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Libyan Writer Ghoma

Wednesday, 15 February, 2006

The Crisis of the Post-/Neo-Colonial State

By: Ghoma

        One of the historical lessons that's coming out of Arabs's spasmodic convulsions in the last few centuries but particularly in the 20th. century and up to now, is the lesson that not yet taken nor well-thought about, that's, half-hearted measures never go far enough to lead to anywhere except, of course, where one started. Arabs, unlike other successful societies, never have a true revolution! Yea, they'd some "rebellions" here and some "revolts" there, but mostly guerilla wars, military coups, palace's plots, etc. Central in some of these "insurgencies" the role played by her/his majesty's intelligence agents and military advisors, the Lawrences of Arabia, Kitcheners, Globs, Gertrudes, etc., to further the interests of the Empires than to effect any meaningful changes in the duped and heedless indigenous populations. Never a true Revolution, with all its dimensions: political-economic, social, cultural, etc. A revolution that would have cleansed once and for all the place from all the brushes, filth, and grime that had grown and left behind in the course of time until their combined effects hid the true colors, not to say the original material from which it was made, from the view, and thus everything became blurred and society came less to know where it's going and which way to take. In the absence of such historical interruptions, today's Arab states are kept alive (vegetating) without will or energy; with crude, ignorant, and gullible denizens; with dishonest, untrained, and corrupt officials; and, with alienated men/women of words, incoherent at that, not of deeds.        

We all, I hope, have heard and read the different theories about history and whether it's continuous and cumulative, or sudden and discrete. As everything complex there's a bit of truth in both conjectures, however, unlike natural history and evolution -which while don't exclude the hypothesis of sudden breaks and jumps, the dominant theory today still adheres to the slow and accumulative process- instead social history -seems to be spasmodic- is marked more by sudden eruptions and fast turns and twists rather than slow adaptations and mutations. Just think about the French and American Revolutions in the 18th century, the German and Italian unifications in the 19th c., or Russian Revolution and devolution in the 20th century. But the clearest and closest to us was the Chinese Revolution which had spanned the whole of the last century and still tottering with difficulty though with some corrections of directions along the way. All of these revolutions were bloody. Millions upon millions had perished in them. And other millions were eliminated at their wakes, because of them. Those victims were considered the price to pay and side effects to a bitter and harrowing medicine, mere sacrificial lambs, an offering on the altar of Motherland. The cost to incur for social change. No pain, no gain, as the saying goes.

        Perhaps social history's peculiar trait is due in part to the constitution of society itself. As long as societies are made out of different classes, interests, and world-views, no real and lasting change can take place without social strives which are bound to upset the social order on which balance of power was maintained. The differences and divergences about what to do and which way to take wouldn't be solved by smiles, handshakes and all the other goodwill gestures combined. Unfortunately real interests and power relations are not amenable to cordial exchanges in the absence of social deterrents to do otherwise. These interests and powers are rooted in human existence, they resist the temptations to be ceded without a fight. And when words stop, and the national existence is in the balance, the only way is for the different groups to duke it out: Survival for the fittest -oops! actually in the social arena, just as among nations, survival is always for the strongest! Those whose horizons or interests are with the status quo have to be persuaded one way or the other; society cannot afford to mortgage its future for the sake of the few. Soft societies, societies that shun from confrontations always ended up left behind by those who're willing to take the severe measures and to go the proverbial extra mile.

        Upon taking control of China, the Communist Party, in 1949, the first thing it took was to repudiate Confucianism -because it encouraged people to look to the past rather than to the future- and started the campaign of war against "the four olds": old ideas, habits, customs, and culture. Those were the years of Moa Zedong's, Lin Biao and Zhou Enlai's domination of the party. The tumultuous '50's and the turbulent '60's and '70's , the years of the Cultural Revolution. But look where China is today! 50 years after Independence and China is rising like a giant phoenix out of its aches oops! ashes, and thankfully most of the debris which had costed her so much pain and sacrifice has been swept aside or left behind. Our hats are tipped to China and to all those societies and individuals who are willing to do whatever it takes to get out of their historical predicaments -rather than moaning and lamenting with all kinds of excuses that only hinder their way.

        The lack of historical interruption coupled with another historical fact, that's, most states were born out of violence, left Arabs in the grip of the colonial state apparatuses. The so-called "independence" was mostly nominal, if it'd brought anything new, it did change the rulers faces, from foreigners to locals. It kept, actually extended the colonial state apparatuses -particularly police-cum-military force and intelligence-cum-informants machine, from cities to cover the whole national territory. The colonial state was never the model of a state: of the people, by the people, and for the people, but was an alien contraption which was implanted and artificially forced on the defeated and subjective inhabitants to extract whatever surplus and send it back to the Metropolis. While the colonial state had been barely functional outside of the big cities and large settlements -except in its oppressive machine- the neo-colonial state's efficiency was measured by how much it can exert its efforts and extend its concerns's grip to all aspects of live, keeping the same approach and mental set-up of its predecessor, that's, of never trusting the public, i.e. the indigenous population of the colonial state.

