Translated by Ramsis Amun
Apparently 11th September 2001 was just the prologue of a play comparable in terms of its violence to those of Artaud, which we can generically term the “Theatre of The Macabre”, together with connotations evoking Jean Baudrillard's works. American policies are harbingers of such plays, though the plot of the latest play is yet unfolding. War is that theatrical act to stage the play on the global theatre. It is as if the authors of this particular play imagine war to be the easiest and most direct answer to the question of evil, though an act of war cannot overcome evil as the act is in itself one of diabolical proportions. The war the US is currently waging is one more instrument of institutionalised misery for the world. Perhaps Walter Benjamin’s words in this context provide some illumination: “Humanity, once the object of the gods’ entertainment at Olympus in Homer’s time, has now become the object of its own amusement. Humanity’s alienation from itself has reached a point which drives it to look upon its own self-destruction as an act of aesthetic beauty in itself, and one of the first order…” - and this, precisely, is the new aesthetic of the Macabre.
We have seen how the curtains have been lifted to herald the opening of the latest play, and have heard the voice of the oracle trumpeting its beginning: “Citizens of the world, I, the ‘oracle’ of the people of the United States, am declaring war against evil, and ask you all to participate in this very war, as fellow oracles of your own peoples. If you are not with me, you are surely against me!”
As the world still reels from the weight of this declaration and demand at once, sixty American intellectuals forge a ‘letter’ to the world, praising that declaration, requesting participation in the theatre of that very war, stressing that it is a matter of 'necessity’, announcing that “it sometimes happens that war becomes a moral necessity in order to counteract violence, hatred and injustice. Today this
is such an instance.”
This ‘letter’ is a ‘national, patriotic’ declaration, signed as it is by those representing the two main streams of American politics, the Democrat and the Republican. It is at the same time an “intellectual” declaration in that it theoretically justifies and stands culturally in defence of everything connected to the prosecution of this war, as well as standing to define the cultural role of American intellectuals with regards to it (both Francis Fukuyama and Samuel Huntington have signed their names to it).
This letter embraces several views which warrant examination. But here I will deal only with what is of direct relevance to me, namely the understanding of culture expressed therein. I will summarise this in three points:
First: The letter affirms that ‘American values’ go beyond the American people, and are in fact universal. American rights and universal human rights are blended in the same melting pot. The American good and the universal human good are one and the same. American Justice and universal human justice are but synonyms.
The second issue is directly related to the first: it concerns the interconnection between personal thought and public action within a ‘free’ and pluralistic framework, free of the dictatorship of a single party system. Personal action is to be ‘in harmony’ with the existing order, as representative of social aspirations, and as an expression of public, patriotic action.
The third issue is directly related to the first two together: it concerns the interconnection between the political and the cultural, namely between cultural and security issues - the ‘security’ of that society, and ‘the security of its interests’.
These interconnected points in practice lead, as the ‘letter’ itself proves, to the transformation of culture into a strategy for security, such that it becomes a fundamental part of a strategy for protecting American interests, both nationally and
globally. American cultural creativity is viewed, where necessary, through the prism of ‘security’ issues.
It is as if we stand in effect before a new ‘free’ ‘McCarthyism’, this time with global reach and operating at a more complex level. This strategy enables the American ‘order’ to declare war for the sake of maintaining American values (human and universal). It enables it to declare, “If you are not with us, you are against us.” It enables intellectuals to declare that this war is nothing less than ‘morally necessary’. Thus American culture is transformed into a ‘fatwa making’ phenomenon when expediency and self-interest dictate.
I do not personally share the view of those sceptical of the possibility of American values being in fact universal values, at least in theory. Yet past historical experience and current circumstances clearly indicate that there is a gulf between “theory” and “practice” in the American cultural perception. We find culture being made subservient to politics, and the values’ of that culture likewise being made subservient to political expediency. We see culture in many cases being used merely as a cover-up cloak, or a melting pot to blend the specific and the universal, whilst that very culture is all too happy to maintain ‘silence when it comes to the status quo of countries in which such values are despised and where human beings are abused, deported and dispersed in full view of the American political machine and the American cultural intelligentsia.
This makes it increasingly obvious that American hegemony is alive and well, operating as it is in the name of the defence of universal human values, and that the United States merely stands in defence of these values solely when it specifically serves its own self-interest to do so.
There is a deeper and more portentous dimension to all of this. Historical and current experience prove clearly that the mere resort to armed force under the pretext of the
establishment of justice and peace is in practice another form of oppressive war. Terrorism is an “individual” phenomenon in the sense that it is behaviourally impossible that a whole population or a whole country can be a ‘terrorist’ one. Hence it is impossible that an “armed force” which occupies a country or a people in order to eliminate “terrorism” can be anything other than a force of oppression and tyranny itself; nor can such a force be remotely linked in reality to universalism or humanitarianism.
Violence perpetrated by any human being for one reason or another takes him beyond the field of civilised conduct. All violence is a barbarity; hence every act of war for whatever reason is a barbarous act, being as it is an expression of blind collective violence. The objective does not exist which justifies barbarous acts. The term “just war” which the authors of the “letter” are the linguistic frontline of, is not merely incredible. It is an aberration of the mind - an aberration of logic and of truth. Violence cannot be a true expression of justice simply because justice cannot find true expression in a violent act. Can we convince ourselves that killing, destruction, desecration, occupation and the abasement of human dignity (universally) can be truly just acts?
The authors of this “letter” know full well that the list of countries which constitute“the 'axis of evil' is by its authors' declared parameters incomplete. There are several unnamed countries who do not respect American values - ‘universal human values’ - although they are seen to respect American interests at the moment. The United States has itself used “evil” forces in its war against what former President Reagan called the Evil Empire, meaning the former Soviet Union. It has used Bin Laden, Al Qaida and the Taliban. It was, in real terms, during that war, a close and faithful ally to fundamentalists. It trained, armed and funded them. What brand of‘''universalism' or
‘culture’ transforms these ‘good’ people (former allies) into ‘evil’ ones (current enemies)?
The authors of this ‘letter’ also know full well that their country has yet more permanent allies who pay no heed to ‘universal’ ‘human’ values - whether these values be related to that ‘birthright’ called human dignity, to human rights in general, or to democratic rights. How do they get to forge such alliances? Why do they fail to condemn such ‘allied’ practices? How indeed can an order which condones and feeds the allied ‘evil’ defend ‘goodness’? How can it turn a blind eye to the fact that major atrocities are in the making in this war against terrorism which may well exceed those perpetrated in the war against communism?
Human rights are violated in the name of .... defending human rights. Having made their utterance, will the 'conscience' of these intellectuals now 'sleep with the fishes'?
Can we not ask the authors of this “letter” what the difference is, in essential practice, between “American culture” and “fundamentalist culture”, regardless of whether that culture happens to be leaning to the “left” or to the “right”?
Did not the “holy strikes” against the “capital of inequity” dress themselves as another face or form of the “good” war against “evil”? What difference is there essentially between the rhetoric in both “cultures”? Does the difference go indeed beyond the outward shape and appearance - the garb in which the body of that difference is clothed? Or is the major difference merely the fact that the great war of “good” against “evil” is one which none other than the protector of “universal human rights” - the world’s superpower - has pledged to fight; whereas these “holy strikes” are the pledges of a Don Quixote who cannot even boast Spanish heritage!
But who can deny that that great difference still exists? The “disagreement” apparently concerns a case of strategic jurisprudence which will be difficult to resolve. Who knows, some may
deem it a healthy disagreement after all!
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