Al-Kindi defined Philosophy as ‘the establishment of what is true and right’ and believed that the pursuit of philosophy was compatible with orthodox Islam.
The Iraq crisis and the general and hypocritical Western perception of Islam as the harbringer of terrorism made me think of Al-Kindi recently. Renowned as the first great philosopher of Arabic and Islamic origin in the world, his full name was Abu Yusuf Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Sabbah Al-Kindi, quite a mouthful, and he was the scion of a very illustrious family descended from the Royal Kindah Tribe of Southern Arabia. He was born in Kufah, Iraq, in 801.
Kufah, in the ninth century was an important and cosmopolitan city, famous as the second capital of the Caliphate after Medina, and Al-Kindi’s father just happened to be its governor – his grandfather too had once been the governor. His lineage as well as Kufah’s cultural importance made it possible for Al-Kindi to receive the best possible education available in that period. Afterwards he moved to Baghdad for further studies and here, as he had in Kufah, he soon proved his intellectual prowess.
Baghdad was then under the rule of Caliph al-Ma’mun, the son of the famous Haroun al-Rashid. Haroun al-Rashid haaad founded a research and educational institute called the ‘bayt al-hikma’ or the House of Wisdom. His son al-Ma’mun, who succeeded him in 813 after defeating his brother in an armed power struggle, proved to be an equally enlightened and capable ruler. Shifting his capital from Merv to Baghdad in 818, he became a patron of the House of Wisdom and had observatories set up which Arabic astronomers used to study and further explore the works of earlier researchers. Al-Ma’mun also collected rare and valuable Byzantine manuscripts and created a vast library that was second only to the famed ancient one in Alexandria. The House of Wisdom, under the Abbasid Dynasty, gained great renown as an intellectual centre where erudite scholars gathered to exchange and teach their ideas.
Hearing of Al-Kindi’s brilliance, al-Ma’mun summoned him to his court and, aside from appointing him as a tutor to his young son, also had him inducted into the House of Wisdom. Here, Al-Kindi found himself in some pretty exalted company. His colleagues included intellectuals like al-Khwarizm, and the three Banu Musa brothers. The main task of these people was to research and translate Greek scientific and philosophical manuscripts into Arabic. Al-Kindi, however, did not do the actual translation himself, but reworked and corrected the translations made by others and then, based on these, wrote his commentaries on the Greek works.
Al-Kindi was greatly influenced by the writings of Aristotle, Plato, Porphyry, and Proclus, and incorporated their ideas into his own philosophical work. He soon began to outshine his colleagues in his work. Unlike the Banu Musa brothers, who were mainly mathematicians, and Abu Ma’shan, whose sphere was astrology, Al-Kindi was a versatile genius with a wide knowledge of Philosophy, Logic, Geometry, Mathematics, Music, Art, Optics, Geography, Astronomy, Chemistry, Pharmacy, Logogriphs, Armaments, and Cooking. He wrote over 270 works on various subjects, out of which 22 were on Medical topics and 11 on Arithmethic.
According to Al-Kindi, Philosophy was ‘the establishment of what is true and right’. He believed that the pursuit of philosophy was compatible with orthodox Islam. He said – “We ought not to be embarrassed of appreciating the truth and of obtaining it wherever it comes from, even if it comes from races distant and nations different from us. Nothing should be dearer to the seeker of truth than the truth itself, and there is no deterioration of the truth, nor belittling either of one who speaks it or conveys it.”
Al-Kindi’s noteworthy philosophical works include:
1. ‘Risalah fi Huded al-Ashya’wa Rusumiha’ (On the Definition of Things and Their Descriptions) – This is about logic and Epistemology
2. ‘Fi al-falsafa al-ula’ (On First Philosophy)
3. ‘Fi al-hila li-daf’al-ahzan’ (On the Art of Averting Sorrow)
4. ‘Fi wahdaniyat Allah wa tunahiy jism al-alam’ (On the oneness of God and the Limitation of the Body of the World)
5. ‘Rasa’il al-Kindi al-falsafiya’ (Philosophical Treatises of Al-Kindi)
6. ‘Fi Kammiya Kutub Aristutalis wa ma yohtaju ilaihi fi tahsil al-falsafa’ (The Quantity of Aristotle’s Books and what is required for the acquisition of Philosophy)
Al-Kindi’s success unfortunately didn’t make him too popular with his colleagues and they began conniving against him. Under al-Ma’mun and his successor, al-Mu’tasim, Al-Kindi remained in favor. But his star began to descend under the next two orthodox Caliphs. He died in 873 in Baghdad.
By Sonal Panse
on February 26, 2007 on 10:50 pm
The Hobbesian Notion of
Human Behavior during
From Parameters, Winter 2006-07, pp. 4-13.
Scholars generally reference Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan for theories in international politics. Specifically, scholars subscribe to the concept of international anarchy and the pursuit of survival to explain state behavior. Since Hobbes lived through the English Civil War (1642-1651), his observations arguably could be a reflection of insurgency warfare rather than interstate conflict.1 In fact, the relevant passages in Leviathan to which this article refers connote a concern with domestic conflict vice external threats. With this frame of reference, this article will focus on the effect of insurgency on human behavior.
According to Hobbes, “fear of violent death and desirous peace” are the compelling reasons man forms a society.2 In making this a priori argument, Hobbes advances the idea that individual self-preservation is the primary motivating factor behind the formation of society and not, as Aristotle contends, because man by nature is a social animal. This motivational factor also has tremendous implications for individuals suffering through an insurgency. If the population is the centerpiece of any insurgency and counterinsurgency struggle, as prominent scholars on insurgency contend, then Hobbes’s insights are crucial to understanding how individuals caught up in an insurgency behave. This article will address the following questions:
Why do subsequent generations accept the covenant rather than returning to the state of nature?
Why do some individuals reject the covenant?
How do insurgencies take root?
What are the cascading effects when the covenant is broken?
Why do citizens fail to assist the government upon liberation from the insurgents?
The answers to these questions will help explain why Hobbes’s notion of self-preservation compels the general population to remain noncommittal to either side during an insurgency. Naturally, human behavior is not the only variable in an insurgency, but it is an important variable; and it is one often underappreciated by governments conducting a counterinsurgency.
