The Blanket


A journal of protest & dissent




Taking Sides In The War On Modernity
by Kevin Bean


After the initial shock of September 11th come the attempts to understand. American politicians talk of a world that 'will never be the same again,' of a new type of war against a new type of enemy. The 'civilized world' is enjoined to line up behind the United States in its defence of freedom against the evil forces of 'terrorism personified' in the frail, menacing figure of Osama Bin Laden.

These themes are repeated ad nauseam as the United States and British military operations begin against Afghanistan; we are subjected to a high altitude propaganda bombardment which pounds us into identifying any opposition or even slight reservation about the policy with support for the Taliban and Osama Bin Laden.

It is not unusual for socialists and republicans to take an unpopular, isolated position. Indeed many of us could be almost defined as congenital oppositionists who instinctively oppose any action carried out by the United States and its British sidekicks. So opposition to a military campaign that pits the most modern of destructive technology in an obscene bombing campaign against the lightly armed population of one of the poorest counties on earth is both easy and right.

But the moral indignation of the Guardian reading liberal is not enough -whether it is applied to George Bush or Osama Bin Laden. We need to go beyond condemnation and outrage to the more difficult and narrower ground of analysis and explanation. Beyond the rhetoric of politicians pandering to the clamour for revenge lie some simple truths. The attacks of September 11th do represent an attack on modernity. No amount of cynicism about the stale slogans of Bush and Blair can hide this fact; no amount of Marxist ledgermain can transmute the base metal of Bin Laden's obscurantism into the pure gold of progressive, anti-capitalism. New York and Washington were targeted not only as the symbols of aggressive American power, but also as signi fiers of Western values and modernity itself.

Osama Bin Laden's methods of struggle will not overthrow American imperialism or end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The world it wants to win offers nothing to the poor, the oppressed and the excluded of the Arab world. Taliban-controlled Afghanistan is not a beacon of hope for anyone.

However, socialists and republicans can give no support to the armed actions of the United States and Britain in Afghanistan. Although couched in the language of human rights and progress this campaign is an attempt to control refractory elements along the borders of the empire. As the world's dominant power the United States is acting to control opposition and incorporate its enemies into its imperium - just as other empires have done before it Britain has, of course, been here before; it's their fourth Afghan War and they have had plenty of experience in controlling the 'lesser breeds without the law'. Not only is the aim of this campaign not to genuinely liberate the Afghan people - a U.N. protectorate or a puppet Northern Alliance government seem likely options at the moment - but the job of liberating the Afghan people belongs to the Afghan people themselves. Freedom given at the whim of the Great Powers is no freedom at all.

The other feature of opposition to the United States armed campaign is its implications for domestic politics in the West. The identification of any dissent with 'terrorism', the threats to civil liberties from state repression, and the mobilization of the population behind the slogans of a crusade for freedom will be powerful agencies in consolidating the political and social status-quo. This warlike atmosphere will encourage us to think in terms of a Manichean world in which an unseen, faceless enemy awaits around every corner. Attempts will be made to stifle dissent and rational critique with the politics of paranoia.

In these ways September 11th did change the world-but in many other ways the world system continues to revolve in the same old orbit. The response of American Imperialism to the attacks is the only possible one for a Great Power when faced with lese majestie by an insurgent group that starkly revealed the vulnerability of the world's only remaining super-power.

In this 'new world' the ground on which we must stand is necessarily narrow. But conflicts of this type represent the future of world politics; battle lines will be blurred and confusion and contradiction will replace the old certainties of a bi-polar conflict. As we attempt to develop a new politics that addresses these issues of the new world order we have to take these complexities into account. A good start to the process of redefinition of our politics is to assess the events of September 11th by reference to some of the first principles of the modernity and the Enlightenment from which our philosophies of socialism and republicanism spring. In the war against modernity we cannot stand on the sidelines. We defend and advance the ideas of human emancipation and progress. But we don't simply identify modernity and progress with American capitalism and its foreign policy. Our narrow ground is one that pits us against both Bin Laden and Bush; as the new wars of the twenty first century unfold the creation of a meaningful political analysis and the development of forces to translate that analysis into political reality will be difficult. But the imperatives of our intellectual and political heritage mean that we can do no other. Battle is joined and we must continue the fight for the future.



Index: Current Articles + Latest News and Views + Book Reviews + Letters + Archives





The Blanket




Republicanism in Crisis

The Cracks in the "PNF"

A Journal of Dissent

Under the Foot of the Mountain: Brendan Hughes

Author's Choice: Rogelio Alonso, A Just War?

Interview: Marian Price

Books: Soul Wars

Books: Anthologies Package our Literary Past

Unionism and Decommissioning

Turkish Hunger Strike Report

Taking Sides in the War on Modernity

Writing This Issue

Latest News & Views

Index: Current Articles

Book Reviews



The Blanket Magazine Winter 2002

Republican Voices