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Libyan Writer Ghoma

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Thursday, 23 November, 2006

What Happens In Baghdad Echoes All Across Arab-stans!

By: Ghoma

        As the carnage rages in Iraq and the slaughter continues unabated relentlessly taking its daily toll not only of human flesh and blood but more so on the hopes of the rest in the, by now has become an abstraction, a mere geographical designation, so-called Arab World. What Iraq lays bare, beyond making vivid and clear the war's wantonness of killing and destruction, most importantly the fragmentary social base, and how fragile and frayed is the fabric of the social formation underlying what seemingly has appeared until recently to be a coherent whole and an amalgamated mass. The war has showed, beyond a shadow of doubt, how archaic and disintegrating the substructure on which post-colonial and presumably "secular" Iraqi state was erected on still are. The larger implications for the area as a whole reside in the answer(s) to the following questions: Is there a reason to think other Arab states, which were cooky-cuts from the same templates, will fare better if confronted with a relatively stronger than usual shove. Is Iraqi catastrophe limited to Mesopotamia or the Iraqi bug exists in each and all of the other 21-wretched statelets occupying the area stretching between the Ocean Blue and the murky Gulf? Is what taking place in Baghdad remains in Baghdad or will spill over to inundate the surrounding areas perhaps reaching even farther beyond?

        Iraq has also shown not only how worn-out and frail its make-up but more importantly how it's easier to knock down and take apart than to put back and (re) build something differently anew in its place. Despite the neo-colonial state efforts to impose a unifying facade Iraqis remained jumbled in their minds, fractured in their social make-up and confused in their philosophy of life. The sad realty is traditional and pre-industrial social formations, in their rigidity, stubbornness, and differences from any later formations, are less amenable to experimentations thus less prone to reform. No effort has been made, in the area, since Ibn Khaldun, to understand what underlies the hum and drum of the teeming multitudes. Most theories dealing with social organizations and their dynamics were formulated and applied on the modern and modernizing societies. Hence there's a tremendous lack of understanding for those still in the grips of pre-modern, pre-industrial trap-nets. Because the instinctual, fragmentary and atomized relations differ qualitatively from the abstract and alienated blase' type associations synonymous with modernity. A cursory comparison between what's taking place in Iraq and some close experiences, in time and intensity, as those in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, of course, with the due and necessary differentiations and qualifications -there's quite a wide margin of differences between the two cases: the latter went through internal upheavals, no matter how major and shocking while Iraq was overwhelmed and taken apart by an external invasion. Unlike Iraqi social mess, presumably due to its backwardness and thus brittleness of its social ties to stand the onslaught of war and ruin, the social bases held together in these countries despite the traumatic shocks.

        Neither the contention that the post-colonial state has fallen prey to despotic regimes that have mismanaged it holds a lot of water. The neo-colonial state by design is a strongly centralized state that lends itself easily and automatically, if not demands, of the "strongman's syndrome". Some of the misreadings came from the fact the neo-colonial state had inherited the practice of a strong state and the theory of a benevolent one. While there may be some resemblances between the neo-colonial state practices and some early to mid- twentieth century European fascist regimes, in the contours and overall behaviors, there're structural differences nonetheless that make of any comparison a superficial a specious endeavor. For, the patched social medley presumably underlying the neo-colonial state was of a nature and character quite apart from that which supported Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. Unlike in these latter, the groups which formed the basis for the neo-colonial state have never sloughed their traditional social identities or surrendered their roots and tribal affiliations, though have embraced dogmas and rallied behind a many charismatic leaders. Instead the multitude of the 3-World's garden variety had put a show of faked performances, in going along regimes and policies never were consulted for nor could have identified with, without ceding any of the existing social or cultural ties. Otherwise how we can explain the labor of a close to a century couldn't have eliminated the dominant roles of family, clan, tribe and notable. After all these loyalties are the only ones still alive and prospering!

        The colonial state was by design an oppressive machine, built on pure raw power to subject and humiliate the "natives". The neo-colonial sate was a notch or two up the scale but still of the same parentage! It was modeled after the same old and archaic idea of ruling by itself, of itself, and for itself. A state built by words, myths, and images, by spin, never was qualified to tackle important matters that pertaining to the welfare and future of the governed. That's a fry cry from the modern idea of the state with decision-making mechanisms, a governing body that manages people and resources and mediates between the different and competing interests.

