ANALYS: Hypocrisy and the end of empires


Culture of hypocrisy which existed during the Bush era continues to thrive in the US today [EPA]

Every so often, a convergence occurs between a few ostensibly unrelated events in the endless swirl of news stories, polemics and propaganda, spin and advertising that make up the media sphere today.

Like the noonday sun, they pierce a hole through the fog of information that normally obscures the core dynamics behind the larger political-economic system’s smooth functioning.

But unlike the sun shining through the storm clouds, this opening is not immediately obvious, and can easily be missed if one does not know where and how to look. In fact, it is more like a three-dimensional worm hole through political space, viewable if one folds specific coordinates over each other in just the right way.

In this case, the coordinates correspond to three levels of political discourse – military, media and cultural – whose harmonious interaction is crucial to the larger functioning of the system.

The brief moment of clarity reminds us of the crucial role played by one of the most subtle yet damning of human vices – hypocrisy – in sustaining the problems confronting the US, and most other global powers for that matter.

Hypocrisy laid bare
Has the US healthcare debate created an increasingly toxic political culture? [AFP]

Hypocrisy has always been an important denomination of political currency, but today it has seemingly become the coin of the realm.

One could easily ascribe it to the reascending of right-wing politics in the US and Europe, which is almost always accompanied by a politics of hypocrisy, since as a rule such politics involves the use of populist rhetoric to concentrate a country’s wealth and resources in the hands of ever fewer people.

In the US, the vitriolic Republican-corporate attacks on healthcareand other much needed reforms in the name of protecting the rights of individual citizens, reflect an increasingly toxic political culture and the power of the right to manipulate deep-seated fears and prejudice for its own ends.

However, the continuities in US foreign policy between the Obama and Bush administrations reflect a more systemic hypocrisy whose negative consequences have global implications.

The US – like great powers before it – has long declared its intention to support freedom, democracy and progress while pursuing policies that encourage, or even demand, their opposite.

Not surprisingly, it has also turned a blind eye to its allies’ or clients’ hypocrisies: Israel declaring its desire for peace while intensifying occupation, Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, promising to fight corruption while rigging elections and placing family members in crucial positions.

Then you have this or that Arab leader pledging democratic reform while continuing to arrest and abuse citizens – until the disconnect between words and deeds threatens core American interests.

With enemies, such as Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) or Iran today, hypocrisy is assumed, even when evidence suggests that at crucial moments they might actually be telling the truth.

But who’s looking?

Whether friend or foe, it is the people who suffer from a geopolitics grounded in hypocrisy.

The hardships of the present economic downturn in the USonly hint at the pain caused to the peoples of the developing world, who bear the brunt of the full power of the economic and political interests lying beneath the hypocrisy of the global powers and their leaders alike.

And these consequences are often not just painful, but deadly.

Two generations ago in Southeast Asia the death toll reached into the millions, today in Iraq and Afghanistan the toll is in the hundreds of thousands of dead and injured. But the suffering rarely makes headlines, unless it can produce images that are too powerful to ignore.

The Abu Ghraib scandalproduced one such moment, although its quick dissipation (perhaps owing to an innate sense among many Americans that the hypocrisy they revealed was ultimately not merely that of the Bush administration, but the country as a whole) ensured that the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress paid no price for the activities they revealed.

The most recent opening in the haze of media and political hypocrisy began with the near simultaneous revelations of civilian deaths at the hands of US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The now ubiquitous Wikileaks video footageof soldiers firing on Reuter’s photographer Namir Noor-Eldeen, his colleague Saeed Chmagh, and several other civilians in Baghdad in July 2007 was equalled in graphic power by the accusations that in February 2010, US special forces personnel had not only killed two pregnant women along with a teenage girl and two local officials in Khataba, Afghanistan, but carved the bullets out of the bodies to remove evidence of their responsibility for the deaths.

The hypocrisy of the official responses has been glaringly on display.

