Saturday, August 06, 2005

Atomic Café

We live in dispiriting and dangerous times. The New Barbarism continues to metastasise.

Neo-conservatives and the al-Qa'ida Death Cult (and their imitators) embrace and perpetuate simplistic dichotomies (Islamophile and Infidel, Islamo-fascist and Enlightened Western Democrat, Terrorist and Defender of the Free World, Patriot and Traitor, Hard-headed Realist and Appeasor) and objectify "The Other." The Devil isn’t in the details; He’s in the differentiation and the discrimination that follow.

It's a short step from objectification via demonisation to destruction, and both Bush and his nemesis-in-crime Bin Laden (and their apocalyptic acolytes) seem to share Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction.

The Internet is accelerant-in-chief of The New Barbarism: a revolution in global inter-connectivity, which, briefly, threatened to be a force for Good before showing its true colours as a repository of Evil. It could be claimed that Bin Laden isn't the Anti-Christ and neither is Bush: the Internet is.

Those of us who wish to maintain an online persona (and do we truly exist without one these days?) run the gauntlet daily in defiance of fraudsters, phishers, rogue diallers, pharmers, hackers, spyware and malware miscreants, trojan horses, viruses, worms and their constantly mutating variants. The average Internet surfer now needs tighter security than a Presidential motorcade.

Worse than that, bad ideas (metastasising memes) are proliferating at an alarming rate. Indigenous terrorist cells mimicking al-Qa'ida strike in London, at least in part, as a reaction to internet-disseminated Islamic fundamentalist propaganda; their atrocities are celebrated in, and by, the same medium and, in turn, inspire imitative acts of terror.

Of course it's tempting to "anthropomorphize" a morally neutral technological development in order to exculpate us from liability. The Internet is merely the dystopian human condition in microcosm but accelerated and abstracted at the same time. The Internet facilitates the dissemination of bad ideas by both bringing people closer (and faster) together and simultaneously distancing crime from commission, perpetrator from victim and consequence from action. The Internet confers a cloak of anonymity and a patina of passivity but obfuscates distinction between the Real and the Virtual.

The New Barbarism is characterised by the breakdown of barriers between fantasy and reality. It’s medium (and sometimes weapon) of choice, the Internet, is the natural habitat of the pervert, the paedophile, the criminal and the terrorist. In this virtual Sin City lawlessness is endemic, the authorities are impotent or corrupt (or both) and damnation is the only foreseeable denouement.

It’s disturbing to listen to American justifications for Hiroshima, and one can only view the Iraqi invasion as consistent with this tradition of disproportionate and indiscriminate response to aggression. Their inability to define their "own" aggression (hesitant though I am to ascribe proprietorial interest in Bush's war crimes to an entire nation, I'll settle for "aggression perpetuated in their name by their leaders") as such is equally disconcerting: Iraq was, presumably, a “legitimate” exercises of the right, of their presumably omniscient nation, to launch a pre-emptive “response” to a future threat. We’re all characters in Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report/Pre-Crime milieu now.

The USA abdicated the moral high ground after 9/11 by invading a state, which had nothing to do with that atrocity (Iraq) and by sanctioning the endemic sadism at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, all of which have radicalised and inflamed the Muslim world and engorged al-Qa’ida’s nihilistic heart with lifeblood.

The UK abdicated the moral high ground after 7/7 by summarily executing an innocent man at Stockwell tube station.

Al-Qa’ida is a cancer that can only be removed by a surgeon’s precise scalpel. Butcher Bush has already tried, and failed, to excise the malignancy with a blunt instrument and the fear is that indiscriminate radiation treatment cannot be far behind.

In the mendacious world of Neo-con justification for the illegal (incontestably so in the absence of any demonstrable basis for the invocation of the right to self-defence and without authorisation by the UN Security Council) invasion of the sovereign state of Iraq, the repudiation of the WMD "warrant" for pre-emptive “defence” left the invaders with no option but to tie themselves to the mast and go down with the “good” ship Equivocation.

The illegitimate invasion of Iraq was subsumed under the catch-all War on Terror (the recently deceased Robin Cook exposed the fallacy behind the nomenclature: a War on Terror implies that the bombers can be defeated simply by dropping bigger bombs of our own.) The conflation of the sins of the, admittedly vile, dictator Saddam Hussein and the terrorist atrocities perpetuated by al-Qa'ida, despite no demonstrable evidence of any connection ~ the Islamic fundamentalists hated Saddam more than we did, cannot be excused as mere muddled thinking; equivocation is characterised by intent to deceive. The desirability of regime change is a nice ex post facto rationalisation but it hardly constituted a warrant for invasion.