        By those standards, there's no one single state in the Middle East outside of the inherited neo-colonial state legacy, and much less modern state. In actuality, the structures and systems we see are mere faint simulacra, resemblances, mockups to what some have confused and still are confusing with the real thing: an organically and home grown that embodies the national truth and ambitions! The alien-ness of the neo-colonial formation is apparent in the wide and an seemingly unbridgeable gap, an abyss, a chasm, and disconnect in the tremendous lack of relations, bonds and communication mechanisms that usually tie people to their collective-will in a well-founded state. If for no other reasons than the way the neo-colonial state was put together. A slew of hodge-podge groupings of religious factions, tribes and clans lumped together in haste or for nefarious reasons and purposes which only colonialists and empire seekers were able and unscrupulous enough to dream of and then had executed, as has transpired so far: a fair, stable, and prosperous state do not make. It's not by chance the most failed states are in this herd. Iraq, Sudan, Lebanon, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Rwanda, etc., and in each and everyone of the 22 Arab-statelets, in spite of the surface calm some of them exhibit, their underlying substructures are made out of murky and turbulent undercurrents that may turn into a mire sinking further the oppression-induced calm and bogging down any effort aimed to mutating the precarious and labile social balance! The oxymoronic absurdity of the social formations upon which these states were raised and are still held together put them in a vicious-circle: the most stubborn age-old blood, parochial, and religious ties - these, by their very natures, are anathema to modern state conceptions- and which had dominated most societies prior to the incoming of the modern age, that's, family, tribe, sect, and the like. Just as a bunch of living cells without consciousness (brain and/or mind) make no intelligent life. An aggregate of unamalgamated bunch of tribes with no further awareness beyond their mere -existence, cannot form a durable social pact with a framework under which they may come together; thus their 'truce' is of the type the neo-colonial state formations have been making use of; and, which, had been inherited and sadly has been kept alive as the mainstay to these illegitimate and mal-deformed entities, called states.

        Can such a frayed fabric be depended on to support the scaffolding for a state in general and a modern one in particular? Are the pre-modern, pre-industrial social formations with their web of connecting ties be a base for nation-building? The answer which has been given over and over again by history in addition to sociologists, philosophers, and political thinkers was a clear no. Almost all tribal groupings, states, what've been attempted in Africa, Asia, and Oceania are still suffering from that insidious disease of all national diseases, that's. lack of coherence and national will! Their social solidarities were like movie sets, seemingly imposing facades but no rooms behind! The neo-colonial state fared no better morally and may be added in its practices than its progenitor (the colonial state). For, unlike its precedent, the neo- colonial have suffered, from the get-go the lack of a clear decision-making process and accepted methods to transform plans into actions? The experience has shown that beyond demagoguery and repression, these states have no mechanisms to convert words into deeds. A sham monocracy mired in the ocean of words and dreams, all is in the mind, including the economy! Iraq is the latest to demonstrate that foggy ideological perorations, in the absence of stable mechanisms and institutions to covert them into actions, by and in themselves, create illusions of a mirage never a real thing to effectuate the desired goals. Iraq, far from the cold and abstracted analysis, conjectures, and fly-by inklings of the cognoscenti, has become the most tangible proof to the hypothesis -which is becoming more and more a fact!- that theory doesn't eliminate history and in the most only able to obfuscate certain unpleasant aspects of it; that social cementing, cohesion, and solidity are not a chance happenstance nor a result of a tossing of a dice but a result of hard and conscientious work. The fact groups today inhabiting Iraq, after millennia of cohabitation, are still more like a smorgasbord, an enchilada, than a fused pot of soup. [Perhaps it's not by chance the mythical Tower of Babel was located there?]. The mere fact that it took a relatively wane nudge, even it's a stormy push, to knock the whole edifice down after more than 80 years of efforts -the neocolonial state efforts- to patch and prop up a frazzled fabric of social mixture to become a coherent and coalesced mixture and texture. The failures is twofold: 1- what should have been an "event" (transition) - the neo-colonial state- has been taken as a "structure" (permanent); and, 2- both the event and structure lacked a philosophical and design frameworks that would have given them the needed mechanisms to survive and prosper, for instance an overriding and overdetermining idea that brings, frames, and holds everything together, those separate parts, which, by and on themselves don't have what it takes to stick together nor are apt to form a lasting bond.

