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THE HISTORY OF SLAVERY TWO CENTURIES ON PAGE 8
BY IGNACIO RAMONET
‘WITHDRAW, MOVE ON AND RAMPAGE’
Iraq’s resistance evolves
ONCE again, during the recent revolt against the First Employment
Contract, the enthusiasm and dynamism evident on French
streets were in marked contrast with the disconcerting silence of French thinkers
and writers. The same was true during the November riots in the banlieues. There was
a lot of chattering, but few, other than such rare figures as Jean Baudrillard and John
Berger, were able to read the events, uncover their deeper significance and suggest what
they might portend. With no relevant or encouraging diagnosis forthcoming, society
was left in the dark about its symptoms and in danger of succumbing to further crises.
In France an intellectuel is deﬁ ned as someone who uses a reputation in science, the arts
or culture to mobilise public opinion in support of causes that he or she regards as just.
In modern states, it has been the role of the intellectual for two centuries to make sense of
social trends, illuminating the path towards greater liberty and less alienation. What the recent crises have demonstrated is how much we miss the analytical intelligence
of Pierre Bourdieu, Cornelius Castoriadis and Jacques Derrida, to name three great thinkers
no longer with us. A sense of loss has inspired us to examine the current war of ideas. Are
there any real thinkers left, or has the media explosion shattered their authority? Why (as
if the hatred of fascists and the aversion of the American right were not enough) do such
writers as Bernard-Henri Lévy indulge in exhibitionist self-destructiveness? There is a
central issue here — the way in which, in publishing and the universities, private interests
are enlisting prestigious thinkers as allies in an ideological struggle.
Here are a few thoughts on the subject from some major thinkers in the past. First, Michel
Foucault (1): “For a long time, ‘leftwing’ intellectuals spoke out as masters of truth and jus
tice . . . They were heard, or claimed the right to be heard, as representatives of the univer
sal. To be an intellectual was to be, to a degree, the conscience of all. But it is many years since
intellectuals were called upon to fulﬁ l this role. Intellectuals became used to operating,
not within the universal, the exemplary, the just-and-true-for-all, but in given sectors, in
the speciﬁ c contexts where their own working or living conditions situated them . . . Work
ing in such situations undoubtedly gave them a far more concrete and immediate awareness
of struggle. And there they encountered problems that were speciﬁ c, not universal, and
often diﬀ erent from those of the proletariat. I would argue that this brought them closer
to the masses, since these were real, material, everyday struggles in the course of which
they often encountered, albeit in a diﬀ erent form, the same enemy (the multinationals, the
police and legal machines, property specula
GALLERIE LO UIS CARRÉ ET CIE
HENRI CUECO: Divers (1947)
tion) as the urban and rural proletariat. That
is what I mean by ‘speciﬁ c’, as opposed to the ‘universal’, intellectual.”
Then there is Gilles Deleuze on what to do with ideas (2): “A theory is exactly like a tool
box. It must serve some purpose. It must work, and not just for its own sake. If there is no one
to use it, starting with the theorist, who thus becomes a practitioner, it is either worthless
or its time has not yet come. You do not go back to a theory, you make others and there
are always more to be made.” Pierre Bourdieu (3) proposes a new and
radical thinktank: “Many historians have highlighted the role played by thinktanks in
the production and imposition of the neoliberal ideology that now rules the world.
To counter the work of these expert groups, appointed by our rulers, we need the help of
critical networks . . . They should form autonomous intellectual collectives, capable of deﬁ n
ing their own objectives and the limits to their agenda and action.
“Groups should start with negative criticism, producing and disseminating tools
to defend us against symbolic domination, increasingly backed by the authority of
science. Drawing on the strength aﬀ orded by their collective skills and authority, such
groups can subject the dominant message to logical criticism, targeting its vocabulary, also
its arguments. They may subject it to sociological criticism by highlighting the factors inﬂ u
encing the people who produce the dominant message, starting with journalists. They may
counter the supposedly scientiﬁ c claims of experts, particularly in the ﬁ eld of economics.
