In The Absence Of Truth


The State And The Army in The Middle East. Part I

Filed under: General — In the absence of truth @ 14:15

Prospects for revolution in the Middle East, as we have seen these days, hinge on how the armed forces are behaving. The Army, the most potent player in these fields for decaeds, if not for centuries, has retained the last decisive say on what is going on in the state.

These days, the Army is reluctant to step in directly and topple governments. They’ve seen this so often, and what has come out of it, that they would prefer not to, except for, of course, if need be.

1. The Army is the protector of the state. In some ways, the Army is the state, its core and embodiement. In some cases, there is nothing around resemembling a state a lot, execeot for the Army: look at Lebanon, where the Army is the sole pride of everybody.

Of course, this Army has never really a fought a war, as it would stand no chance; it would not put up much of a fight against, say, Israel or Syria. Oh wait, it has tried them both. That is probably the reason it prefers not to talk about it.

But the pride of the Lebanes army is not so much its role in defending the country, but its unique role in the civil war. It managed to come out of it nearly alive (hadn’t it be for Mr. Aouns adventure against Syria). Yes, that is right. The Lebanese Army has managed to have a civil war ravage its country for 15 years, without intervening (except, well, for another of Mr. Aouns ill-fated adventures). It couldn’t intervene, because otherwise it would have fractured. So, basically, its source of pride is that it managed not to fall apart too badly in a 15-year long civil war, including invasions from Syria, Israel and the PLO, by simply not doing too much. Everybody takes great pride in that fact. The Lebanese Armed Forces are recognized as the true embodiement of Lebanons unity.

What, one may ask, is that Army good for? Well, in 1974 it massacred some destitute fishermen in Saida. And it fought only recently a year-long battle in some Palestinian shanty towns (dwarfing, in effect, Israels infamous battle of Jenin). The Armed Forces, basically, are grotesquely over-equipped riots-control forces. They are good for only one thing, domestic urban warfare. They are instruments for class warfare and little else.

But maybe Lebanon is too weak a state to serve as a good example. Take Syria. Syria really is a regional power. The wonders its Army did include losing the Golan twice, deposing the government (also twice), controling neighboring Lebanon for 15 years, and one resounding military victory over the Syrian city of Hama (some 10.000 dead, at least). They also shied away from trying their luck against the Turkish Army in 1998, expelling the PKK forces instead, and from a military adventure in Jordan in 1970. Oh, but they waged relentless war in Lebanon against the PLO, that is until their Palestinian brigades defected to Arafat.

2. Syria lost the 1973 war when among the conscripts word went round that the leadership was withdrawing its Republican Guard elite units form the front. This rumor caused the front to collapse, instantly, because every conscript held it possible that the leadership already had decided the war was lost, and refrained from withdrawing the regular army made up of conscripts, preferring instead to sacrifice them. (This mass defection was in some ways a precursor of the 1991 soldiers uprising in neighboring Iraq, which was put to death with help from the U.S.)

Shall we go into the details of the military putsches and wars of aggression of Iraq? It may be helpful to remind us that Baathist Iraq also employed two types of military, the regular forces and the Republican Guards. The Iranian regime, in the Iraqi-Iranian war, quickly learned why that is of such importance: they hardly would have survived their own Kurdistani campaing in 1981, against Leftist forces in Iranian Kurdistan, had they releid on the regular Army, made up of conscripts.

Or shall we, for a moment, think of Algeria, where the military proved so vital for upholding the constitution, by fighting a prolonged civil war against Islamist forces, including letting them massacre the population of whole villages, in broad daylight, in plain sight of Army barracks and checkpoints, and even surveillance helicopters, without stepping in? Everybody knows what an Army is capable of doing, and letting happen, if it serves their purpose: guarding the survival of the state, and that is ultimately: of the Army itself.

All this, of course, is not restricted to Arab countries. Portugal, Spain, the Latin American states show some of the same traits. But it is revealing that all states proudly proclaiming to be „Arab Republic of So-and-so“ feature them as a standard, and for decades everybody took them as standard, so that one may wonder what the word Arab stands for, except for a certain kind of dysfunctional military powerplay that is deeply connected with the political concept of „Arabism“ (3uruba).