        There's growing body of literature and evidence that the social ties and loyalties required for a modern nation-state are qualitatively different from those informal bonds which had kept prior social formations going together. The social structures and relations have been the subject of intense scrutiny since at least the 19th century. The Germans were the first to realize their importance given the fractured conditions in which they were in back then. They're called gesellschaft and gemeinschaft. Gesellschaft relations, those of citizenship type, are different from the organic blood and otherwise informal ties than the gemeinschaft bonds which have characterized traditional societies. In sum political relations, abstract allegiances and loyalties, unlike traditional ties, are not instinctual, and since are above blood-emotional stages, qualitatively speaking, need a milieu and institutions to brood them and to express manifestations, in the absence of which, a lasting damage to the main thrust of the bonds, that's trust is obtained. Because of their historicity and instinctualness, the blood loyalties -since are the most recalcitrant and entrenched- are also the worst to eradicate and be substituted especially in such fluid situations where individuals can lose with their bearings literally their lives if they're not protected by one or other of the many groups competing for their allegiances. This condition is aided by the fact that in traditional social formations, among all the allegiances on the market that of the state or political ideologies -because of their coldness, abeyance, and remoteness-, are the least effective and the last to be considered, if ever, worthy of life and death commitments. Why the Arab World has gotten stuck in such a situation is waiting for some brilliant sociologist to elicit an answer. But most importantly is for a philosopher or political thinker to point to the way out of the jam, from this static formation.

        No group individually and collectively has suffered such continues defeats and humiliations for so long as the Arabs are still doing! For more than 5-centuries now Arab societies have substituted resistance for submission, freedom for slavery, creativity and innovation for prayers, superstitious with a surfeit of supplications. They've been groaning their fate and holding to the last fortress of barbarism! If what makes humans human is that self-awareness of being the masters of their fate and the captains of their ship, then a ritualistic and an atrophied culture must have doomed them to their present Dantesque fate. This condition has produced more what mere stagnation would not have: devolution! The stasis seems to have had affected the core, what differentiates humans from the rest of living beings: consciousness. The result is a new/old species made out of homunculus -a notch or two above primates.

        Societies, like any living entity, while are more than the sum of their parts, are made up of individuals, other structures that constitute the building blocks, which act in similar fashion to molecules and genes in the living bodies. In normal milieus, autonomous and independent individuals are subject to the whims of the external environment and the level of stress it exerted on their proper functioning. In less normal social organizations, the suppression of the individual's role in favor of the bigger molecules -the family, the clan, and the tribe- has exposed the body politic to all kinds of aberrations. One dares to think that somewhere along the way, in the Arab World, a mishap had occurred which had wrecked havoc with the bunch of genes responsible for change and mutations. The degenerative malfunction had attacked the organisms responsible for the social and otherwise developments. An arrested developed, if not devolution, had resulted! To overcome the problem and on par of what's going on in the bio-medical methods, a correction to the affliction has to be sought. Which probably will consist of, first, it's necessary to probe the social body to find the malfunctioning genes; and second to come with a way or ways to set them in motion. Can the steps be burned and a historical process be accelerated? History is full of ups and downs in this matter. The traditional model - presently followed among others by China in its massive and rapid industrialization- was tribe, clan, and sect have to be converted into a proletariat + bourgeois (middle class) first for the next step to occur , that's, the nationalization of the bourgeoisie. In both China and India, one has to keep in mind that some of some of the nationalization processes had been achieved through historical struggles complemented with ideological and political means before the modernization, rationalization and industrialization processes have been embarked on. However, the new model now in the offing in India which, aims to overstep the proletarian-bourgeois hitch and shoot straight for the post-industrial social formation, that's so-called middle class majority, is still in its beginning, too early to judge -though one can argue that China and India were long passed the tribal-clan stages, there's some lingering remnants in their social mix-ups of the old!

