the Invisible Children one about Joseph Kony and the Lords Resistance Army indirectly. I admit that I am late to the story, but I will share my responses: First, if Americans really care that much about gruesome, militaristic violence, they should confront the brutalities inflicted upon others around the world by their own government, instead of supporting a call for more US military assistance for a Uganda military known for its own human rights abuses.

Second, I thought, the more things change, the more they remain the same. Over the course of my life, Americans have flocked to claims that leaders of color are one of the primary sources of global violence. Mao, Castro, Arafat, Gaddafi, Noriega, Aidid, Hussein, Bin Laden, Ahmajinedad . . and, now, Kony. With the passage of time, succeeding figures have been described in more and more lurid terms that highlights their foreign, uniquely perverse character, paradoxically in contradictory ways, contrast, for example, the hedonism of Gaddafi, Noriega and Hussein with the puritanical extremism of Bin Laden and Ahmajinedad. If we could just get rid of these evil demons, the world would be such a wonderful place. The root of this phenonmenon go all the way back to the extermination of Native Americans by, first, the Spanish, and then, the US, with the whites of the time condemning the indigenous population for the interwoven existence of these seemingly oppositional attributes within their non-Christian cultures. As then, anyone who suggests that we should understand the circumstances that give rise to them and seek to address these conditions, instead of putting them on wanted posters, is frequently maligned as an apologist. Callum McCormick has aptly observed that any effort to comprehend the current situation in Uganda as anything more than a binary moral opposition is rejected as an unnecessary complication.

Predictably, one rarely encounters powerful white political figures presented in this way, consider, for example, Donald Rumsfeld, who, as Secretary of Defense, approved the use of harsh interrogation techniques against Guantanamo detainees, personally monitoring the torture of Mohammed al-Qahtani. People like Rumsfeld are able to escape such condemnation because their violence is displaced by modern communications technology and allegedly objective processes for developing information and making administrative decisions, much in the same way that CIA officers evaded responsibility for the mass killings and torture associated with the Phoenix Program and Operation Condor. In the end, the outward appearance of rationality associated with the modernist effort to transform societies still afflicted by the residue of primitivism exonerates them. If Kony had come from an elite Uganda family and attended Harvard or Oxford prior to returning to Uganda to impose austerity with the assistance of a repressive security apparatus, he would be praised in the US media as an exemplary example, regardless of the number of child victims.

Curiously, the Israelis, perceived in a Eurocentric way, also avoid such a characterization, despite a documented history of calculated state violence in Lebanon and the occupied territories. Of course, it is not the fault of Invisible Children that many Americans reflexively respond in this way, but it is, whether consciously or not, exploiting a fundamentally neoconservative, racist discourse that privileges the state sanctioned violence of the US and its allies over others. If the objective is to truly help the people of Uganda, then an approach different from the failed, purportedly humanitarian interventions of the last 25 years should be considered. Otherwise, the arrest and trial of Kony, as sought by Invisible Children, is likely to be noteworthy for giving someone an opportunity to take his place. It would also be conveniently consistent with the rules of the game, whereby violent political figures in opposition to US interests risk finding themselves being prosecuted in The Hague for crimes against humanity, while similarly situated US allies have received billions in assistance.

Hat tip to Lenin's Tomb.

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