The invasion has been a disaster despite what mendacious Neo-con spin-doctors tell us. A study by The Lancet in late 2004 established that the risk of death by violence for Iraqi civilians was 58 times higher than before Bush began to liberate them. Iraq has certainly not got any safer of late.

Iraq is now the Crucible of Jihad: fertile al-Qu’ida recruitment ground, suitably lawless base of operations, inexhaustible repository of legitimate grievance within the world’s Muslim communities and symbolic red rag to enrage the Islamic fundamentalist bull.

Al-Qa’ida and their acolytes utilise the same sort of equivocation. The invasion of Iraq, illegal or otherwise, and associated grievances, is insufficient warrant for spilling the blood of innocents around the globe Although Neo-cons correctly point out that al-Qa’ida were perpetuating atrocities before Iraq (e.g. 9/11) they cannot logically demonstrate that Bush and Blair’s foreign policies have no causal connection to current terror campaigns (all available evidence suggests that the Iraqi invasion has strengthened and further radicalised Islamic Terror). Al-Qa’ida may not be overly concerned with legitimacy but they know that paying lip service to it works well in the areas of recruitment, motivation and inspiration.

Perplexingly, Americans seem to be simultaneously “clear-sighted” enough to see that Japan’s bombardment of a US military target (Pearl Harbour) provided sufficient justification for incinerating and irradiating hundreds of thousands of Japanese innocents yet too myopic to see the correlation between disaffected Muslims claiming that the invasion of Iraq (and “collateral” civilian fatalities well in excess of 100, 000) justifies the bombings of innocents in Madrid, London and, potentially, future atrocities.

It’s hardly surprising that states such as Iran are desperately trying to develop a nuclear deterrent when the Bush administration has exhibited complete contempt for international law, the United Nations & world opinion and displayed a willingness to launch campaigns of illegal aggression against other states in the region. This isn’t 1945 however: the USA was the only kid on the Atomic block in those days. This isn’t 1962 either: MAD was a deterrent back then and the bogeyman was a vulnerable, ostensibly rational sovereign state with a vested interest in self-preservation. Today's enemy is a shape-shifting Death Cult which resists not only territorial definition, but also the conventional preoccupations, interests and behavioural paradigms of statehood.

The United States developed the Bomb but, after trying out their new toy at Hiroshima & Nagasaki, recoiled from its infernal power. Al-Qa’ida is probably the only national, supranational, terrorist or criminal entity in the nuclear era to espouse a philosophy, which practically compels the deployment of nuclear weapons against their enemy; the only adversary to exhibit an apocalyptic death fixation. Al Qa'ida's raison d'être (an admittedly oxymoronic characterisation of a nihilistic death cult's guiding philosophy; they have an even greater reason to cease to exist: martyrdom and an after-life with an improbable demographic ~ 72 young virginal females for every Jihadist ~ eat your heart out Surf City!) demands inexorable geometric progression from atrocity to annihilation.

When, as seems inevitable, al-Qa’ida, or one of their affiliates, finally get their hands on nuclear weapons they will almost certainly turn them on the nation that invented, and first deployed, them. A great deal of quasi-religious justificatory “you reap what you sow” claptrap will doubtless emanate from both sides before (if past actions are a reliable predictor of future events) the inevitable indiscriminate American response hastens our journey to the Abyss.

J. Robert Oppenheimer, scientific director of the Manhattan Project, spoke of America’s sleazy sense of omnipotence.
America may have retained the sleaze but the myth of its omnipotence has been shattered forever. In an age where former certainties have been destroyed, a paranoid and insecure United States, presided over by a paranoid and insecure leader, may not possess the requisite sophistication, guile and subtlety to wage effective "war" against a highly resourceful, imaginative and constantly mutating enemy. Old-fashioned bluster and belligerence are no longer enough and a foreign policy predicated upon false dichotomies and equivocation only makes matters worse.

Let's hope Posterity is rather more phlegmatic and philosophical about George W. Bush having been, however temporarily, entrusted with it's past than I am about the decision of the American electorate to entrust him with our future.

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