        As to the Arabs dilemma, despite postmodern theory, people do not live on words and dreams alone, actions and deeds have to accompany the plethora of ideologies that aim to transform them from somnolence to vibrant democracies. Nation-building, rationalization of social structures and processes, and the modernization which they entail are more than visual and verbal nostrums (luxuries), they're, and must be seen as blood and treasure sacrifices.

        There's a spooky silence among the chattering rooms of the Arabs about Iraq apart from the timid and sporadic cheering of the "heroic resistance" without the due condemnation of the unheroic and wanton treason and betrayals! The shock-and-awe tactics have produced the hoped for paralysis among the watchers! The overwhelming power has left the Arabs afraid to move, afraid to react, and afraid to express even their sympathy, empathy, not to talk of solidarity or to voice out their utter refusal to be part of the slaughter taking place. Each has put their carapace and withdrawn under its protective shell. They maybe peeping out of some little holes to watch the horrors taking place next door to them but in a deafening silence. The agonies's and atrocities's effects have only scared the hell out of them. Is this the instinctual fear encountered as when a predator corners its prey -the latter is paralyzed by the certain and doomed end, or just out of shame and embarrassment of being helpless? For the result maybe the same but the remedy certainly will be different for each. While the one is natural the other is out of cowardice. A giant is beating a weak relative and the neighbors keep watching in silence, and worse some of them are helping as the Gulf protectorates! New record has been registered by the Arabs: their indifference to the fate of each of them. Back in mid-20th century people and governments had stood firm with Algerians in their struggle against the French, what has happened since then? Indifference or only the dazzling effect of mass-media intent on overcoming ideology through consumerist teasings? Globalizations and its aftermath fallout? Or only a sold-out ruling political cliques, a corrupted bureaucracy, a voracious comprador groups coupled with a gullible and destitute multitudes?

        The analysis points to the complexity and thus difficulty of approaching what's commonly fashionable nowadays, the nation-building process. However, not many in the Libyan and Arab communities are willing to go that far and keep parroting some mumbo-jumbo slogans aimed at reforming the existing structures to meet some minimum standards for their proper functioning. While there's an amble room for debating both options, we've to be clear about each choice and what it entails. For instance the first -nation-building- with all its ambiguity and open-endedness - as Bush's War!- its intentions are radical and swift; while the latter -reform- is rather benign and more circumspect, of the sort, work with what you've, try to make something out of the hand dealt you type. Nation-building demands a major overhaul of the existing structures and a complete new pact among and between the contending parts, to define themselves as well as the goals and the objectives they're willing to strive for and thus live by. Reform is less strenuous in its demanding and it can vary greatly in degrees from mere veneer polishing and tweaking to meet the global slogans to a serious taking apart and re-combining and re-composing of the constituent elements to meet some new design guidelines. In each and all, unruffling a primordial evolutionary "architecture without architect" wouldn't be scot-free, as they say, nor without major glitches: upheavals, and turmoil are not to be excluded. Failures are also part of the equation. Iraq is still in the de-constructive stage and the making of something out of it has still to come. However, all future expectations are pending on the outcome of this badly needed yet traumatic experience. Any projects drawn or still on the drawing boards have not only to include the gleamed out raw data from Iraq, but also have to wait for their launching onto full action the end result of this truly once-in-a-millennia- historical reshuffling of the cards.

        The upshot and the bottom line is any action aimed at changing the rotten conditions of any Arab state has to understand what's getting itself into first as well as the nature of the beast looking straight in the eyes. What makes these societies and this group of states the way they are is worthy of a many disputations. Whether the solution(s) comes through revolutionary actions or evolutionary procrastination is only a thorough and exhaustive analysis of the situation at hand would evince. It's a whole new brave world. Not many of other societies's experiences can be a guide in this endeavor, given the vast abyss separating them from Arab societies. No Japan, China, or Russia, not even Eastern Europeans, perhaps only Albania and this one is still at the same swamps as the Arabs, albeit its location -go figure! Most of these societies kept changing though at slower pace than their Western counterparts, unlike Arab societies. So, what has been done by other societies in at least thousand and more years, has to be dealt with in the Arab case in one shot. Is it possible? So far has challenged all the brainpower of many good thinkers with no avail. How to deal with metaphoric "those in the cave" as an actual fact: to communicate to them -when they cannot even understand the language- that what they see is not complete reality but rather its shadows and bits and pieces; and while it may have constituted some reality to them, yet is only partial; and in order to see the full manifestation of it they've to climb out of their cave and be prepared to endure the shock of seeing a whole new world than the one they were used to.