When asked whether the Wikileaks video would hurt America’s image, Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said it would not, precisely because what the video really showed was the fog of war.

“These people were operating in split-second situations …. And, you know, we’ve investigated it very thoroughly …. It should not have any lasting consequences.”

‘Dead bastards’
In military footage released by Wikileaks, Iraqi fatalities were called “dead bastards” [AFP]

Hypocrisy is often accompanied by arrogance.

Gates assumes that scenes of US soldiers blithely calling the victims “dead bastards,” laughing, looking for an excuse to finish off an unarmed victim, and blaming other victims for “bringing their kids into a battle” will “not have any lasting consequences”.

Consequences for whom, one might ask.

Perhaps Gates understands that most Iraqis and Afghans have long ago stopped believing US rhetoric about supporting democracy and protecting civilian lives.

Whether consciously or not, it seems Gates was considering public opinion in the US, not in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Indeed, if we look behind his, and the soldiers’, words we are reminded that it is extremely difficult to shoot people who do not present an immediate and clear threat unless you have first been desensitised by intense ideological preparation that dehumanises the occupied people.

As in Vietnam, this dehumanisation means that Iraqis and Afghan civilian deaths are easily accepted as mere collateral damage, since Americans have no connection to or sympathy for the peoples they have been occupying for most of the last decade.

The latest polls show that “voters are very responsive where Democrats talk boldly about our foreign policy of taking it to the terrorists”.

And so even as four more civilians were killed by US forces firing on a crowded bus a day after Gates’ remarks, Americans show no signs of changing the “secondary status” that Iraq and Afghanistan presently hold in their political discourse.

That would demand recognition of the hypocrisy that enabled their relegation to such a low status in the first place, even at the cost of upward of a trillion dollars and the loss of thousands of American soldiers.

Worse, it would demand a reevaluation of the larger premises upon which the unending ‘war on terror’ is being fought and confronting the fact that in so many areas, Obama is entrenching rather than reversing the policies of his predecessor.

Of course, Afghans are far less tolerant of the disconnect between US rhetoric and reality.

The latest deaths caused a new round of bitter protests against the US occupation while Afghan military leaders increasingly treat US promises to protect and respect civilians as meaningless and, like Karzai, even threaten to join the Taliban.

Tariq Ramadan’s return

Gates’ remarks and the more unscripted real-time comments of the soldiers he was defending exist in a media sphere that has failed miserably to educate the American public about the motivations behind and present-day realities of the Iraq and Afghan invasions and occupations.

Underlying this dynamic is a shared arrogance and hypocrisy by leading American commentators, especially those often portrayed as politically liberal or moderate, that was crucial to laying the groundwork for public acceptance of the rationale for going to war and continuing the occupations despite the numerous and manifest contradictions between them and the realities on the ground.

The process by which this dynamic proceeds was revealed last week in the coverage of the return of Swiss Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan to the US for a speaking tour, six years after he was banned from entering the country by the Bush administration.

Debating with Packer
Tariq Ramadan has been lauded by Haaretz for repudiating anti-Semitism [EPA]

Specifically, Ramadan’s first event in the US was a forum on “secular Islam and democracy” held in New York, where he debated New Yorker writer George Packer.

Packer chose not to engage Ramadan, who has spent over a decade working to forge a consensus among European Muslims on the need for non-violence and to produce identities that can be both fully Muslim and Western, on the issues related to the forum’s title.

Rather, while declaring that he was “not asking you to repudiate your grandfather [Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood],” he demanded that Ramadan account for and renounce anti-Semitic remarks made by al-Banna well over half a century ago.

At a time when the contemporary Muslim Brotherhood is engaged in an unprecedented generational shift in ideology and attitudes, Packer honed in his criticism of Ramadan for refusing to acknowledge that “his grandfather and the Muslim Brotherhood in its origins were characterised by anti-Semitic or totalitarian views”.

Although he has held prestigious appointments at Oxford as well as Notre Dame and the University of Geneva, Packer argues that Ramadan “is not a philosopher, or an original thinker”.