The General Acceptance of the Covenant
by Subsequent Generations
Hobbes argues that the social contract promises to protect the individual from the threat of oppression, death, and injury prevalent in the state of nature. Released from the need for constant vigilance against threats, the individual can pursue private interests and happiness that benefit him and society.3 Hobbes’s analytical framework for the formation of society is logical, but it does not address why subsequent generations accept the covenant. Born into an established society, the individual makes no conscious decision to renew the social contract. Never having experienced political anarchy, he might even take security for granted. As the individual matures to adulthood, one could say his behavior is derived more from social norms than a conscious rational choice. Because security under a common power is nonexclusive, everyone enjoys the collective good automatically whether cognizant of its benefits or not. It could be argued that the individual becomes so accustomed to the order brought by the common power that he does nothing when rebel activity begins, expecting the government will resolve the matter.
When Hobbes speaks of acceptance, he is alluding to the majority of the population. The essential tendency of the citizenry is to accept some re-
strictions on liberty in exchange for the benefits. Nonetheless, Hobbes makes the case for a common power precisely because not all citizens will accept the covenant, and these individuals represent the greatest danger to society.
The Rejection of the Covenant by the Few
Hobbes recognizes that a small sector of society will never be satisfied under a sovereignty in which they are not in charge. Hobbes contends that the pursuit of power is part of human nature, a second aspect of self-interest: “I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.”4 The pursuit of power would seem incompatible with his central premise of self-preservation since it often entails great risks and peril for the instigator.
Hobbes qualifies his statement, however, by explaining that only a distinctive group of individuals embarks on gaining power through sedition: “Needy men, and hardy, not contented with their present condition, as also all men that are ambitious of military command, are inclined to continue the causes of war, and to stir up trouble and sedition; for there is no honour military but by war, nor any such hope to mend an ill game as by causing a new shuffle.”5 These conspirators are more inclined to gaining power and influence through armed conflict rather than working through the political process. “And in sedition,” Hobbes stresses, “men being always in the precincts of battle, to hold together and use all advantages of force is a better stratagem than any that can proceed from subtlety and wit.”6 Although Hobbes does not state it, one can assume these rebels possess the organizational skills and experience to conduct a protracted insurgency.
How Insurgencies Take Root
If seditious conspirators are always waiting in the wings, does citizen discontent with the government present them with an opportunity to start an insurgency? Contrary to Hobbes’s contention that citizens should remain satisfied with the benefits of established peace under a common power, the historical record of insurrections and uprisings prior to Hobbes’s time suggests
a different conclusion.7 Even in Hobbes’s civilized England, government corruption, inequitable socioeconomic and political programs, as well as perceived injustices were likely to lead to grievances, which conspirators could exploit. Hobbes’s Leviathan actually neutralizes this threat by placing a higher premium on order rather than on perceived injustices. Uprisings may erupt, but society would expect the government to respond with exigent force to establish order once again. Hobbes submits that the common power possesses the requisite force to keep all men in “awe,” and that this power is justified: “Covenants without the sword are but words, and of no strength to secure a man at all.”8 Having made a covenant with the government, the individual expects the government to respond to lawlessness quickly and effectively.
For an insurgency to take root, extraordinary circumstances must exist for the government to lose its authority over some or all of its sovereign territory. Either the state is collapsing or has already collapsed. Collapse could result from a defeat in a war, especially if the loss leads to the fall of the government. In this case, the government is in such disarray that it lacks the capability to respond to challenges to its authority. The fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime is not the only illustration of an insurgency erupting as a result of a war and regime change. Weimar Germany and post-Tsarist Russia were beset by revolutions and civil wars following World War I. The American War Between the States (1861-1865) escalated rapidly into a full-fledged civil war because the federal government lacked sufficient forces to quell the rebellion. Equally unhelpful was the fact that many professional officers betrayed the Union by joining the Confederacy.9 The anti-colonial insurgencies in the Cold War era are less an illustration of grievances against imperialism, albeit that was certainly a motivation; rather, they erupted because the colonial powers were weakened by World War II and the insurgents saw an opportunity to seize power. Lastly, Afghanistan suffered from two decades of various insurgencies following the Soviet invasion in December 1979. Naturally, there are cases in which the government totally alienates its base, such as occurred under Somoza in Nicaragua and Batista in Cuba, but even here, the implosion of the government represented a loss of authority. Hence, the cabal of conspirators cannot hope to initiate an insurgency until the authority of the government has diminished over a portion of territory.
One wonders how a small group of rebels can hope to turn the insurgency into a popular uprising. As Hobbes points out, it cannot, but it can give the illusion of one, and this illusion has a profound influence on the individual’s perception of government impotence. From the beginning, the cabal attempts to portray the insurgency as a mass movement by committing as many attacks as possible. “Men cannot distinguish, without study and great understanding, between the action of many men and many actions of one multi-
tude,” says Hobbes; “and therefore [they] are disposed to take for the action of the people that which is a multitude of actions done by a multitude of men, led perhaps by the persuasion of one.”10 This observation contains two implications once insurgents have seized control of an area: first, the majority of the citizenry will remain as spectators, trying to ascertain who is winning the conflict; second, and conversely, the insurgents will use force against a portion of the population as a means to control the whole. Under these circumstances, the insurgents initially appear omnipresent and omnipotent, while the government seems to have disappeared.11
The Effect the Breach of the Covenant has on Citizen Behavior
The government’s loss of authority, even if temporary, has profound effects on the citizens’ psyche. Whether the citizen recognizes it or not, the loss of authority represents a breach of the covenant. In making his argument for the establishment of the Leviathan, Hobbes provides insights on human behavior in the state of nature. Logically, this behavior would emerge again in the absence of the covenant. Paradoxically, this breach of the covenant may become the insurgent’s most powerful weapon during the course of the conflict, as this article will explore more fully.
