Thursday, October 06, 2005

Clash of the manichaens

Given the continuing march of events in Iraq, I'm inclined to see the recent much-hyped debate between Christopher Hitchens and George Galloway as a pretty quaint affair.

One thing that Galloway and the increasingly pathetic Hitchens have in common is a tendency to frame the war in Iraq as a sort of manichaen struggle between two monolithic forces, one of which represents justice and righteousness and the other of which symbolises all that is wrong with the world. His mind addled by alcohol and fat pay cheques from the Wall Street Journal and the Hoover Institute, Hitchens seems to regard the US occupation as some sort of struggle for the Enlightenment; Galloway has at least opposed the invasion and occupation of Iraq, but he seems to see every expression of opposition to the US as equally progressive and anti-imperialist. Hence Hitchens' ridiculous advocacy of corrupt and thuggish politicians like Ahmed Chalabi, and Galloway's simplistic, because uncritical, presentation of Islamist and Sunni chauvinist forces in Iraq. (Sadly, Galloway has a long record of support for dodgy characters - he once praised Saddam Hussein's 'courage and indefatigability', and he continues to praise Syria's dictatorial Baath regime. A record of parliamentary support for Blairite 'reforms' of public services, an oft-stated opposition to a woman's right to abortion, and a habit of scaremongering about the dangers of immigration round out a depressing picture of the man some see as the future of the British left.)

In a way, the insistence on seeing the Iraq war as a zero-sum game between two easily-definable sides represents the last illusion of the fools who argued for the invasion of Iraq on 'progressive' grounds. It is not to Galloway's credit that he buys into this illusion. As the situation in Iraq deteriorates, seemingly by the hour, anyone with an open mind is able to see that the war has become a struggle by a wide range of factions, each with its own agenda and its own (often temporary) allies, over the resources of Iraq.

A good example of the fluidity of the situation, and the impossibility of branding many players as simply 'pro' or 'anti' occupation or resistance, is the role of al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. As Steven Vincent showed before his untimely demise, the Mahdi Army last year established a de facto alliance with the British occupying forces in the south of Iraq. In exchange for calling off its rebellion against the occupation, the Mahdi Army was allowed to infiltrate the police, and to run day to day security operations in many areas, to the detriment of anyone who rejects al-Sadr's reactionary interpretation of Islam, including men and women immoral enough to picnic together. In other respects, though, al-Sadr's movement continues to cause trouble for the occupation - it has threatened to join forces with Sunni politicians to reject attempts to create a federalist constitution, and it has undermined other Islamist allies of the occupation like the Sciri Party. (The recent anti-British riots in Basra, which involved many members of the Mahdi Army, suggest that al-Sadr may be preparing to end all cooperation with the British.)

Some commentators now believe a mini-civil war could be beginning amongst different Shia factions, over the question of federalism and the division of resources through public office. This new conflict adds to the confused picture which has Shia and Sunni fighting pitched battles in places, Sunni opponents of both the occupation and Zarqawi attacking foreign jihadists in parts of the northwest, Turkmen, Sunni and Kurds facing off in the north, and so on.

There is simply no way to cover this chaotic and bloody situation with simplistic, 'black and white' schemas like the ones promoted by Galloway and Hitchens. If there is anything that seems to unite all the forces I have mentioned, from the US occupiers to the Mahdi Army to the Kurdish militia, it is a violent hostility to Iraq's secular left and trade union movement. And, predicably enough, the Iraqi independent workers' movement, which represents by far the most progressive force in Iraq, does not rate a mention by either Hitchens or Galloway.

What the left needs is not the verbal flatulence and manichaean worldview displayed by Galloway and Hitchens, but concrete, subtle analyses of the situation in Iraq, and political action based on such analyses, rather than on stereotypes and hysteria. Luckily, there are plenty of Marxist groups out there which are thinking carefully about Iraq. Check out, for instance, these incisive articles on Iraq , which have all appeared in the Weekly Worker, the paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain - Provisional Central Committee.

The CPGB-PCC (it's just as much of a mouthful as an acronym, I'm afraid!) has consistently combined uncompromising opposition to the occupation of Iraq with a clear-headed analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the different forces opposing the occupation. (It's no coincidence that the CPGB-PCC has been a consistent critic of Galloway within the Respect Party the MP for Bethnal Green leads.)

For a glimpse of an anti-war strategy that doesn't rely on Baathist dictators and suicide bombers, check out the call for strike action against the occupation here and (if you're a Kiwi) here.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

(Sadly, Galloway has a long record of support for dodgy characters...
an oft-stated opposition to a woman's right to abortion, and a habit of scaremongering ....

Ummm, how is it a woman's right to kill an unborn child? I never understood that.

3:53 pm  

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