        What about the masses? That's the $64k question! A tribal-religious culture has ingrained an innate emotional instability, passionate for rhetoric and colloquialisms which are anathema to cooperation and leadership. The multitude was enfeebled further by the neo-colonial state paternalism to expect a normal existence free of the required sacrifices. Lacking that sense of "disenchantment" and the "Protestant ethic" in Weber's terms, the tribes moved into the urban conglomerates only to loose what little was left of their pride and dignity to make it possible for them to engage in the animal struggle for survival typical of the 3-world urban jungle. Life for these became synonymous with subsistence! One is tempted hesitantly and cautiously to opine that there are no masses to speak of in the Arab World, in the modern sense of the term, there're instead plenty of gangs, sects, factions, and cliques, you name it; all bent on getting whatever they can get their hands on regardless of who's giving it -Qaddafi, Uncle Sam, the Devil in person, or God in disguise! The woebegone hang-overs of " shame and honor" are the last straws of a drowning culture. The divergent behavior of the newly urbanized multitude from the classical models is a product of the inadequate policies of the neo-colonial state and further sign to contradictions underpinning its foundations. In the traditional models, it didn't take long for the mass to get hold of its conditions and started putting enough pressures to improve them. For, the notion of the mass and its role and effectiveness is part and parcel of the conditions of modernity and cannot be seen in abstract as mere numbers and raw materials to use it for one's pursuits. The fact is an impoverished, illiterate, and hungry mass is as ineffective as a computer set without software. Only a conscious and an organized multitude can be used and depended on for a drastic and lasting transformation.

        The neo-colonial state phenomenon has produced -or was accompanied- by its twin likeness, or mirror-image, that's, its opposition. In actuality whatever was called by that name played more the role of an antagonist than the less morbid traditional role usually assumed by opposition parties and groups. Controversy, antagonism, and turmoil have shadowed the neo-colonial state since its inception only to find the opposing groups got mired in the swamps of their nemesis. When it was not a coup-d'etat, the opposition relied mainly on Religion and/or Monarchy as the sources of charisma and historical meaning. One reason for the stagnation was/is because the opposition was -still is- made out, more or less, of the same social elements that inherited the state. The religious-tribal groups disparaged, if not inimical to, ideology in favor of a more familial-familiar definition of the world which's an anathema, in stricto senso to modernization. In the best, these groups embraced a set of values and moral horizons blurred by the ideological equivocations and the acute sense of practical realism -when it comes to what matters most to their interests and survival- and that were typical of the petty bourgeois elements occupying the other sides of the barricade. These are, in addition to the traditional coterie of family, clan, and tribe the new breed of trimmers, in market's fashion of the business of business is business, ready to cut a deal whenever they see one. The about-face ad-lip gibberish is only the salesman's pitch to seal a deal and its side fallouts was treated as the cost of doing business. To be fair there must have been some genuine and honest folks who did what they did for noble purposes, but if there were those honest got lost in the mix of the opportunists and buffoons. "Intellectuals" then tagged on with their empty blather of obfuscating and equivocating the traditional categories of clientism, nepotism, and plain corruption as only part of the "other side"! The incoherence reached even wider scopes when came accompanied by such historical revisionism which made ample use of neo-conservatives paradigms in the Post-Cold War era on both sides of the Atlantic. We're sold now the slogans and the pump-stickers of powers and forces only God knows their purposes or intentions! Democratize all you want as long as you willing to stick to the role assigned and know your place in the overall scheme of things.