It would appear by their actions that insurgents have an intuitive understanding of human behavior in peril. Thrusting the local population into the state of nature is effectively achieved by eliminating the vestiges of government authority. As insurgents are not initially powerful enough to seize power outright, they often resort to terrorist acts to eliminate local authorities (political figures, policemen, teachers, and key bureaucrats). Terrorism effectively intimidates the vast majority into passivity. Some extraordinary citizens will emerge to resist the insurgents, but the insurgents, better organized and postured to react, will neutralize them. It is important to note that terrorist acts, such as assassination, murder, intimidation, and kidnappings, have the correlative effect of controlling the local inhabitants. Within a short time, the individual discovers his life and property are no longer safeguarded. He is placed in the state of nature, which, according to Hobbes, is a state of war.12 But what is this state of nature, exactly?
According to Hobbes, in nature all men are equal. Any physical advantages possessed can be offset by intrigues or alliances with others. Intellectual advantages are actually vain illusions. Experience becomes the essential element, which all men acquire over time. Hobbes asserts that conflict arises whenever men desire the same object (e.g., property) and cannot share it. They become enemies, and in the pursuit of this objective they will endeavor to subdue or kill the other. The matter is never settled, because other
challengers will continually vie for the object as well. Under these conditions, man’s position is never secure. He must continually remain vigilant to threats from every quarter.13
Hobbes believes that the state of nature is a state of war because no common power exists to keep man’s tendency for conflict in check. Hobbes makes the point that battles and actual fighting do not define war; rather, it is the environment of insecurity in which “every man is enemy to every man.” Under these conditions, all normal activities of commerce, social and cultural progress, and the pursuits of the arts and sciences cease. Stability is replaced by “continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”14 The system of law and order no longer has any meaning. “Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are none of the faculties neither of the body, nor mind.”15 In short, traditional norms and institutions no longer have their predictive influence on citizen behavior.
In accordance with Hobbes’s state of nature, a remarkable dynamic takes place in insurgent-controlled areas. The former citizen is isolated physically and psychologically with no hope of finding succor from the central government; observing the fate of earlier government loyalists and believing the insurgency to be so pervasive, he trusts no one, especially in terms of organizing resistance. He may view the insurgents with hostility, but as long as they control the area, he must comply. The individual and his family must also live. They require sustenance and a livelihood. This overarching need makes him susceptible to anyone who will ameliorate his predicament. Once all government bonds are broken, the insurgents fill the vacuum quickly to administer the local population. That the insurgents forcibly establish a covenant with the population becomes irrelevant. It is important to note that once the insurgents have gained control of the population, the continued use of terrorism ceases, because it might drive the population into desperate resistance rather than resigned compliance.16
Government Misperceptions of Citizen Loyalty
Governments experiencing an insurgency often erroneously conclude that the citizens will resist the insurgents because the latter are evil. Without taking the individual’s drive for self-preservation into consideration, the government also assumes its citizens have choices regarding their loyalty. Whether the individual considers the insurgency evil or not is immaterial, because he is not in a position to refuse the new common power. Hobbes reasons that the individual is caught in a war in which “nothing can be unjust. The no-
tions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have there no place.”17 For Hobbes’s citizen, a common power, even if harsh, is better than the state of nature. The primary goal of self preservation compels individuals to accept the new conditions.
The real tragedy for the individual is that the ensuing power struggle between insurgents and counterinsurgents will involve him intimately. The counterinsurgency begins once the established government takes countermeasures, usually and predominantly through military force. The individual is once again caught in the middle, thrust into the state of war, and embroiled in the worst of all situations.
After experiencing generations of citizen allegiance to its rule, the government might make the mistake of assuming loyal citizens will resist the insurgents or at least assist the counterinsurgency. However, the citizen’s options are limited. As previously mentioned, the citizen could assist the local government in combating the insurgents once the threat is recognized. This action is not very effective against insurgents that have formed an extensive political network over many months or even years. The historical experience suggests that insurgents will have an ensconced network of cells throughout the area before initiating hostilities. Since many of the insurgents are native to the area, the insurgents enjoy immediate and accurate intelligence. In turn, insurgents will likely learn of the citizen’s assistance to the government and target him or his family quickly. One can assume that the insurgents will announce their acts of retribution to serve as a warning for the rest. Obviously, fear is not the only incentive for cooperation. Ideological indoctrination will create a loyal base of adherents, as Mao patiently instructed, but for the rest, intimidation is critical.18
The citizen also can flee his home and become a refugee. This seems an illogical option for anyone not directly targeted or expelled by the insurgents, because the citizen thus thrusts himself into the state of nature. As a refugee, the citizen becomes a direct burden to the state, which must provide emergency necessities. Overburdened by the need to fight a counterinsurgency and care for refugees, the state must establish temporary refugee camps administered with insufficient resources. Unless the camp is very well administered, life there can resemble the state of nature. Additionally, families
are wont to abandon their homes to looters and vandals. Hence, most are likely to remain in their familiar, established community.
The citizen also can join the government counterinsurgency forces in the hope of liberating his community eventually. Only a minority can choose this option, however, in view of the age and physical fitness requirements. The prospective citizen-soldier would naturally worry about the fate of his family as well. The probability that the insurgents would punish the family members of soldiers would likely prove a powerful disincentive against joining the government military forces. The young males will thus either go into hiding, try to keep a low profile, or become impressed into service with the insurgents. As a result, the community will comprise women, children, and old men.
Another option is that the citizen can join the insurgency. A few volunteers are likely to exercise this option out of a sense of adventure, ideology, or grievances against the government. This is a dangerous option, because the citizen has committed himself to the insurgency. If the insurgency fails, his life may be forfeited. Even if the government offers amnesty, the stigma of treachery would likely remain on him and his family. But given the individual’s overriding goal of self-preservation, he may provide some assistance to the insurgents in the hope of placating them. He can expect no quarter from the insurgents for aiding the government, but he can at least hope for leniency from the government should it succeed. If impressed into service by the insurgents, he can at least use that as an excuse if captured. Under these difficult conditions, the option of limited assistance to the insurgency provides his best chance of survival.