“The whole structure of critical thought for political purposes needs rebuilding. This
cannot be the work of just one great thinker, locked in solitary thought, or the appointed
spokesperson of some body, speaking on behalf of all those deprived of the means to
speak. On the contrary, intellectual collectives can play an essential role, helping to lay the
foundations in society for the collective production of realistic utopias.”
TRANSLATED BY DONALD HOUNAM
AND HARRY FORSTER
(1) Dits et écrits II, 1976-88 , Gallimard, Paris, 2001.
(2) “Les Intellectuels et le pouvoir,” Arc , no 49, Aix-en
Provence, May 1972.
(3) Contre-feux 2 , Raisons d’Agir, Paris, 2001.
Iraq is simultaneously descending into both a civil war and a war of resistance against foreign occupation. The United States has been hoping to exploit the divide between Iraqi patriots and global jihadists, but the Sunni opposition is growing more structured and uniﬁ ed as it adapts to changing conditions, and may transcend those divisions.
BY MATHIEU GUIDÈRE AND PETER HARLING
DESCRIPTIONS of Iraq’s armed
opposition often divide it into a set of wholly independent categories
which apparently do not have much in common. The categories include the
patriotic former army officers, the foreign terrorists, the Sunni Arabs determined to
regain power, the Muslims opposed to any kind of foreign occupation, the tribal factions
pursuing their own specific vendettas, the die-hard Ba’athists — and the “pissed-off”
Iraqis (in coalition soldier jargon, POIs) who are simply sick of the foreign forces
occupying their country. While a few key ﬁ gures have emerged, such
as the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and the former Saddam acolyte Izzat Ibrahim
al-Douri, they do not appear as uncontested leaders. The armed opposition has not set up
any kind of civilian political representation, as the Northern Irish republicans did with Sinn
Fein, for example. Nor have they published a speciﬁ c political programme. So the dominant
image remains that of a diﬀ use and largely anonymous multitude. But though that per
ception may have been accurate in 2003, the opposition has come a long way since then.
Broadly speaking, the change can be seen as a form of stabilisation. At ﬁ rst the opposi
tion was multi-confessional and represented a cross-section of Iraqi society as a whole. But
it has grown more focused as the political landscape has polarised, and it is now almost
exclusively Sunni Arab. A number of large, easily recognisable groups have emerged,
further simplifying the situation. The most
important of these are the Islamic army, Tanzim al- Qaida ﬁ balad al-raﬁ dein (the
organisation of alQaida in the land of the two rivers); the Army of the Partisans of the Tradi
tion of the Prophet; and the Army of Muhammad. There are others (1). Increasingly, each
of these groups dominates certain speciﬁ c, clearly deﬁ ned geographical areas. There
are still pockets of confusion as to who has the upper hand where (one example is in the
Diyala governorate near Baghdad) but these are now exceptions.
One area where the opposition is particularly settled is the al-Anbar governorate in
northwestern Iraq. Here Iraqi aid workers negotiate safe passages with opposition leaders
via what is almost an institutional process. A formal procedure is in place for lorry drivers
to pay an insurance fee that allows them to cross the governorate, as long as they are not
supplying the enemy. Each insurgent group has its own business
identity, cultivated through sophisticated communications techniques that use both
audiovisual and printed materials easily recognisable by their logos and standardised
presentation. No group is ever short of things to say about its own aims, analysis of the con
ﬂ ict, military performance or tactical recommendations.
An analysis of recent communications production reveals another form of stabilisation.
Continued on page 2
INSIDE THIS ISSUE
Syria: the West doesn’t want it to be a genuine democracy page 3
Peak oil: our enormous problems of global energy security page 4
Algeria: where the slogan is ‘Do business not politics’ page 6
United States: television’s soft sell for the terror of torture page 6
Chechnya: normal life will not come back any time soon page 10
United States: marketing big pharma to healthy people page 12
France: the graduate underclass scrabbles for a living page 13
Why science wasn’t the invention of the western world page 14
Courtesy of Islam, the spectacle of the extremely small page 14
Sheikh Imam, still the musical sound of Arab deﬁ ance page 16