Evidently, in the Arabist school of thought, what makes an Arab country Arab is not a shared ethnicity (there is no such thing), or a common descent from a people called „Arabs“ (that is patently absurd), or a common language (try to talk Maghrebi to a Syrian, and you’ll see what that is), or a shared history (which is, by definition, gone by; and hasn’t been very much shared, in these cases).

„Arabism“ relates not an ethnicity, but a way of thinking deeply formed by closed and military-dominated societies that seemed to abhorr change and prefer stability over freedom. That has never been natural, let alone innate to the „Arab people“, rather it was forced upon them. And that is about to crumble. When some day Arab will designate nothing more than a standard language people learn at school, there will be no more need to call states „Arab state“. (Try „Romance republic of France, for once, and shudder; or better yet, „Germanic Kingdom of Sweden“. Chills your blood, I should say.)

(Lebanese civil war has been faught, in part, about the concept of Arabism of Lebanon, which was supposed to imply: standing „faithful to the Palestinian resistance“, orientation towards Syria and Egypt, and support for some vague state socialist cause. Arabism is a political concept deeply entrenched in the conflicts of pre-1968. And after 2003, you could, if you would, hear a lot of arabic-speaking Iraqis saying that they are no longer part of the Arab world, and did not desire to be. What they meant to say was exactly that.)

3. These days, the last vestiges of Arabism have started to crumble. After 2011, things will not be the same any more. There are three possible roads at hand:

a) A civil state, where the armed forces are firmly under civilian control. The center of the state is not within the armed forces but within society. This requires a degree of popular sovereignity where people will voluntarily and readily sumbit to social domination, as is the case in Europe or North America. As this requires a degree of capitalist developement and integration of the whole population into the cycle of value production, it is not a viable option for all but a few countries; because, from the nature of capitalist wealth, it can not be shared universally, but is rendered utterly worthless (as it ultimately is) whithout witholding it from most of mankind. The Middle East could enter the circle of these precious few nations, or at least parts of it could.

b) A resistance state model as propagated by Iran and Hizb Allah, and envisioned by the Muslim brotherhood. Some Leftist circles are allowed to take part in it, too, as long as they will be needed and don’t get in the way (PFLP in Ghaza, Reformists in Iran; the CP cadres in Lebanon, as long as the weren’t killed in 1987 by Hizb Allah. This glorious role is what the Islamo-Left is vying for.). In this model, the army will be supplanted and eventually absorbed by „the resistance“, which is a universally empowered set of organizations encompassing all areas of society. A „resistant“ lifestyle is one who is aimed at giving „the ultimate sacrifice“, a „resistant“ society is one which is not absorbed by petty day-to-day affairs as music and extramarital sex (which need to be, therefore, ruthlessly suppressed), but filled whith holy earnest, and also aimed at the ultimate goal: death in the way of god.

This model solves, in a way, the antinomies of army and society, as it solves the contradicting aspects of that one tormenting question: which one is there to serve which one. It solves it the same way as Ernst Röhms thoughts on absorbing the Reichswehr into his S.A. took up Friedrich Engels‘ thought on peoples militia.

Today, Lebanon is firmly in the hand of the proponents of the „resistance“ model, to which a repentant Michel Aoun himself has been brought to convert. We see the Nasserists-in-disguise in Egypt already touting the very same idea, without bothering that this will empower the Islamists.

c) A revolution based on workers councils, the anti-state dictatorship of the proletariat, and the abolision of state, nation and military altogether. Also a solution, and one that doesn’t need an external enemy, and an enemy within, to thrive, and no war to be fouhgt, either. Of course we are hoping for that solution, but the good guys are not the ones with the big guns.

4. These decisions are posing themselves before hte background of a wider inner-Arab and inner-Muslim civil war. This civil war has raged for more than 30 years, in one form or another. In this civil war, it appeared that two currents (and two competing elites) were fighting for power, a nationalist and an Islamist elite.

But by closer look, a strange dynamic is reveiled behind that seemingly simple competition. The two currents represented two possible answers to the same crisis of capitalist modernization.

The nationalist regimes, whos main pillar has been the army, have tried since 1945 to drag there societies into capitalis or state-capitalist modernity, with all the came with it, the administrative, top-down way. For a short time in the 1960s, they seemed o succeed. But at the end of the 1960s, the crisis that came around 1968 put an end to the early euphoria.