The most likely option for the majority is to remain neutral and wait to see which side wins the struggle. Neither the insurgents nor the government authorities will be satisfied with this stance and will attempt to draw the citizen to their side. Insurgency recruitment patterns suggest a process of drawing the citizen into the conspiracy by requesting assistance (e.g., providing aid to a wounded insurgent), demanding menial tasks (hiding munitions, delivering explosives, or providing intelligence), and using force or threats to gain the active support of the citizen. By drawing him into the conspiracy, the insurgents turn the citizen into an outlaw, subject to punishment by the government. Counterinsurgency forces sweeping through the area are likely to view all local citizens with suspicion, especially if they are of fighting age. The counterinsurgency forces will expect citizen loyalty and demand intelligence related to insurgent forces. Unless the counterinsurgency forces establish a strong, permanent presence in the area (unlikely in view of limited military resources), the citizens are likely to offer minimal assistance, knowing the insurgents will return once the counterinsurgency forces move on. It does not take too many cases of insurgent retribution against “traitors” to instill in the population the belief that impartiality is the safest course for self-preservation.
The counterinsurgency government will likely experience extreme difficulties regaining the allegiance of the individual once he has come under the power of the insurgency. The government likely takes it for granted that the affected population will willingly proclaim its loyalty and assist the government in destroying the insurgents. Generally, this does not happen, and the breach of Hobbes’s covenant may provide a powerful explanation for this passivity. If the government’s primary responsibility of security is so easily forfeited to a group of insurgents, why should it expect loyalty from its citizens? The government has betrayed its citizens by failing to fulfill its obligations under the covenant. It should be no surprise that once government forces reestablish control of a former insurgent enclave, the individual might not display any gratitude.
Another facet of the interaction between the individual and the government concerns the use of force. The government has the power to regulate the amount of force to retake an insurgent-controlled area. When it uses force indiscriminately, resulting in high civilian casualties and property damage, it represents a double betrayal. The first betrayal is not providing adequate force to stop the insurgents from taking control. The second betrayal is not valuing the life and property of the individual sufficiently to use minimum force when retaking an insurgent enclave. The individual can reason that insurgents resort to terrorist acts because they lack the means to fight the government forces conventionally. When the government displays seemingly wanton disregard for the individual’s safety, what good is the covenant? It is no small wonder that insurgent recruitment increases in the aftermath of major counterinsurgency operations that result in significant noncombatant casualties and damage. It is only logical that some individuals will join the insurgent cause because of this betrayal in the belief that the insurgents will create a better society. Thus, rather than being greeted with cheers and gratitude, the government forces may often experience sullen stares and even hostility among the liberated population.
Often the government compounds its earlier errors by not fully appreciating the role self-preservation plays among the citizenry. If the provision of security is the central tenant of the covenant, then anything short of that is a waste of government energy and resources. The concept of winning hearts and minds without first providing security thus rings hollow. If the struggle was simply over gaining the affections of the populace by providing reconstruction projects, health services, humanitarian relief, and so forth, insurgencies would quickly collapse. The citizens may appreciate the influx of aid, but it does not solve their plight. Hobbes clearly states that the individual initially seeks membership in the society for security. Once that need is met, then he is able to pursue other interests and pleasures for a more complete and happier life. Hence,
winning hearts and minds begins with providing security, and once that need is met unequivocally, then the other initiatives can begin.
In conclusion, gaining control over the population is the centerpiece of both the insurgency and the counterinsurgency. Hobbes suggests that the primary bond which holds society together is the promise of security. Once this is broken, the individual is thrust into a state of nature, which is mitigated only by the establishment of a common power. The struggle between the insurgency and counterinsurgency thus revolves around which side can provide uncontested security. A discussion on counterinsurgency strategy and tactics in attainment of that end is beyond the scope of this article. However, by focusing on individual’s plight and motivation for self preservation, the government can produce a framework strategy. It is remarkable that Hobbes’s behavioral variable has such profound implications for an insurgency, and yet is so often ignored by governments when conducting a counterinsurgency. In this sense, Hobbes remains relevant to the study and resolution of modern insurgencies and not just as realist theory.
1. A civil war is the last stage of an insurgency, in which the insurgents are strong enough to challenge government forces in conventional combat. In the initial stages of an insurgency, the rebels will conduct guerrilla warfare because they are too weak for a direct confrontation. For an insurgency to be characterized as a civil war, the rebels require secured territory and a trained fighting force.
2. John H. Hallowell and Jene M. Porter, Political Philosophy: The Search for Humanity and Order (Ontario: Prentice Hall Canada, 1997), p. 312; “The passions that incline men to peace are fear of death, desire of such things as are necessary to commodious living, and a hope by their industry to obtain them.” Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, ed. Edwin Curley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1994), p. 78.
3. Hobbes, pp. 58-59.
4. Ibid., p. 58.
6. Ibid., p. 59.
7. Ibid., pp. 109-13.
8. Ibid., pp. 76, 106.
9. Two hundred ninety-six graduates of the US Military Academy joined the Confederate forces; 800 remained loyal to the Union. Bugle Notes (West Point, N.Y.: US Military Academy, 1978), p. 260.
10. Hobbes, p. 61.
11. Roger Trinquier embraced Hobbes’s insight regarding the control of the population: “The sine qua non of victory in modern warfare is the unconditional support of a population. . . . If it [popular support] does not exist, it must be secured by every possible means, the most effective of which is terrorism.” Roger Trinquier, Modern Warfare, trans. by Daniel Lee (New York: Praeger, 1964), p. 8.
12. Hallowell and Porter, p. 311.
13. Hobbes seems to make an overstatement regarding experience, since not all gain from experience equally. Hobbes, pp. 74-75.
14. Ibid., p. 76.
15. Ibid., p. 78.
16. David Galula is one of the few modern writers on insurgency who recognizes the motivation of self-preservation among the population in counterinsurgency. David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (New York: Praeger, 1964), p. 60.
Lieutenant Colonel Raymond A. Millen is the Political Military Cell Chief in Combined Forces Command-Afghanistan until August 2007, where upon he will return to his assignment as the Director of European Security Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute, in Carlisle, Pa. He previously served in Kabul from July through November 2003 on the staff of the Office of Military Cooperation-Afghanistan. He has published articles in several scholarly and professional journals and is the author of Command Legacy (Brasseys, 2002). Lieutenant Colonel Millen is a graduate of the US Military Academy and the US Army Command and General Staff College, holds M.A. degrees in national security studies from Georgetown University and in politics from Catholic University of America, and he has completed the coursework for his Ph.D. in world politics at Catholic University of America.
on February 26, 2007 on 11:07 pm
The Public Threat to Private Power
‘The single greatest threat to the multilateral trade system is the absence of public support.’ Thus spoke Charlene Barshefsky, Clinton’s U.S. trade representative, in the run-up to the 1999 WTO summit in Seattle. Elite state-corporate interests sweet-talk, bludgeon or simply circumvent the public to get their way. The general public are to be regarded as ‘ignorant and meddlesome outsiders’ and mere ‘spectators of action’, explained Walter Lippman, the early twentieth century propaganda guru.
