August 22, 2004

Linking Johann

It has been too long since I've linked to anything by Johann Hari, one of the best journalists around. So today I am linking him twice.

I haven't been paying a lot of attention to Iraq's Ayatollah Sistani, but he has and what he reports is pretty encouraging.

Before the war, some of us argued that, in a Saddam-free Iraq, democratic strains of Islamic thought would begin to emerge. We were right - but the violence has been so terrible that nobody noticed. Reuel Marc Gerecht, an expert in Shia political thought, says that Sistani's philosophical arguments for democracy are "almost unprecedented in their scope. He speaks the language of inalienable rights: one man, one vote, and a constitution written by elected representatives and approved by popular referendum. Sistani has managed to launch a project that Muslim progressives have only ever dreamed of: establishing a democratic political order sanctioned and even protected by the clergy." Here are the slow, tentative roots of the Islamic Reformation so badly needed in the Middle East.
Read the rest. Thereís plenty more where that came from.

The arguments between the left and the right don't interest me as much as the arguments within the left and within the right. Especially since the latest across-the-aisle mudslinging-fest is about Vietnam - not my fight. (Is it really too much to ask to have a presidential campaign about the current war in the current century? I guess with these two idiot candidates the answer is yes.) Even if Vietnam were my fight, there's nothing quite like grabbing a bowl of popcorn and watching the neoconservatives flail the paleocons.

Likewise, I prefer to read about a face-off between a brilliant leftist like Johann Hari and a nutcase leftist like the former terrorist Antonio Negri, co-author of "Empire," the new Communist Manifesto.

In the late 1980s, the Italian President Francesco Cossiga described Antonio Negri as "a psychopath" who "poisoned the minds of an entire generation of Italy's youth". Negri has been accused of murdering Italy's former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, and of being il grande vecchio - the grand old man - behind the Red Brigades, one of the most notorious terror groups to attack post-war Europe until al-Qa'ida. In prison he co-wrote an anti-globalisation bible, Empire. Now he's out, and he's heading to London. I am waiting patiently at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, to have my mind poisoned.
Donít just read the teaser, read the whole thing.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2004 11:13 AM
Comments

Michael,

I agree that a discussion among people of the same general politics can be educational and entertaining. Partly, that is more useful than a discussion between left and right, as the left is likely to make this a shouting match (sadly).

That is true on cable political shows, at least (Crossfire and Hardball).

I would characterize the discussion on the right, and center right, between the anti-Israel, pro-Arab, big business secular wing (people like George Schultz and Robert Novak) and those who are pro-Israel, who are believers (possibly being in the Reformed Judaism category), and who strongly idealistic. The first branch kept the Republican party in the wilderness for 20 years, and the Democrats could truthfully say that they were out to give their buddies business. The second might have come in with President Reagan, but the big-business, secularists overwhelmed them.

The second wing only gained prominence in 1994, when President Clinton was backed into the ropes over Hillary's healthcare fiasco. Newt Gingrich shrewdly engineered the Republican resurgence in 1994, with the Contract with America.

The pro-Arab, pro-big business secularists keep sniping at the believers, but so far have not deposed them.

This year's presidential election will be telling in this conflict on the right.

The left is split between center-right who had achieved ascendency under President Clinton and the DLC and the Viet Nam anti-war protestors lead by Senator Kerry. Right now, the DLC has been trampled and it is hard to imagine how they will survive.

You are right, this is "good stuff". Too bad that there can't be civil discussion between left and right.

Regards,

Jim Bender

http://dreadnought-cruisers.blogspot.com/

http://anglo-dutch-wars.blogspot.com/

http://17th-centurynavwargaming.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Jim Bender at August 22, 2004 01:19 PM

Michael,

Is it really fair to describe both candidates as idiots for playing the Vietnam card when only one is playing it?

I really think that the Kerry campaign has nothing to win in a discussion of security policies since Spiro Agnew left in office, and so they aren't. Do you really think that the Bush campaign has anything to lose in a discussion about security policies since 9/11?

We haven't seen the debate yet. All we are seeing is the preliminaries.