We see 1968 as an international proletarian uprising against capitalist modernization; we know that there may be differing views, but we chose to ignore them.

National, and anti-imperialist, formation and developement after 1968 has never been a self-evident truth any longer, but was embattled by ten years of unceasing crisis. These battles, and the crisis the created, lifted the whole thing to another level, where a different solution was to be found. At this stage, another enemy emerged to modernist nationalism, a competing attempt to solve the crisis of nationalist-capitalist modernization.

Nationalism increasingly took to the free market instead, to deregulation and what has been called economic liberalization. It kept, so to say, its standing army, but let the world market replace the national command over economy. Faced with crisis and uproar at home, it allied with world market, against domestic opposition.

Islamism, which touts that „Islam is the solution“, is far from being a medieval relict that soon will be worn down by modernity. It is thoroughly a product of capitalist crisis, and in earnest an attempt to solve it. (Remember fascism, which also was an attempt to solve crisis.) It is downright a product of what we call the modern age, to the point that one even may call it part of a post-modern age (what ever that may be; maybe the age after 1968.).

The way Islamism believes to solve that crisis is deeply related to that concept of muqawamah, or resistance, as it is used by Hezb Allah and by Muslim brotherhood.

5. In the dictatorial-modernist constellation, state and ultimately the Army are the guarantees of order, and developement. State is something which is standing above society, not an organic part of it, or, as in „developed“ societies, its very own political organization. Society is not yet conquered, not yet wholly subjected to the logic of Capital. State appears as a stranger to society, its uppermost ranks as „state class“ (ahl al dawlah).

Modernization is the process of subjecting the population to their role as mere members of a nation, and dispossessed labor force. Its role is nothing else than to repeat and organize the process of Originary Accumulation, creating a society of classes, and at the same time homogenizing that newly dispossessed masses, creating a political society whose very organization that state itself will be.

It is crystal clear that this program, a logical conundrum in itself, cannot materialize. The Arabist elites, who knew this very well, started to react whith growing despair th the first signs of these contradictions engulfing them.

(Just the same contradiction the Soviet Union and its state party experienced in the crucial formating years: you cannot command the voluntary loyality of the masses, and at the same time subject them to the horros of capitalist modernization, dispossess them, displace them, and kill them en masse if they rebell. The trotskist tendency stands out as a tragic and sometimes unvoluntarily comic example of the impossible situation you get into by not acknowleding that simple contradiction.)

Against the ever-floating, ever-unsteady will of the real people, the Army was the guardian of the people, as they should be; the ideal people, patriotic, disciplined, and loyal to a state and a cause that tokk away everything they had. The Army, therefore, could not let those very people have a say; it could not be content with its early role as a protector of the constitution, but it needed to step in directly, and govern itself; thus setting itself in sharp contradiction to their own design th guard the emergence of a modern, capitalist society governed by „popular sovereignity“.

That is what we call state of emergency, although its foremost thinker, the German jurist and fascist Carl Schmitt, descibed it with the German term „Ausnahmezustand“, exceptional state. Carl Schmitt firmly tied this concept to the concept of sovereignity by declaring that sovereign, or the Sovereign, is he who can declare state of emergency.

Therefore, we must conclude that the Sovereign of the Arabist state, the embodiement of its unity, the protector of the constitution, and the one who really could declare state of emergency has been the Army, standing above the state just as the state stood above society; or rather, its the Free Officers organization, its innermost core, its quasi-Mamluk soul. And it is from there that we start to take a look on how Islamist thought is different from Arabist.

6. The political concept of muqawamah centers around the concept of jihad, which means effort. It aims at subjecting all of society under that effort, at re-organizing it around that effort. Muqawamah or jihad are not perceived as a seperate entity beside society but as its structure, its uniting and synthetic principle, its raison d’etre. Muqawamah (Resistance) against the external and internal (and eternal) enemy is not meant to by a way of politics but a way of live.

This political-social current therefore is in need of an enemies, and above all an eternal enemy who is behind them all. It would never have seen the light, were it not for the effort of Arabist dictatorships effort to unite society against the external foe, inject it with paranoia against the traitor within, and permanent fear of the machinations of the mighty few, which it tried to stick to the anti-Semitic narrative, and its anti-Zionist form deeply embedded in any anti-imperialist ideology.