Private power would like to keep it that way. The ‘growing manifestation of “people power” in the raw is definitely not good news for business’, warned Sir Iain Vallance in his presidential address to the Confederation of British Industry’s annual dinner in 2001, ‘particularly if national politicians hesitate in the face of threats or, just as bad, over-react to them.’ Vallance went on, ‘We need to promote the undoubted benefits we bring, if only because much of the outside world is highly sceptical that they exist at all.’ Vallance’s final point, at least, is correct.
Even in the U.S., supposedly the bastion of ‘free’ market capitalism, a Business Week/Harris poll in the run up to Seattle revealed a healthy dose of scepticism towards the incessant propaganda declaring that an accelerated global economy would benefit us all. As campaigner Mark Weisbrot noted, ‘the American people are a lot closer to the views of the protesters than to the intellectuals who sneer at them from the op-ed pages.’ When asked to describe their position on trade, only ten per cent chose ‘free trader’. Fifty per cent chose ‘fair trader’ and thirty-seven per cent chose ‘protectionist’ – a term that is as vilified in mainstream opinion as ‘communist’.
But despite such public resistance to economic globalisation, the recent WTO ministerial meeting in Doha marked another triumph for ‘the quad’ – the US, EU, Canada and Japan – and their corporate sponsors. Overruling concerns expressed by both developing countries and the civil sector, a new round of liberalisation in trade and services was ‘agreed’ in the Gulf state of Qatar.
The new tool of corporate enclosure is the General Agreement in Trade and Services (GATS): originally agreed at the WTO in 1994. The aim is to remove any restrictions and government regulations in the area of service delivery that are considered to be ‘barriers to trade’. ‘Legitimate’ services for privatisation include schools, hospitals, rubbish collection and even water. As usual, private corporations based in the rich North have been in the driving seat, with governments clearing the road ahead.
Just how far the British government is prepared to go to help its business friends is revealed by leaked minutes of meetings between government officials and corporate representatives. The minutes, uncovered by the Amsterdam-based Corporate Europe Observatory in November last year, record meetings of the Liberalisation of Trade in Services (LOTIS) committee and the High-Level LOTIS Group, both set up by an influential trade organisation called International Financial Services, London (IFSL).
The LOTIS working groups include senior civil servants from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and HM Treasury together with representatives from Goldman-Sachs, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Morgan Stanley, as well as other organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry, Lloyds of London and, tellingly, Reuters, the news organisation. When the issue of countering the anti-GATS campaign was raised at a working group meeting on 22 February 2001, the minutes record that Henry Manisty of Reuters ‘wondered how business views could best be communicated to the media. In that respect, his company would be most willing to give them publicity.’
The media industries, of course, are big business conglomerates driven by the short-term profit imperatives of advertisers and wealthy owners, and maintained by a well-regimented army of establishment journalists, commentators, editors and publishers, with a few decent exceptions. It is therefore no surprise that there should be an overwhelming convergence of private interests between the corporate media and the business world generally. It would be astonishing if it were otherwise. (By the way, pointing out this simple truth to mainstream commentators invariably meets with silence or patronising dismissal as the ravings of a conspiracy junkie.)
The London-based World Development Movement (WDM) has been a major player in the anti-GATS campaign. LOTIS minutes reveal that the WDM and, more widely, the rising public consciousness of corporate plunder, is taken as a serious threat by the government-business nexus: ‘Matthew Goodman [Goldman Sachs International] asked why sectors like health, education, water and energy were being singled out [by anti-GATS campaigners]. Elaine Drage [DTI] said that it was because they were seen as basic services which people had a right to receive from their governments. The WDM had, usefully for them, been able to point to some examples in the developing world where consumers had been given a bad deal as a result of privatisation. She said that we would be right to take this campaign very seriously. The Chairman [Christopher Roberts] asked whether the WDM was open to persuasion. Elaine Drage was doubtful.’
Matthew Lownds from the Foreign Office ‘noted that the [anti-GATS] campaign by the World Development Movement in particular was leading to a broadening of concerns… He also pointed to the need to coordinate business responses to the NGO’s allegations’. Malcom McKinnon ( DTI) complained that the business case is vulnerable to pressure groups asking ‘for proof where the benefits of liberalisation lay’. Peter Maydon (HM Treasury) then undertook to circulate recent work about the supposed benefits of liberalisation and, moreover, suggested that ‘developing countries should be encouraged to refute the arguments put forward by the NGOs’. The committee decided to spend up to £70,000 to ‘counter the NGOs.’
Such government collusion in promoting the business case for GATS and undermining NGO campaigns is par for the course (see George Monbiot’s ‘Captive State’ and my own ‘Private Planet’). Some comfort should, however, be taken from the evident threat that public awareness represents to elite shaping of policy, an echo of the spectacular public success in derailing the infamous Multilateral Agreement on Investment in 1998 (elements of which have sprung up again in GATS). (For more info on the uncovered minutes of the two LOTIS working groups, see http://www.gatswatch.org/LOTIS/LOTIS.html).
After Doha, attention is now shifting to Johannesburg where the third major UN Conference on the Environment and Development (the ‘Earth Summit’) will be held in September this year. It is ten years since the original Rio Earth Summit, a corporate-dominated jamboree whose effect, notes writer Michael Goldman, ‘has not been to stop destructive practices but to normalize and further institutionalize them, putting commoners throughout the world at even greater risk’. In 1997, ‘Rio+5’ was held in New York where Tony Blair was seen ‘commanding the international stage’, according to The Independent, with no trace of irony.