        Was the neo-colonial state modern? Not really with the exception of its military and domestic intelligence gathering. A state inherently constituted in opposition to its own population. Vertically structured with no horizontal participation envisioned to speak of. Thus all powers were concentrated in few hands with limits to their exercise. The neo-colonial state -some call it post-colonial state- a faithful genetic clone to its matronymic model, the colonial state, was an alien graft on most of its population. Its architecture, as the colonial state, was an imported architecture vertically superimposed on the horizontal traditional social fabrics that had nothing in common with. For as it's well known, by now, that tribal make-up and religious culture are no fertile grounds for modern state formations. If there was any serious attempt at helping the nascent state would have been to de-link it from its predecessor(s) by distributing its powers horizontally, and to not only separate it from but put it above both tribal fragmentation and religion's domination. No one from the players, the departing colonial powers and their local lackeys, was apparently interested in such a project; perhaps each for different reasons from the other: the colonial powers to pursue their interests by other means, the local lackeys for lack of foresight, courage, or legitimacy. Because of that, the nascent state's ineffectiveness was built in the design! The result, for Arabs, were a set of bastardized states, different as maybe in names, shapes, or colors but all have the same content and genealogy: artificially created, and forcefully maintained. The only purpose they served, beside being proxy states, that's, client states, was to serve themselves -the state as an end to itself. Thus Arabs, in large measure, entered the 21st century as they'd entered the 20th. One can say even in worse conditions, for in the beginning of the 20th everybody had known we were colonialized and something had to be done, at the beginning of this centuries we're more confused than ever -between the forces which work to pull us toward some illusive solutions and the few voices who say let's take a deep breath and see where we go from here. The crisis has worked in favor and encouraged the re-emergence of the rejectionist trends, those that deny the need for the national state altogether, as a stage toward further regroupings, by shooting instead high to the final stage directly, that's, the "Universal Umma (community) of Believers"! The louder the screams and the acuter the shrills the more noise they make, so Islamists are sweeping the area only to plunge it into some make-believe solutions that in the long-run will make the disease worse -a voodoo sort of remedy where the effectiveness of the potion is in the head rather than in the action of the drug!

        At the eve of the colonial powers's partings, there was never a moment of reflection and definition, what sort of state are we willing to work for, want, and is fit for, not only present circumstances but above all, future aspirations? What role(s) should BE GIVEN, and how we guaranty it stays that way, the checks and balances that limit the state's actions and curb its excesses? If there were such a debate, there would have been the realization that the inherited colonial state has to be turned on its head upside down. For, the colonial state design was inherently repressive, and thus saw itself as a purely an instrument of oppression, par excellence; and, therefore, assumed all rights and appropriated all powers; its successor, what should have been the Independent and Free National State, instead would have been started from the opposite assumptions, that's, as a liberating agent, it must have been the guardian to the individual's freedoms and rights, and was conceded the minimum powers to conduct its business; thus alternatively to surrounding itself with Bureaucrats, Armies, and Intelligence apparatuses, would have relied on civil institutions to come to its rescue anytime its workings or well-being were threatened. In other words, while the colonial state negated the idea of individual's or groups' freedoms and rights, the national state's basic founding principle should have been, it: "...hold[s] these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." OK! maybe the "happiness" thing is a stretch, but the rest is without doubt the oxygen of any state deserving its true name; for, without them, the state is born despotic and grows only tyrannical!

        In order for the national state to play its role as guardian of freedoms and rights, it should have been empowered to lead the fight against all other active or latent forces which deny or curb the assumed premises of freedoms and rights. Separating its from all the other spheres of actions, economic, cultural or otherwise would have freed it from the misconceptions and made her see its role in clearer terms. The most difficult, evidently, would have been separating the sacred and the mundane: before putting a barrier between state and religion, defining each's sphere of action would have clarified the often misconstrued intentions, that of equating the secular state with atheistic state.

        What added to the dysfunctionality of the neo-colonial state was its deliberately or inadvertently confusing the national freedom -a euphemism for independence- with individual's rights and freedoms. Thus in the name of one excuse or another, the state of emergency and the suspension of the few laws that would have limited its oppression, were adapted on permanent bases!. Thus civil society and its congruent culture never have a chance to appear. While it's true the imperial powers always have kept the noose tight around the neck of the fledgling state, the latter did almost nothing to loosen the grip or to free itself from the guardianship it receives through assistance and rescue missions.

        Qaddafi may have stumbled upon the fact of the crisis of the neo-colonial state, however, the rentier-client state he inherited was in no condition to defy its genetic make-up and to metamorphose it into something beyond the horizon's reach of most of its residents. The situation required bold and far reaching measures, the Colonel and his cohorts were in no way ready, prepared, or able to undertake. The utter lack of political structures, civic institutions, or social-cultural classes combined with the political clique's lack of both deep experience and the reaching to others have doomed the crude initiative -the overhauling of the neo-colonial state- as way out, from the beginning, to failure. For, first, the establishment or the re-foundation of a national state is a collaborative and far reaching endeavor; and second, as the most intricate and complex machine humans have been tinkering with since time immemorial, the state, sui generis, its form and content are inseparable from each other and intertwined in such a way that one cannot be messed around with or modified, without touching the other profoundly. Qaddafi's attempt to change the state, yet keeping it in semi-coma, in lack of the required skills, is paramount to overhauling an airplane's engine while cruising at 30,000 feet altitude. By keeping the repressive apparatuses of the Army and Intelligence, while overhauling the bureaucracy, he kept the repressive aspects, and the cause of the dysfunctioning in the neo-colonial state, intact -actually were reinforced by the addition of a militant political wing to them, the Revolutionary Committees! Call it, an aborted experiment, if you wish, but significant, in the sense it tells more in the negative warnings it convey than the positive recommendations it brings. It tells how complex the problem is and what not to do to go about it.