The eternal foe are, of course, the Jews, and the self-proclaimed Jewish state. The external foe is every imperialist or sub-imperialist enemy of the day, and the internal foe ist of course everybody who, for any reason whatsoever, fails to totally submit to the common, yet totally mad effort.

That invaluable heritage the Islamists tool from Arabism. All they needed to do was change the construed „identity“ from Arab to Islamic, and all the contradictions Arbaism had caught itself in seemed to be resolved. This receipt proved to be irrestistible to many (yet totally mad).

Sovereignity is no longer ascribed to the Army, not to the people (as has been the ultimate yet elusive aim of Arabist modernization), but to God; who, of course, is not present; so, for all practical purposes, Man is his vicegerent on earth; but of course this rule is bound to submission under Gods will. And of course, and not very different from Thomas Hobbes, Islamism had its own moments of „quis iudicabit“: who shall determine what the will of God is commanding?

Khomeinis theory of vilayat e faqih has little appeal to Sunni Islamists, for obvious reasons; his practical solution of how Islam should supersede state, however, has had. Khomeini and his following created, during the Islamic counterrevolution, a parallel state, if you like; a state beside and above the state, guided by separate authorities which were not responsible to „the people“ and the state: the Basij, the Pasdaran, the Supreme Leader. This structure reserved the right to decide on matters of exterior policies, war and peace; it retained, basically, all the rights reserved as arcane rights of the Sovereign in classical theory of state.

In Lebanon, we can watch the inner logic of this unfolding over time. There, this structure is called Hizb Allah (after an Iranian model). It set up a parallel armed body, beside the Army, and to this day managed to keep it from being disarmed and incorporated into the Army. Not even their closest allies have brought them to promise anything more than unifying Army and „Resistance“ under the same command (as it is, by the way, in Iran). The representatives of the party of God see, however, no reason to be silent about their intent to unite both under the command of the „resistance“, as it already has been achieved in Iran

7. Muqawamah, that is the new formula for achieving what no Arab regime has achieved: total submission of the people. Muqawamah serves as a replacement for „popular sovereignity“. It is, in some way, a solution to the problem of sovereignity; not the Army, but the „resistance“ is sovereign. And the „resistance“ is supposed to be not differne from the people, but their embodiement; provided they don’t fail to succumb to it. If they do, they will serve as an unwilling example of the enemy within, which is to be eradicated.

This wholly mad, yet wholly logical model is viable only under certain economic circumstances: the failure of capitalist modernization, and yet the possibility to get by without it. the Iranian regime would not have survived without the oil.

And it would not be viable without being firmly grounded, or appearing to be, in Islamic religion. The traditional Islamic concept of jihad serves as an ideological linkage between the hard effort of society as a whole, against the enemy without, and the individual effort against the inevitable reluctance within the indivual to submit to that cause (the old ethical concept of greater jihad).

Without the heavy dead weight of centuries of Islam, there would not be a ready solution, no way to tie up the ends of that problem of social synthesis; in that way, it is true that „Islam is the solution“. The classical figures of Islamic thought provide Sovereignity with a way to uphold itself, in its deepest crisis, and to escape its abolition.

8. In Egypt, the epicenter of Arabism, we see today how a peoples revolution interacted with the military rule of the Free Officers, and that it could force upon them the decision to undo very much of the state it has build as a disguise to its rule. We see how it has been forced to revert to openly revert to its initial stages, as a sovereign ruler; not in front of an hostile population, but rather of a population that chose to compell them to start all over again.

The deep inner weakness of the movement of January 25th is revealed by the fact that it did not chose to profess itself as the counter-Sovereign, but to compell the Army to fulfill that role. It is as if the movement felt it was not strong and coherent enough, and shared no common concepts of what sholud be done and how it should go further.

It left, for the time being, the old Arabist order intact, and the Army in ultimate control; but in how far that control is a mere facade is to be seen. The Army has been forced to do it; it is to be remembered that the French Revolution started by the people forcing the King, the Sovereign, to do certain things. It was not for long after that that his head came off.

In part II we will deal with how the Armed forces of the original Arabist model developed, in Syria and Iraq; how its developement was, all over the Arab world, intervoven with the development of State in general; and how it interacted with the aspirations of both the bourgeois and the proletarian class.

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