Saturday, March 26, 2011

The New Colonialism?

The oppressors of recent revolutionary uprisings are adopting a discourse that is both fascinating and disturbing. Much of today's language is reminiscent of the post 9/11 Washington framework where the world is imagined as black and white and “you are either with us or against us”. This creates two imagined communities that are self-contained, both geographically and ideologically. Any governmental crackdown to maintain this false separation is done in the name of national security. Derek Gregory analyses the American response in his book The Colonial Present, adding yet another layer to Edward Said’s project by exploring how post 9/11 ideas about Muslims and the Middle East operate on an Orientalist logic that incorporates new conceptions of space, exclusion and visibility to reproduce ‘the other’ as other. Gregory suggests that “the capacities that inhere within the colonial past are routinely reaffirmed and reactivated in the colonial present.”

The American response included neither a critical self-reflection nor a historicization of the conflict at hand. Gregory suggests that 9/11 was a moment that captured the Western gaze, at first directed towards the horrific moment when the World Trade Center towers collapsed, and then immediately focused on Muslims and the Middle East. Americans asked, over and over, ‘why do they hate us?’ looking for an answer that lay outside of America’s borders, with ‘them’ and not with ‘us’. Of course our own national identity was linked to an uncritical support for the two wars being waged to defend American exceptionalism at the expense of democracy both at home and abroad. Gregory reasons that “it is this asymmetry—accepting the privilege of contemplating ‘the other’ without acknowledging the gaze in return… that marks this as a colonial gesture of extraordinary contemporary resonance.” Today the response of corrupt Arab leaders towards the wave of revolutionary unrest reflects their neocolonial outlook towards their own people.

The paternalistic attitude of Arab leaders is similar to the colonial lack of respect for the colonized. In both cases Arabs are being imagined as a backwards people characterized as unable to take care of themselves and in need of enlightenment. The current dictatorships in the Middle East reproduce this image on a daily basis. Thus we often hear ridiculous statements coming from royal families about how “Arabs are not ready for democracy” that are uncritically reproduced by Washington, when we ought to be seriously reflecting about what contributes to their circumstances of political and social oppression a.k.a. the truly backward behaviors of regimes being sponsored by an unenlightened West. But instead we close our eyes when regimes brutally crackdown on their people, attempting to self-contain the crisis by forcibly controlling the geography of public spaces, erasing any sign of dissent, and even declaring martial law as in the case of Yemen and Bahrain.

Similar to Washington's response to 9/11, Arab leaders are also looking outwards to frame the conflict as something foreign. Colonel Qaddafi of Libya and President Saleh of Yemen both blame al Qaeda for the recent unrest. King Hamad blames Iran and Hizbullah, despite the remarkable speech by Sayyed Nasrallah this week that emphasized Muslim co-existence. President Assad blames Israel. And of course Persian Iran blames America and Britain. But at least the latter two of these accusations are indeed historicized. The United States and Britain orchestrated the 1953 coup that ousted elected Prime Minister Mossadegh from power in Iran and the American government continues to finance Iranian dissidents. Indeed the 1953 was only one of the many heinous acts of injustice the CIA carried out, which the PBS documentary “The Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis” probes. And Israel has also carried out numerous extra-judicial killings and abductions of Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians to destabilize these governments, the latest in Ukraine only last month.

Nevertheless, this turn outwards by governments is yet another illustration of how the people in this region are not being taken seriously by their leaders or the international community. Bahrainis are in the streets because they are oppressed, not because of Tehran. There is no evidence that Iran is linked to the protests. Blaming the Islamic Republic for popular and peaceful demonstrations to request dignity, freedom, equality and justice is just another way of saying that Arabs are not ready for democracy. The regime in Bahrain is otherizing it own people by refusing to recognize their gaze. And while the tendency to blame external influences is rife throughout the Middle East, all of these charges speak just as much to the international community as to local populations. Blaming al Qaeda, Iran and Hizbullah helps to ensure that the hawks in Washington will be able to continue an American policy that is colonial, paternalistic and against freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

Friday March 25, 2011

GENEVA - A Bahraini minister accused demonstrators Friday of having a "foreign agenda," running over unarmed policemen in cars and beating up patients in a major hospital.

Fatima al Beloushi, minister for social development, said the demonstrators had links to a neighboring country and Hezbollah, but stopped short of naming non-Arab Shi'ite Iran as being behind the unrest in the Sunni Muslim-ruled kingdom.

Bahrain's government was investigating the violence, in which 19 had been killed and hundreds injured, she said.

Riots police dispersed protesters from a roundabout and took over a hospital in the tiny island kingdom last week after weeks of unrest.

"What we have discovered after the government took over the roundabout and took back the hospital, we found out that those people who were doing it were instigated by a foreign country and by Hezbollah," al Beloushi told a news conference in Geneva.

"We have direct proof. Hezbollah has provided training for their people. They were serving a foreign agenda and that is why it was not something for having a better livelihood. They were fulfilling an outside political agenda," she said.

Thousands of Bahrainis turned out for a sermon of a major Shi'ite cleric Friday ahead of "Day of Rage" protests planned across the Gulf Arab country despite a ban imposed under martial law.

Al Beloushi said the kingdom was investigating the violence and its causes but rejected allegations that its security forces had used excessive force, instead putting the blame on the protesters.

"The demonstrators occupied the (Salmaniyah) hospital, they were beating up the patients, they were attacking the ambulance," she said. "They used ambulances later on to transfer weapons, to transfer demonstrators just for their purposes."

"It is totally the opposite, they were running over police officers and killing them while the country tried to be as peaceful as it can with them.”

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Hemming.

No comments:

Post a Comment