Posted by: Patrick Lasswell at August 22, 2004 01:50 PM

Patrick,

Kerry started this. But the right is now obsessed with it.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten at August 22, 2004 02:16 PM

"The analysis of real subsumption, when this is understood as investing not only the economic or only the cultural dimension of society but rather the social bios itself, and when it is attentive to the modalities of disciplinarity and/or control, disrupts the linear and totalitarian figure of capitalist development."

God I hate these Leftist blowhards. This guy is worse than Chomsky, if that's possible. He'll find that today the Left is in rapid decline, and that our world is now divided East vs West; I have no doubt with whom this aging communist will cast his lot. Put him under surveillance asap.

Posted by: David at August 22, 2004 04:07 PM

Michael,
Your reply to Patrick perplexed me... Kerry started it, but now "the right" is obsessed with it?

I thought Patrick's question was a fair one, and it focused on your statement about the candidates. Last time I checked, Mr. George W. Bush was the other candidate, not "the right".

Not sure how you arrive at the conclusion both sides want to raise Vietnam as a central issue, when the Bush campaign appears to be more reactive-responsive to the Kerry campaign's frequent invoking of that history.

Posted by: Seppo at August 22, 2004 05:36 PM

"Kerry started this. But the right is now obsessed with it."---MJT

I cannot agree.Kerry started it but the 'right' is not obsessed with it.Although many do in fact 'hate' Kerry for his opportunistic approach to Vietnam AND his behaviour after his return,what motivates them is the clear chance to damage a political opponent beyond hope of repair.Although we might all prefer a civilized debate about issues,we NEVER have those in politics.This is not obsession;this is politics.
Like sharks, Kerry's enemies smell blood and they are determined to take him down.It is entirely his fault that he was the one who first voluntarily exposed himself to damage by running ONLY on Vietnam and what a hero he was.

Posted by: dougf at August 22, 2004 05:54 PM

I have hopes for Grand Ayatollah Al-Sistani as a true Iraqi patriot helping his nation progress out of the swamp that is ME thought,but I don't know too much about the power relationship he has with Al-Sadr.
I am very concerned that he does not have sufficient force to not only overshadow Sadr but permanently cast him into the dustbin of history.As long as Sadr or like minded theocrats have considerable influence Iraq will be in danger of slipping into the usual morass.Does anyone have more details on the exact relationship between these divergent schools of Shia thought?

Posted by: dougf at August 22, 2004 06:16 PM

My favorite snippet from the Hari piece:

[Negri] even says that the Soviet Union fell because it was too successful. I point this out, and he replies: "Now you are talking about memory. Who controls memory? Faced with the weight of memory, one must be unreasonable! Reason amounts to eternal Cartesianism. The most beautiful thing is to think 'against', to think 'new'. Memory prevents revolt, rejection, invention, revolution."

Creepy. "Lord of the Flies" as a positive paradigm for social change.

Posted by: Mark Poling at August 23, 2004 07:23 AM

Perhaps it would have helped Sistani's agenda had the Bush Administration had a realistic post war plan? Security and electricity couldn't have hurt.

Posted by: alan aronson at August 23, 2004 07:47 AM

Mark,

hence when history and language are against the Left, they change it.

Posted by: David at August 23, 2004 08:03 AM

David:

Kerry Website Revised

Posted by: Mark Poling at August 23, 2004 10:23 AM

"those who are pro-Israel, who are believers (possibly being in the Reformed Judaism category), and who strongly idealistic."

Reform Judaism is pretty leftist, almost as leftist as Reconstructionist Judaism. These are the Peace Now and B'tselem supporters.

Posted by: Yehudit at August 23, 2004 03:57 PM

Johann does Negri. Do I need to read the whole thing? I'm reminded of the editor's response to a hack who'd glued together a few pages of his latest manuscript, and then complained that they hadn't been separated when he got the ms back.

Would-be author: "You didn't read the whole thing!"

Real-life editor: "I don't need to eat all of a rotten egg to know that it's rotten."

I read the whole thing anyway. Let's restore some context before we call Negri a "terrorist."

Antonio Negri was swept up with some 5,000 others in Italy's response to the Red Brigades. Some of his writings were reportedly found in the files of some Red Brigades terrorists.