        The overcoming of the impasse in which the neo-colonial state has led us to is not going to be through digging deeper into what's today's historical fashions and fads, be that of social or oral narrations or folkloric flautings, into the blackwhole of a phony Libyan history, or giving hifalutin nomenclatures to some inchoate formations such as Awalad Ali tribal confederation in the South, or the as-Sanussiya Religious Movement in the Sahara -these were in the best characterization no more than turf-lordism on the periphery of an embattled and feeble Empire. It's rather through recognizing the -old- new nature of the beast and as such in order to be faced, needs new ideas and tools to be faced with, dismantled, and replaced. Only through mass movements and visionary intellectuals can such a project be entertained and brought to fruition.

        All awake and progressive forces have to close ranks in defeating the forces that stand on the way of reforming, actually refounding, the national state, be they the Salafi leapers to their La-La-Land of the Universal Theocratic State, or equally abominable, the accommodationists with their fragmentary client-state projects. The establishment of a free and independent national states is the precondition for any further development, be economic, cultural or to a higher and more complex political clustering(s) towards the Arab Unitary State.

        Those who're intent in imposing democracy by force as well as those aping their noisy campaigns are only felling the trees down to save the forest. Whether in good faith or otherwise, many who call for democracy ignore its basics. That's democracy starts from the ground up and not vice-versa. For, democracy, before it's a system of governance, is a way of life. And just like any other system, say religion, it's to be imparted from early on at all levels and by all means. The grounds where it's to be sowed must be prepared, the watchdogs be unleashed , that's, civil society. Democracy as a worldly philosophy deals with the mundane and is not easily reconcilable with the sacred since truth is reached by consensus rather than by decrees from on High. The pillar of democracy rests on the idea of the equality among all the participants regardless of their creed, race, sex, or economic-social conditions, and of having the same rights and duties prescribed under the law. While its thrust is social, its engine is driven by the individual as the main agent of history. In a certain sense, it's a wholistic system and as such doesn't do well in the presence of other wholistic systems. For it's inherent in wholistic systems to be exclusive or hegemonic -over the other domains of life. Thence, democracy can play its role only when other systems are neutralized or separated, so each acts within, if not a in clear and well delineated domain, in its main area of concern.

        The strident shouts calling for democracy without first clearing the grounds from all the dead growth and nasty weeds, is a false call, and are only deluding themselves, once again, by giving credit to the misleading notion that recycling -when it comes to cultural renewal- is a universal virtue. Just as one cannot mount an engine on an old rickety cart, or transplant a young healthy heart in an old and exhausted body and expect the cart to cruise smoothly or the body to rejuvenate itself, the same with democracy, it cannot be mounted on an old and exhausted social and cultural fabrics that have survived past their times and utilities. A traditional social aggregations with their superstitious and submissive values, where blood ties, clan, and tribal loyalties are the mainstay and the glues that hold them together, certainly are no flying candidates for democracy's self-assertiveness and pugnacious polities with their self-arrogated rights and roles, not to say interest-based, drives and allegiances.

        Neither economic liberalization nor the full integration into the global market -most Arab states are already partially integrated into the global market- would solve the crisis of the post-colonial state. These measures, more likely, will aggravate further not only the dysfunctionality of the state -repression coupled with nepotism and corruption- but more gravely the traditional ties and mores that kept the aggregate together so far. The Chicago/Harvard Supply side economic voodoo solutions have long been tried in Latin American states and other parts's states and failed dismally to address the underlying problems that still gnaw at these societies's cores: landfundism and comparodorism in Latin America, and oil parasitism and traditional culture in the Middle East. Anyone can make a fancy scenario for the long-run, as they say in the long-run we all will be dead, the question what will make the long-run different from today, if everything else remains the same and only the "economy" changes? In the absence of serious changes here are some scenarios which are more likely to get worse:

        - Economically, privatization will only accelerate the already horrendous economic disparities, by further concentrating the wealth in few hands, and thus reduce, if not kill, the nascent and fledgling small middle class.

        - Culturally, the precarious conditions maintained so far between traditional values and modern conditions will further deteriorate to a breaking point.

        - Socially, the atrophization of the traditional ties will wreck havoc in the social fabric and thus increasing the degree of alienation and tensions.

        All these, without valid alternatives, will push society -state, economy and culture- into failure and thus collapse. Somalia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq, etc.... are only the more visible examples, behind them comes a host of other societies and states, included in this category are most if not all of the Arab states, which are still barely subsisting on the edge of ruin and collapse.


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