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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

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April 7, 2003

I guess we should have expected this sort of stuff from the right. This is Paul Sheehan's piece in the Sydney Morning Herald called the 'Rise of a dangerous nationalism.' He says:

"After just two weeks, all that remains of Saddamistan is a shrinking, ranting, desperate, isolated rump collapsing down to its essence - guns, terror and hatred. There's nothing else left. Oil wealth: gone. Economy: gone. Territory: almost gone. Ports: gone. Airports: gone. Border control: gone. Credibility: gone. Ideals: never existed."

Its the last bit, 'ideals never existed' that caught my eye. It basically means that the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein was just a stalinist terror machine. But Iraq under Saddam was more than a concentration camp. So why did the Iraqi regime try to use the oil money in the 1970s to modernize the economy? Why did they fight a war with Iran? Was not the ideology of the Ba'ath party pan-Arab? Are there not ideals embodied in these actions?

Sheehan does see this in a distorted way, when he says:

"Ethnic solidarity, not Islamic fundamentalism, is the force driving continued support for Saddamistan and hatred of the US.The emotional drive and intellectual energy comes from something deeper than espousing the righteous of Islam - the sense of rage that the Middle East is being colonised all over again, an anger exacerbated by self-pity, envy and racism. It takes precedence over all other narratives, including Islam, including even the atrocities committed by Saddamistan against Arabs on a large scale."

There are ideals here---eg., those of ethnic solidarity and freedom from foreign colonizers (now the good ole Anglo-Americans.) What Sheehan does is to collapse these ideals into the wild negative emotion of rage. What pops out from this reduction is that Arabs, as the under or colonized class, are ruled by their passions not by their reason.

There is an old marker lying on the side of the road here. It is one that says Arabs are lowly under-developed types soon to be ruled by superior developed Anglo-American types. Why under-developed and develpoed? Because the former are ruled by violent emotion the other acts according to reason. That one reaches back to Plato. The new white occupiers are the guardian class with all the knowledge to run the country.

The cultural marker on the side of the road is also a part of a history of the 20th century whose heritage can been in the lines of the map of the Middle East which are are the legacies of colonialism. Sheehan knows the legacies well. He identifies them as those "dividing Iraq and Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen, the four-nation territory of the Kurds and the white-hot lines dividing Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian territories."

The colonial history reaches beyond the Anglo-Americans to centuries of occupation by the Ottomans, Persians and Mongols. They understand what it is to have their country occupied. So the old marker indicates a colonial discourse that still haunts the Middle East.

This discourse locates the current war within a colonial history that sees the parallels between now and then.

This colonial discourse constructs the Anglo-Americans as foreign invaders, the Americans as being in the empire business. Thus the Iranian leadership observes the encroaching US military presence on its borders as Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait – and soon Iraq too – host American troops. The occupation of Iraq will lead to the completion of a military ring around Iran which has been targeted as part of the axis of evil. If that does not cause concern in Tehran’s political circles, then the prospect of the prospect of a ‘clientised,’ pro-US Iraq being used as a launchpad to foster tension against the Islamic republic woudl set nerves on edge in Tehran.

Sheehan constructs the response to the new empire ---Arab nationalism or pan Arab/Islamic nationalism as dangerous. He uses the imagery of earthquake to imply destablizing the region.

But dangerous to whom? It can only be to the new American empire and the old Arab states that have supported the Americans.

So Sheehan is writing within a colonial discourse as he sees this nationalism in negative terms. The critical intellectuals then contest, deconstruct, expose, reject and condemn this newly forming colonial discourse.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:41 PM | | Comments (5)


I keep sending letters to the SMH about Sheehan and Devine in particular, but they're never published. My instinct is to see dark conspiracies preventing my damning critiques from seeing the light of day, but in reality they're probably too long. I can't help myself; once I've tasted blood...

My last was on Sheehan's recent offering about Tony Blair's 'lucidity', which seemed to give him an erection, despite the paucity of action resulting from the last 18 months of Blair's soaring promises and assurances.

This latest one... where do you start? He hammers away at al-Jazeera and ignores the cowardly khaki of the US media. I mean to say, one is a quite recent creation in a region with no tradition of democracy, separation of powers, freedom of speech and of the press etc - the other is the culmination of over 200 years of the best democracy money can buy and a tradition of fearless journalism that used to put truth first and foremost. In other words, you would expect less balance from the former, which in no way excuses it. You expect a bit more from the land of the free, the home of the brave. They should be held to a higher standard because (a) they have a higher standard to uphold and (b) they are constantly yammering about how fair and balanced and independent they are. And then they aren't.

I don't like his take on 'Arab pride'... he says 'the sense of rage that the Middle East is being colonised all over again' is a spur that's 'exacerbated by self-pity, envy and racism'. He appears unable to see the crucial causative link between the former and the latter. It's rather neat how you come away with a sense of the Arabs' ethnic shortcomings when they are to a large extent driven by the very real grievances that Sheehan wastes no time leaving behind. I mean, wouldn't he too be outraged if Australia had been subject say by Indonesia to the sort of morale-sapping, perspective-destroying oppression these people have suffered? Mightn't he too feel a little self pity, anger, pride, outrage?

you are dead right.

You more than welcome to post your long letters on P & M columns in the SNH on Public Opinion.

Life's too short to debunk nattering clowns parading as know all experts. Don't whinge, organize!

whaddya suggest?

Yes aus, whingeing is the first refuge of the lazy bastard. Diagnosis is easier than cure.

Will, what to do has been exercising my mind, such as it is, in recent weeks because this simply can't go on. We have to find some way to better control our representatives, perhaps firstly thru better representatives. We have to find a way to harness the enormous positive energy generated by opposition to this war and what it portends.The global nature of it is unprecedented and if there's a silver lining to this mess (apart from the obvious alleviation of Iraqi oppression), it is the common humanity affirmed by the breadth and depth of the protests.

Hugh Mackay wrote an interesting column the other day analysing the different components of the opposition and identified a new strain - mid-thirties and under, particularly women, whose opposition is characterised by a contempt for and rejection of the whole rotten template of international power politics. The post 911 world has revealed the fragility of the struts that hold the whole thing up and how close we really are to Old Testament style showdowns without them. This cohort exhibits a disgusted impatience to get past the lethally stupid and self-interested methods and doctrines of the past and into a polity and governance that more accurately reflects the fairness and apoliticality of their secular democratic attitudes. I'm with them.

I've gotta go to work - will look in later, but in miniature, I think we need to develop some sort of web-based poll with clout - indicative voters numbering in the hundreds of thousands - to produce pollie-frightening numbers of voters who oppose A or support B. It can't be politically affiliated or sponsored corporately. It would have to be capable of becoming something of an institution, an icon.

'But Prime Minister, fully 600,000 Australians indicated in the last 24 hours in online referenda that they would not vote for a party that tried to xxxxxx'

'Well Kerry, you know I don't change my policies according to every poll that comes along...'(squirm, bluster..)