In the run-up to Rio+10, corporate business is ready to ensure that, once again, its interests will dominate proceedings. The International Chamber of Commerce and the greenwashing World Business Council on Sustainable Development have joined forces to create the Business Action for Sustainable Development (BASD). BASD was launched at a UN session on sustainable development in April 2001 by Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, recently retired as Shell chairman. ‘Business’, we are told, ‘is a part of the solution to sustainable development.’ In reality, BASD is a reheated mixture of the usual suspects: Shell, Cargill, Dow Chemical, Monsanto, RTZ, Unilever, Nestle and others.
As the Oxford-based activist group Corporate Watch warn, expect the BASD to deploy the ‘usual extortion tactics against government and the UN process’ at Rio+10.
We all know about the perils of Islamic fanaticism. But, says Robert Fisk, the biggest threat to liberty in the US may come from other kinds of fundamentalism: Jewish and Christian.
Inside the First Congregational Church of Berkeley, the Californian audience had been struck silent. Dennis Bernstein, the Jewish host of KPFA Radio’s Flashpoint current affairs programme, was reading some recent e-mails that he had received from Israel’s supporters in America. Each one left the people in the church — Muslims, Jews, Christians — in a state of shock. “You mother-fucking-asshole-self-hating Jewish piece of shit. Hitler killed the wrong Jews. He should have killed your parents, so a piece of Jewish shit like you would not have been born. God willing, Arab terrorists will cut you to pieces Daniel Pearl-style, AMEN!!!”
Bernstein’s sin was to have covered the story of Israel’s invasion of Jenin in April and to have interviewed journalists who investigated the killings that took place there — including Phil Reeves and Justin Huggler of The Independent — for his Flashpoint programme. Bernstein’s grandfather was a revered Orthodox Rabbi of international prominence but neither his family history nor his origins spared him. “Read this and weep, you mother-fucker self-hating Jew boy!!!” another e-mail told Bernstein. “God willing a Palestinian will murder you, rape your wife and slash your kids’ throats.” Yet another: “I hope that you, Barbara Lubin and all other Jewish Marxist Communist traitors anti-American cop haters will die a violent and cruel death just like the victims of suicide bombers in Israel.” Lubin is also Jewish, the executive director of the Middle East Children’s Alliance, a one-time committed Zionist but now one of Israel’s fiercest critics. Her e-mails are even worse.
Indeed, you have to come to America to realise just how brave this small but vocal Jewish community is. Bernstein is the first to acknowledge that a combination of Israeli lobbyists and conservative Christian fundamentalists have in effect censored all free discussion of Israel and the Middle East out of the public domain in the US. “Everyone else is terrified,” Bernstein says. “The only ones who begin to open their mouths are the Jews in this country. You know, as a kid, I sent money to plant trees in Israel. But now we are horrified by a government representing a country that we grew up loving and cherishing. Israel’s defenders have a special vengeance for Jews who don’t fall in line behind Sharon’s scorched-earth policy because they give the lie to the charge that Israel’s critics are simply anti-Semite.”
Adam Shapiro is among those who have paid a price for their beliefs. He is a Jew engaged to an American-born Palestinian, a volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement who was trapped in Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in the spring while administering medical aid. After telling CNN that the Sharon government was acting like “terrorists” while receiving $3bn a year in US military aid, Shapiro and his family were savaged in the New York Post. The paper slandered Shapiro as the “Jewish Taliban” and demeaned his family as “traitors”. Israeli supporters publicised his family’s address and his parents were forced to flee their Brooklyn home and seek police protection. Shapiro’s father, a New York public high-school teacher and a part-time Yeshiva (Jewish day school) teacher, was fired from his job. His brother receives regular death threats.
Israel’s supporters have no qualms about their alliance with the Christian right. Indeed, the fundamentalists can campaign on their own in Israel’s favour, as I discovered for myself at Stanford recently when I was about to give a lecture on the media and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, part of a series of talks arranged largely by Jewish Americans. A right-wing Christian “Free Republic” outfit posted my name on its website, and described me as a “PLO butt-kisser” and asked its supporters to “freep” my lecture. A few demonstrators turned up outside the First United Methodist Church in Sacramento where I was to speak, waving American and Israeli flags. “Jew haters!” they screamed at the organisers, a dark irony since these were non-Jews shrieking their abuse at Jews.
They were also handing out crudely printed flyers. “Nothing to worry about, Bob,” one of my Jewish hosts remarked. “They can’t even spell your name right.” True. But also false. “Stop the Lies!” the leaflet read. “There was no massacre in Jenin. Fiske [sic] is paid big bucks to spin [lie] for the Arabs…” But the real lie was in that last sentence. I never take any payment for lectures — so that no one can ever claim that I’m paid to give the views of others. But the truth didn’t matter to these people. Nor did the content of my talk — which began, by chance, with the words “There was no massacre” — in which I described Arafat as a “corrupt, vain little despot” and suicide bombings as “a fearful, evil weapon”. None of this was relevant. The aim was to shut me up.
Dennis Bernstein sums it up quite simply: “Any US journalist, columnist, editor, college professor, student-activist, public official or clergy member who dares to speak critically of Israel or accurately report the brutalities of its illegal occupation will be vilified as an anti-Semite.”
In fact, no sooner had Bernstein made these remarks than pro-Israeli groups initiated an extraordinary campaign against some of the most pro-Israeli newspapers in America, all claiming that The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle were biased in their coverage of the Middle-East conflict. Just how The New York Times — which boasts William Safire and Charles Krauthammer, those giants of pro-Israeli bias, among its writers — could be anti-Israeli is difficult to see, although it is just possible that, amid its reports on Israel’s destruction in the West Bank and Gaza, some mildly critical comments found their way into print. The New York Times, for example, did report that Israeli soldiers used civilians as human shields — though only in the very last paragraph of a dispatch from Jenin.
None the less, the campaign of boycotts and e-mails got under way. More than 1,000 readers suspended their subscriptions to the Los Angeles Times, while a blizzard of e-mails told pro-Israeli readers to cancel their subscription to The New York Times for a day. On the East Coast, at least one local radio station has lost $1m from a Jewish philanthropist while other stations attempting to cover the Middle East with some degree of fairness are said to have lost even more. When the San Francisco Chronicle published a four-page guide to the conflict, its editors had to meet a 14-member delegation of local Jewish groups to discuss their grievances.
