Fri 18 Jul, 2003 12:42 pm
Provocative questions from the New Republic (thought they deserved a provocative topic title to go with them ;-)) :
Targeting his fire primarily at the 'anti-imperialists', Peter Beinart lambasts the left and the right alike for a seemingly a-moral disinterest in Africa's plight (reserving praise only for the "much-maligned liberal media" in the middle).
On the left: "How can the leaders of the global left not care? The answer is that the left isn't galvanized by victims; it's galvanized by victimizers. If you are a left-wing activist scouring the globe for places suffocating under America's "stranglehold," you'll pass right over sub-Saharan Africa."
On the right: "The right, which on Iraq and Cuba speaks in high moral tones, adopts a cold and narrow realism when it comes to Africa."
Executive cut, snip & paste summary: below.
TRB FROM WASHINGTON
by Peter Beinart
For an article last week on Salon.com, Laura McClure did something mischievous: She called the leaders of International ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and asked why they don't care about Congo. ANSWER, you may remember, coordinated this winter's protest against the Iraq war. [..] This September, [..] it plans "International Days of Protest against Occupation and Empire, from Palestine to Iraq to the Philippines to Cuba and Everywhere."
But, as McClure found out, "everywhere" does not include Congo. In fact, it doesn't include Africa at all. ANSWER has organized no protests and issued no statements on Africa's four most ravaged countries - Congo, Liberia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe [..].
ANSWER is symptomatic of the left in general. A LexisNexis search going back to 2000 finds not a single reference to the crises in Congo, Liberia, Sudan, or Zimbabwe from Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Michael Moore, Michael Lerner, Gore Vidal, Cornel West, or Howard Zinn. In Congo alone, according to the International Rescue Committee, five years of civil war have taken the lives of a mind-boggling 3.3 million people. How can the leaders of the global left [..] not care?
The answer, I think, is that the left isn't galvanized by victims; it's galvanized by victimizers. The theme of ANSWER's upcoming protest, after all, is "Occupation and Empire." In a recent essay, Roy explained that "the real and pressing danger, the greatest threat of all, is the locomotive force that drives the [..] U.S. government." In other words, imperialism, what she elsewhere calls "a super-power's self-destructive impulse toward supremacy, stranglehold, global hegemony."
But, if the greatest injustice in the world is U.S. imperialism, the world's greatest injustices must be found where U.S. imperialism is strongest. And, here, Africa poses a problem. Africa, after all, has less contact with the United States than any other part of the world. [..] If you are a left-wing activist scouring the globe for places suffocating under America's "stranglehold," you'll pass right over sub-Saharan Africa. [..]
By any reasonable assessment, in fact, Africa's post-cold-war disaster zones suffer not from too much U.S. imperialism but from too little. In Rwanda, Congo, and Liberia, the United States stood back while feckless, under-equipped peacekeepers--mostly from the developing world - failed to stanch the bloodletting. [..] So far, the United States has avoided acting like an empire in post-cold-war Africa, and, thus, the hard left has found little cause for moral concern.
The irony is that, in paying attention to Africa only when the United States wields power there, the hard left is not that different from the right. Once Africa was no longer a site of superpower competition, conservatives largely lost interest as well. [..] The right, which on Iraq and Cuba speaks in high moral tones, adopts a cold and narrow realism when it comes to Africa, where it blithely assumes (sometimes ignorantly--see Ryan Lizza, "Ace of Diamonds," page 14) the United States has no interests.
Only the much-maligned liberal media for instance, ABC's "Nightline," which in September 2001 broadcast a stunning five-part series from Congo and liberal groups, such as Human Rights Watch, have labored to keep Africa's crises in the spotlight. [..] If Africa's suffering represents a challenge to the conscience of the world, it is clear who on the U.S. ideological spectrum is willing to face it and who would rather turn away.
I for one am as interested in Africa as any other locale. The problem is public apathy. I think the majority of Americans tune out news about that continent and that is why presidents and media ignore it mostly. Most people have to be able to ask, "What's in it for me? How does that affect my life?" Unfortunately few see the connection.
