Sunday, July 02, 2006
"There’s no Al Jazeera in the US!"
A discussion with Prof Akeel Bilgrami
The situation is very bad for the Muslim immigrant community in the US. The worst things about 9/11 is that it has given the US govt an excuse to ratchet up what it can do in the rest of the world, in the Middle East in particular. In the US itself, it only affects poor, low-income Muslim immigrants. It doesn’t affect 99% of the US population. Academics in the US are a spoilt community, they complain about things in the US. But one should have a sense of scale on what’s going on. We should look at the Middle East. The US acts with impunity to do what it wants. Americans will not give up their basic freedoms of speech and so on. Talk about the Patriot Act and so on is a distraction, of what’s really happening, in the Middle East, and with poor Muslim immigrants.
Coming to the Palestinian cause, Arafat was a disaster. A crook, a corrupt man. For one of the most subjugated people in the world to have a corrupt man in charge for decades was really a terrible thing. He never allowed any grassroots opposition to develop. He and the leadership completely gave in to the Oslo accords, which were terrible arrangements for the Palestinians, basically putting up an apartheid regime. At the last minute, because of grassroots protests this accord was not signed. Israel does not listen to anybody and the US govt sees it as a geopolitical client. And especially now because Saudi Arabia has become a problem for the US, because people are now saying Saudi Arabia is run by a corrupt, undemocratic regime. Hence Al Jazeera is a remarkable institution. Its worth studying. I’m amazed no one has written an anthropological and sociological study of Al Jazeera. It has managed to change the map of the Middle East. It has managed to convey to ordinary people of countries like Saudi Arabia what’s been happening for so long, about which they had no idea until Al Jazeera came along. And now they know. Its turning the place upside down. Hence Israel is relied upon even more. And so they can get away with anything. The Gaza pullout was a complete smokescreen to totally consolidate what they have already.
I was invited to give a lecture at the university in Jerusalem, on the subject I write on, which is language and psychology. I said I would come if I could also speak at Ber Zeit. Edward Said, who was a close friend, arranged for me to speak at Ber Zeit. I reached Jerusalem, I spoke at the university in Jerusalem. Ber Zeit is 12 miles away. It took me 2 hrs 35 mins to reach there. We had to drive over un-driveable roads. It is a shameless brutalisation of the people and there’s nothing anybody can do about it because America will not allow anyone to do anything. America is no longer confident about its allies like Saudi Arabia.
The lies written about – for instance that there was no evacuation of Palestinians … Its amazing that for the first decade and a half after the creation of Israel, nobody talked about the Palestinians, as if they didn’t exist, blotted out of history. Even the Palestinians feel they have absolutely no public relations in the US. The Zionists have taken over everything, they’ve got the newspapers, the education system. The Palestinains have no voice. That’s because they have no way of presenting their case to the mainstream. They have never cultivated the mainstream in any respect. But you just have to do it. Because those are the people who speak to the people in power. Pamphlets do not reach the people who make the decisions. And you have be the antenna, you have to always catch what the people are saying. The Palestinians have to get an advertising agency to promote their cause! They can’t say the corporate culture is demeaning!
Terrorism is never going to go away until the problem in the Middle East gets a just solution. Osama Bin Laden said what’s absolutely correct: that the problem is this, and if you don’t pay attention to what he says is the problem, then … It doesn’t have to be him. Its not a problem of religious fanaticism. That’s a way of avoiding the reality. If you think the Indian media is bad, the media of the US is the most extraordinarily well-worked out stooge of a certain corporate culture. And I think the Left has completely failed. Soon after last elections in which Bush was re-elected, papers like the Nation said that the electorate of the “Red” states consists of vile and stupid people! Without any effort to understand how undemocratic that remark is! They blame people rather than the institutions like the media through which people are indoctrinated. Open the papers in rural Nebraska and you will see warmongering headlines. There’s no Al Jazeera in the US!
I’m very interested in why it is that the voting public votes against their own interests. Psychologists call it “the frame problem”; when you are in a certain contextual frame of rhetoric and formulation of ideas, you say one thing and when you are in a different formulation of rhetoric and politics you come up with a completely different answer. As individuals, people give responses which are very humane and compassionate. Now put it in foreign policy or political economy jargon - they will give completely inconsistent answers. There’s no reason to think they are basically inhumane people. People there are as humane as anywhere else. But they are in the framework where you have been indoctrinated from an early age by media and education, into subjugated thinking. The Left has no deep analysis of what’s going on in that country. We have become elitist, metropolitan intellectuals, with no relation to the grassroots, we have not thought deeply about the grassroots. People go to church in the so called Red belt because it’s the only place that gives them a sense of belonging or community. They have nothing else to do. No reading books, because they have not had the opportunity to get the education for that. There are no unions, no union halls, no places to meet people - except the church. You have arranged it so that there’s nothing else to do. And then you label them violent, stupid!
There is a degradation and bankruptcy of institutions at the international level. Take Brazil, where there was a progressive popular movement in which Lula emerged. An amazing thing that Brazil could have a popular movement after so much repression! You have a leader of a country who has been elected on a platform of various progressive changes. But he can’t carry out one thing of that movement, for if he did there would be capital flight, within a month, and there would be massive unemployment. Therefore it would be irresponsible of him to do what he promised his people he would do. One needs to think about the systemic nature of this. Especially now, when we no longer have just industrial capital but basically finance capital. Capital is mobile and moves in and out at will.
Somebody’s problems are not going to be solved unless they have movements, and movements not just in one country but at multiple sites. This was not the case when capital was largely industrial capital. With finance capital, we can no longer have just local movements. For then capital can just move out of a country where there is struggle. Capital has a way of buttressing itself, and keep consolidating. This has emerged only in the last one and half decades.