According to Michael Futterman, who chairs the Middle East strategy committee of 80 Bay Area synagogues, Jewish anger hit “boiling point” when the Chronicle failed to cover a pro-Israeli rally in San Francisco. Needless to say, the Chronicle’s “Readers’ Representative”, Dick Rogers, published a grovelling, self-flagellating apology. “The paper didn’t have a word on the pro-Israel rally,” he wrote. “This wasn’t fair and balanced coverage.” Another objection came from a Jewish reader who objected to the word “terror” being placed within inverted commas in a Chronicle headline that read “Sharon says ‘terror’ justifies assault”. The reader’s point? The Chronicle’s reporting “harmonises well with Palestinian propaganda, which tries to divert attention from the terrorist campaign against Israel (which enjoys almost unanimous support among Palestinians, all the way from Yasser Arafat to the 10-year-old who dreams of blowing himself up one day) and instead describes Israel’s military moves as groundless, evil bullying tactics.”
And so it goes on. On a radio show with me in Berkeley, the Chronicle’s foreign editor, Andrew Ross, tried to laugh off the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby — “the famous lobby”, he called it with that deference that is half way between acknowledgement and fear — but the Israeli Consul General Yossi Amrani had no hesitation in campaigning against the Chronicle, describing a paper largely docile in its reporting of the Middle East as “a professionally and politically biased, pro-Palestinian newspaper”.
The Chronicle’s four-page pull-out on the Middle East was, in fact, a soft sell. Its headline — “The Current Strife Between The Israelis And The Palestinians Is A Battle For Control Of Land” — missed the obvious point: that one of the two groups that were “battling for control of the land” — the Palestinians — had been occupied by Israel for 35 years.
The most astonishing — and least covered — story is in fact the alliance of Israeli lobbyists and Christian Zionist fundamentalists, a coalition that began in 1978 with the publication of a Likud plan to encourage fundamentalist churches to give their support to Israel. By 1980, there was an “International Christian Embassy” in Jerusalem; and in 1985, a Christian Zionist lobby emerged at a “National Prayer Breakfast for Israel” whose principal speaker was Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to become Israeli prime minister. “A sense of history, poetry and morality imbued the Christian Zionists who, more than a century ago, began to write, plan and organise for Israel’s restoration,” Netanyahu told his audience. The so-called National Unity Coalition for Israel became a lobbying arm of Christian Zionism with contacts in Congress and neo-conservative think-tanks in Washington.
In May this year, the Israeli embassy in Washington, no less, arranged a prayer breakfast for Christian Zionists. Present were Alonzo Short, a member of the board of “Promise Keepers”, and Michael Little who is president of the “Christian Broadcasting Network”. Event hosts were listed as including those dour old Christian conservatives Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, who once financed a rogue television station in southern Lebanon which threatened Muslim villagers and broadcast tirades by Major Saad Haddad, Israel’s stooge militia leader in Lebanon. In Tennessee, Jewish officials invited hundreds of Christians to join Jewish crowds at a pro-Israel solidarity rally in Memphis.
On the face of it, this coalition seems natural. The Jewish Anti-Defamation League felt able to run an ad that included an article by a former Christian coalition executive director Ralph Reed, headlined “We People of Faith Stand Firmly With Israel”. Christians, Reed claimed, supported Israel because of “their humanitarian impulse to help and protect Jews, a shared strategic interest in democracy in the Middle East and a spiritual connection to Israel”.
But, of course, a fundamental problem — fundamental in every sense of the word — lies behind this strange partnership. As Uri Avnery, the leader of Gush Shalom, the most courageous Israeli peace group, pointed out in a typically ferocious essay last month, there is a darker side to the alliance. “According to its [Christian Zionist] theological beliefs, the Jews must congregate in Palestine and establish a Jewish state on all its territory” — an idea that would obviously appeal to Ariel Sharon — “so as to make the Second Coming of Jesus Christ possible.” But here comes the bad bit. As Avnery says, “the evangelists don’t like to dwell openly on what comes next: before the coming [of the Messiah], the Jews must convert to Christianity. Those who don’t will perish in a gigantic holocaust in the battle of Armageddon. This is basically an anti-Semitic teaching, but who cares, so long as they support Israel?”
The power of the Israeli lobby in the United States is debated far more freely in the Israeli press than in American newspapers or on US tele- vision. There is, of course, a fine and dangerous line between justified investigation — and condemnation — of the lobby’s power, and the racist Arab claim that a small cabal of Zionists run the world. Those in America who share the latter view include a deeply unpleasant organisation just along the coast from San Francisco at Newport Beach known as the “Institute for Historical Research”. These are the Holocaust deniers whose annual conference last month included a lecture on “death sentences imposed by German authorities against German soldiers… for killing or even mistreating Jews”. Too much of this and you’d have to join the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — AIPAC — to restore your sanity. But the Israeli lobby is powerful. In fact, its influence over the US Congress and Senate calls into question the degree to which the American legislature has been corrupted by lobby groups. It is to an Israeli voice — Avnery again — that Americans have to turn to hear just how mighty the lobby has become. “Its electoral and financial power casts a long shadow over both houses of the Congress,” Avnery writes. “Hundreds of Senators and Congressmen were elected with the help of Jewish contributions. Resistance to the directives of the Jewish lobby is political suicide. If the AIPAC were to table a resolution abolishing the Ten Commandments, 80 Senators and 300 Congressmen would sign it at once. This lobby frightens the media, too, and assures their adherence to Israel.”
Avnery could have looked no further than the Democratic primary in Alabama last month for proof of his assertion. Earl Hilliard, the five-term incumbent, had committed the one mortal sin of any American politician: he had expressed sympathy for the cause of the Palestinians. He had also visited Libya several years ago. Hilliard’s opponent, Artur Davis, turned into an outspoken supporter of Israel and raised large amounts of money from the Jewish community, both in Alabama and nationwide. The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz noted that among the names of the first list of contributors to Davis’s campaign funds were “10 Cohens from New York and New Jersey, but before one gets to the Cohens, there were Abrams, Ackerman, Adler, Amir, Asher, Baruch, Basok, Berger, Berman, Bergman, Bernstein and Blumenthal. All from the East Coast, Chicago and Los Angeles. It’s highly unlikely any of them have ever visited Alabama…” The Jewish newspaper Forward — essential reading for any serious understanding of the American Jewish community — quoted a Jewish political activist following the race: “Hilliard has been a problem in his votes and with guys like that, when there’s any conceivable primary challenge, you take your shot.” Hilliard, of course, lost to Davis, whose campaign funds reached $781,000.