I'm interested in the plight of Africa and specifically the more devestated areas effected by AIDS and famine and civil war. I became content specialist in the Africa forum here to do some research and provide info to those who'd look. But, very few people even looked. I hate to say it, but I lost my drive. I still isten though.
Well, I wasn't trying to post a challenge to each of you individually to prove that you're the exception to the rule ... that's OK. But I did think the writer of the article got the bull by the horns, kinda - he made a point that really encapsulated something I've become exasperated about. (And it does apply to people here on A2K, like everywhere else, as well).
I mean, that the traditional "realpolitik" Right isn't interested in "mushy" stuff like thinking about people who live away from important natural resources and America's enemies - thats kinda to be expected. I mean, realpolitik is realpolitik - their starting point is sincerely cynical, so to speak, in the first place.
When its the "new idealists" on the Right - if that term is applicable - the ones who think they can "reshape the Middle East" and make it a region of peace, stability, democracy and Western values - its already slightly more exasperating to see that, in the one region where their effort to do such a thing would actually be welcomed, they want nothing of it. All their talk, in the case of Iraq, that "just to see the happiness of the Iraqis at being liberated makes you know this was worth it", turns to barren cynism when, in a country away from national interests, "the happiness of the Liberians [etc]" apparently would not be worth it. (Wholly apart from whether there arent, actually, national interests at stake for the US in Liberia).
But, like the author apparently, I find it truly exasperating when it's Leftists who lose interest, as soon as the abuses they claim to fight take place away from the scope of their vendetta - when its not the Americans who done did it, kinda. It exposes how, despite their claims to be concerned with "the fate of people worldwide" - to be the opposite of the Right-wingers in that respect - they are actually the same, only concerned when their territory is involved. I mean, I always had this annoyed kinda abstract feeling about it - and this article takes it to the facts - that example of the Lexis/Nexis search, for example. Is Michael Moore interested in what victimised people are living through - or only in what his enemy, the American government / big business, has done wrong? Its a valid enough question ...
It may be unfair that leftists are taken to task more severely on short-sightedness and egocentrism - but it kinda comes with the territory; I mean, if you claim the moral high road, you're going to be op aangesproken as well. It also might involve a serious enough question about the strategy of left-wing politics (hence posting it on PUP).
I think that the exclusive focus on the Wrong that America Does detracts from developing a persuasive vision of our own, to counter that of the New Interventionists on the Right. Some commentator in the paper said, (paraphrasing) 'at the moment the American neo-conservatives are the only ones with a coherent vision of the future of the Middle East, so we're sure to hear much more of them in the future.' It seems true, kinda. You may violently disagree with their vision - but as long as Leftists concern themselves with following that vision around in order to find bits & pieces they can take down or take out, show to be wrong, or plain evil - as long as the Anti-Americans are mostly occupied with following the Americans around from hot spot to hot spot, instead of tracing out their own routemap, its the latter who keep the upper hand.
Ideally, every one of us should work to develop a vision of one's own that encompasses all we care about and that is conceived wholly independently from whatever the US government of the day is doing - and only then look at American policy and compare it with our own vision. Might be that you find that some of it can be used actually, while you'd confront whichever parts you dont agree with, with an alternative vision ready in hand. Not get stuck forever in the reactive, always merely finding the best reasons to oppose whatever turn the government just decided to make - cause then you're always trailing.
(I'm aware of the irony that I'm now using the TNR article on Africa to ponder about strategies to use in our fight at home - exactly the kinda thing the article was condemning ...).
OK, enough already. Apologies for the rant.
Oh, now you're talking, Nimh, and no apologies are necessary, let alone even warranted!
I find myself at odds with most Leftists concerning what I perceive to be allowing certain interests to hijack our agenda, whether it be Michael Moore or via anti-Semitism, which IMHO, affords them the most self-serving and myopic visions of all!
My world-view is just that, a world-view and I make no apologies when it sometimes differs from the 'party line'.
So, thank you for fleshing out, in your 2nd post, more of what you've intended!
Please also review the entire thread here concerning the whole back-and-forth on why people are not posting as much as they'd like on PUP, okay?
Thanks be to ya!