He ran for office from prison, and was released under parliamentary immunity when voted in.

He was acquitted of all charges. He only fled Italy when double jeopardy threatened: the Chamber of Deputies voted to send him back to prison. As the article points out, certain elements in Italian society were fielding provocateurs and staging terror attacks with the support of the intelligence services and some Italian politicians (including a grouping of which Berlusconi was a member). There were - and still are - asses to cover.

France apparently had no problem offering refuge to this supposed "terrorist." France offered him a place where he could pursue his career, live with his wife, and raise his child.

There is no evidence that he was involved in the kidnapping and assassination of Aldo Moro. There is certainly no evidence that he was a leader, much less THE leader, of the Red Brigades.

He was convicted in absentia only on the testimony of "repentant activists" turning states evidence. Hm, what would a REAL terrorist do to get out of prison? Throw an innocent to the wolves? Sure.

So why is Negri now getting out of prison?

He returned to Italy VOLUNTARILY to face charges in the hope of receiving something like justice, even under "emergency" laws still in place long after the Red Brigades had ceased to be any kind of threat. There is every reason he purposely risked being a sacrificial lamb for the sake of dozens of other imprisoned and exiled activists, many (if not most) of whom probably had nothing whatsover to do with terrorism.

They gave him 13 years. I guess he got time off for good behavior.

Hari asks Negri about his possible crimes, Negri responds cryptically (perhaps with residual book sales in mind, rather than to dodge the question): "I never made an attempt on anyone's life." And I think if you poke around, you'll probably find he never supported the invasion of Iraq, either. Unlike Johann Hari.

With all this in mind, re-read the paragraph Totten quotes:

"In the late 1980s, the Italian President Francesco Cossiga described Antonio Negri as "a psychopath" who "poisoned the minds of an entire generation of Italy's youth". Negri has been accused of murdering Italy's former Prime Minister, Aldo Moro, and of being il grande vecchio - the grand old man - behind the Red Brigades, one of the most notorious terror groups to attack post-war Europe until al-Qa'ida. In prison he co-wrote an anti-globalisation bible, Empire. Now he's out, and he's heading to London. I am waiting patiently at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, in the shadow of Buckingham Palace, to have my mind poisoned."

"Poisoned"? Fear not, Johann. Ignorance is Strength. If you can't understand what Negri's writing, how can it hurt you?

Are Michael Totten and Antonio Negri so different? Let's compare two passages:

Totten: "I haven't written about the Swift Boat Veterans controversy for a number of reasons. One, I hate the Vietnam War. Two, that war ended when I was three years old and we are in a different historical era twice removed. Three, I can't stand mudslinging politics on this level. Four, I don't have the patience to sift through the Andes of accumulated hack pieces to figure out who is and who isn't a liar. Five, although undecided voters make up the target audience, participating in the game is for partisans. I also have a reason number Six. I am neither a veteran, nor a Baby Boomer. I don’t feel the need to argue about the 1960s until I’m “eating” through a feeding tube in a nursing home."

Antonio Negri: "Now you are talking about memory. Who controls memory? Faced with the weight of memory, one must be unreasonable! Reason amounts to eternal Cartesianism. The most beautiful thing is to think 'against', to think 'new'. Memory prevents revolt, rejection, invention, revolution."

Revolt, rejection, invention, revolution! How thrillingly poetic. Kinda reminds me of ... James K. Glassman cheerleading for the Bubble. Price/earnings ratios, you ask? Profits? Don't bogue my high with your eternal Cartesianism! (Of course, Glassman's faux New Economy reasoning seemed to me really more postmodernist than anything, an intellectual trend that Negri intelligently rejects.)

Is Negri pathetic? Perhaps so. But let's be fair. Imagine turning 70 in prison, with a cumulative 13 or so years in Italian prisons behind you, all on false charges. You too might become a shameless, cynical, hermetic, posturing intellectual, hinting at crimes you may actually have never committed if you thought book sales to innaleckshual wannabes, and to a few hacks with a morbid interest in your life, could make up for years irretrievably lost.

Posted by: Michael Turner at August 25, 2004 05:10 AM
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