The AIPAC concentrates on Congress while the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations (CPMAJO), made up of the heads of 51 Jewish organisations, concentrates on the executive branch of the US government. Every congressman knows the names of those critics of Israel who have been undone by the lobby. Take Senator J William Fulbright, whose 1963 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee detailed how five million tax-deductable dollars from philanthropic Americans had been sent to Israel and then recycled back to the US for distribution to organisations seeking to influence public opinion in favour of Israel; this cost him the chance of being Secretary of State. He was defeated in the 1974 Democratic primary after pro-Israeli money poured into the campaign funds of his rival, Governor Dale Bumpers, following a statement by the AIPAC that Fulbright was “consistently unkind to Israel and our supporters in this country”. Paul Findley, who spent 22 years as a Republican congressman from Illinois, found his political career destroyed after he had campaigned against the Israeli lobby — although, ironically, his book on the subject, They Dare to Speak Out was nine weeks on The Washington Post bestseller list, suggesting that quite a number of Americans want to know why their congressmen are so pro-Israeli.
Just two months ago, the US House of Representatives voted 352 to 21 to express its unqualified support for Israel. The Senate voted 94 to two for the same motion. Even as they voted, Ariel Sharon’s army was continuing its destructive invasion of the West Bank. “I do not recall any member of Congress asking me if I was in favour of patting Israel on the back…” James Abu Rizk, an Arab-American of Lebanese origin, told the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee afterwards. “No one else, no average American, has been asked either. But that is the state of American politics today… The votes and bows have nothing to do with the legislators’ love for Israel. They have everything to do with the money that is fed into their campaigns by members of the Israeli lobby. My estimate is that $6bn flows from the American Treasury to Israel each year.” Within days, 42 US governors turned up in Sacramento to sign declarations supporting Israel. California governor Gray Davis and New York governor George Pataki — California has the largest Jewish population of any state except New York — arranged the meeting.
Sometimes the support of Israel’s loyalists in Congress turns into farce. Tom Delay — reacting to CNN founder Ted Turner’s criticism of Israel — went so far out of his way to justify Israeli occupation of the West Bank that he blurted out on MSNBC television that the Palestinians “should become citizens” of Israel, an idea unlikely to commend itself to his friend Ariel Sharon. Texas Republican Richard Armey went the other way. “I’m content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank. I happen to believe the Palestinians should leave… to have those people who have been aggressors against Israel retired to some other area.” Do the people of Texas know that their representative is supporting “ethnic cleansing” in the Middle East? Or are they silent because they prefer not to speak out?
Censorship takes many forms. When Ishai Sagi and Ram Rahat-Goodman, two Israeli reserve soldiers who refused to serve in the West Bank or Gaza, were scheduled to debate their decision at Sacramento’s Congregation B’nai Israel in May, their appearance was cancelled. Steve Meinreith, who is chairman of the Israel Affairs Committee at B’nai Israel, remarked bleakly that “intimidation on the part of certain sectors of the community has deprived the entire community of hearing a point of view that is being widely debated in Israel. Some people feel it’s too dangerous…”
Does President Bush? His long-awaited Middle-East speech was Israeli policy from start to finish. A group of Jewish leaders, including Elie Wiesel and Alan Dershowitz — who said recently that the idea of executing the families of Palestinian suicide bombers was a legitimate if flawed attempt at finding a balance between preventing terrorism and preserving democracy — and the AIPAC and CPMAJO heads all sent clear word to the President that no pressure should be put on Israel. Wiesel — whose courage permeates his books on the Holocaust but who lamentably failed to condemn the massacre of Palestinian refugees in Beirut in 1982 at the hands of Israel’s Lebanese allies, said he felt “sadness”, but his sadness was “with Israel, not against Israel” because “after all the Israeli soldiers did not kill” — took out a full page in The New York Times. In this, he urged Bush to “please remember that Ariel Sharon, a military man who knows the ugly face of war better than anyone, is ready to make ‘painful sacrifices’ to end the conflict.” Sharon was held “personally responsible” for the massacre by Israel’s own commission of inquiry — but there was no mention of that from Wiesel, who told reporters in May that he would like to revoke Arafat’s Nobel prize.
President Bush was not going to oppose these pressures. His father may well have lost his re-election because he dared to tell Israel that it must make peace with the Arabs. Bush is not going to make the same mistake — nor does brother Jeb want to lose his forthcoming governorship election. Thus Sharon’s delight at the Bush speech, and it was left to a lonely and brave voice — Mitchell Plitnick of the Jewish Voice for Peace — to state that “few speeches could be considered to be as destructive as that of the American President… Few things are as blinding as unbridled arrogance.”
Or as vicious as the messages that still pour in to Dennis Bernstein and Barbara Lubin, whose Middle East Children’s Alliance, co-ordinating with Israeli peace groups, is trying to raise money to rebuild the Jenin refugee camp. “I got a call the other day at 5am,” Bernstein told me. “This guy says to me: ‘You got a lot of nerve going and eating at that Jewish deli.’ What comes after that?” Before I left San Francisco, Lubin showed me her latest e-mails. “Dear Cunt,” one of them begins, “When we want your opinion you fucking Nazi cunt, we will have one of your Palestinian buddies fuck it [sic] of you. I hope that in your next trip to the occupied territories you are blown to bits by one of your Palestinian buddies [sic] bombs.” Another, equally obscene, adds that “you should be ashamed of yourself, a so-called Jewish woman advocating the destruction of Israel”.
Less crude language, of course, greeted President Bush’s speech. Pat Robertson thought the Bush address “brilliant”. Senator Charles Schumer, a totally loyal pro-Israeli Democrat from New York, said that “clearly, on the politics, this is going to please supporters of Israel as well as the Christian coalition types”. He could say that again. For who could be more Christian than President George W Bush?