        Since both the neo-colonial state and its opposition carried exclusivity in their genes, they have no chance to cooperate and work together. The mutual distrust, between them came to resemble a cat-and-mouse game, where each side's existence is guaranteed only by the elimination of the other. It's also true the deck was stacked from the begging against the opposition in the sense that it never had a place at the table. This denial cannot be attributed only to the wholistic and totalitarian nature of the state but other factors as well must be considered as those of the social-cultural tendencies of exclusion. The flip side of this is the opposition has not been fared better, be in its unimaginative manifestos or sterile programs. Historically Oppositions have put all their eggs in one basket by concentrating on the ways to acquiring power only and whenever succeeded they're no better than what they replaced.

        Nor all who objected to the state were in accord to its past or in their understanding of the present not to talk about the future. Neo-colonial state and its opposition from the begging were truly two faces to the same coin. One is bent of keeping all the power and its perks, and the other is dedicated to grabbing them by any means. The game is very simple and clear to any observant. The consolation that the neo-colonial state carries its abomination in its genes, and the opposition may have a chance to redeem itself and save the day was soon dissipated and never realized dream. Instead we're faced with a reality where hanging a shingle for opposition has become an end in itself, a full act which has been hailed with heroic overtones as an undertaking worthy only of the daring - and/or the reckless!

        Are Libyans and Arabs caught in the infamous vicious-circle, hard if not impossible to break? It certainly looks that way. The monster with seven lives, the neo-colonial state, keeps grinding, and the opposition was lost in the wilderness. This paralysis is at least in part a result of the impossible situation, with all the contractions in the world between the demands of a rotten social and cultural base and the imperatives of globalization. The actual village vs. the virtual global village! If one adds the untimely religious revival and the constraints which ensue and barring a relapse to some mumbo-jumbo theocratic state, in the best scenario, changing the mechanics of handling power, the so-called democratic solution, is neither in the short or medium duration has a chance, its adoption will be akin to putting a band-aid on a cancerous lesion. It sounds fashionable but in reality constitutes a post-industrial solution to unfortunately stone-age problem. The incompatibility doesn't reside in the solution itself but rather in the between it and the terrain in which to be applied; in other words in the quality of those who'll execute them and the people who're applied to. Back to that old conundrum posited by the Spanish existentialist philosopher, Ortega Y Gasset Jose' in a lecture on technology by making the following example: If a transfer can occur between Tibetans and Brits, each shall live in the other's lands. The British will find a way to live and prosper (in Tibet) while the Tibetans will turn the British Isles into the Stonehenge times!

        Caught between the neo-colonial state oppression and Religious fundamentalism, in most of the cases without a truly working economies, the Arab states are deep in the ideological vacuums left after the collapse of ideology, and becoming mere empty vessels for anyone and any power to fill in. Take Libya as an example, after 37 years of unending rumblings of Qaddafi and the likewise blithering of the opposition, it's now in the unviable situation where no one seems to have the foggiest idea of how to get out of the dilemma nor what to do next. Faced with a black-hole-size gap between an ever increasing disenchantment with the certainties of once-upon-a-time -without being replaced by some 'coherent uncertainties- and the magnet of globalization, the different parts, in their various ways and nefarious acrobatics are jockeying and hedging their bets on the winning horse, the USA! Faced with the prospect of being either swallowed by a giant or falling prey, as Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca long ago had theorized, that a society sooner or later will fall under the control of the most active elements, who're now the fundamentalists, most will opt for the devil they know, Qaddafi!

        Any serious and committed work has to look for the medium to the long hauls. Neither Libya nor any of the other Arab states are going to get out of their jams soon. If any meaningful change happens will be pure miracle contrary to all laws of history and Nature too! To start the debate of where we go from here, a series of questions have to be faced in a consisting and coherent manners: Should Life, Liberty, and Happiness be the ultimate goals of existence or something else? Should God or people have the ultimate say? Should individual or family, society be the foundation (the building block) and the ultimate goal? Should the state or business run the economy? Should culture stick to tradition (and Religion) or adopt modernism and technoloy? Should Arabs unite in a nationality or each state continues to fend for itself? What should be our shtick for the world we live in? Et cetera, et cetera, etc.....


More Articles Written By Ghoma

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