He provides no  criteria for this judgement, but that is likely because he assumes that most readers will accept at face value that leading thinkers from the Muslim world are rarely original or philosophic – a code word for reasonable and rational, presumably like Americans and Europeans.

For his part, Packer would seem to fit neither characterisation; the term, never mind ideology of “totalitarianism” he accused al-Banna of harbouring was not even in use when the Brotherhood was founded or first rose to prominence.

‘Rotten foundations’

Packer concludes that however well-meaning his bridge-building, Ramadan’s hope of reconciling Islamic and Western culture is built on “rotten foundations,” namely the history and ideology of the Brotherhood.

How does he know this? Clearly not by reading Ramadan’s numerous books, which are clearly opposed to most of the basic tenets of the Brotherhood during his grandfather’s day.

Instead, in good Orientalist fashion, Packer refers to second-hand accusations against Ramadan made by journalist Paul Berman, who is about to publish a book accusing Ramadan of being a propagandist for Islamist extremism.

Berman’s last foray into the subject of Islam was Terror and Liberalism, which was celebrated in the mainstream media for, among other things, arguing that Sayyid Qutb was the ideological godfather of al-Qaeda – which scholars had been discussing for years before his “discovery” – and that political Islamist movements are ultimately “irrational” and therefore cannot be reasoned with.

Most scholarly reviews by those who actually know the region and its languages were largely critical of Berman’s arguments.

US view of Muslims

Ramadan could have responded to Packer’s constant pressure for him to denounce his grandfather by demanding that Packer renounce his support for the US invasion of Iraq, or his inaccurate and journalistically irresponsible dismissal of those who opposed the war – which included Ramadan – as fringe, knee-jerk and “doctrinaire” leftists who lacked any “understanding” of the region.

Perhaps he was being polite, or was too jet-lagged to respond in kind to attacks that had nothing to do with his own thinking (indeed, Ramadan has condemned anti-Semitism so many times that he was praised for doing so by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz).

Ultimately, however, it is not Ramadan’s refusal to engage Packer at a lower level of discourse that is important; it is the assumption by Packer, no doubt borne out by long experience, that his arguments as to the rotten foundation and ultimately irrational basis of Ramadan’s thinking will be accepted in the media sphere, since they accord so well with the general view of Muslim intellectual capabilities and motives.

Tiger Woods
Woods’ fall mirrors the corruptive hypocrisy in the US today [AFP]

While Packer and Ramadan debated in New York City, Tiger Woods was preparing for his return to competitive golf at the Master’s tournament that would begin later in the week.

Of all the sins Woods has been accused of, perhaps the most ubiquitous was his hypocrisy – creating a persona based on steely calm, control, integrity, and determination while in reality his private life was based on deceit and violating the trust of his family and fans.

This is no doubt a valid criticism, but by the time the first round began on Thursday most people were far more interested in what Tiger would do on the golf course than what he had done off the links.

Of course, no one could say this openly. And so Billy Payne, the chair of the Masters tournament, dutifully criticised Woods, stating that he “disappointed all of us” with his numerous marital infidelities.

Of course, neither he nor any of the journalists present thought it worth mentioning that Augusta National remains one of the few golf clubs that refuses to admit women as players. Apparently no one considered it the least bit hypocritical for a club that does not consider women worthy of membership to criticise a member and champion who treats women as unworthy of consideration beyond their sex.

With so much money riding on Woods’ return to the spotlight, his main endorser, Nike, also decided it had to make a bold statement criticising Woods, while at the same time reaffirming both his iconic status and the possibility of redemption.

So it aired a commercial that saw Woods staring blankly into the camera while his late father, Earl, asked him from the grave about what he was thinking and what he had learnt.

That a company such as Nike, whose alleged record of systematic mistreatment of workers and use of child labour has been heavily criticised around the world, determined that the ghost of Woods’ father could help cleanse him, and the company, of their sins, is one of the more egregious examples of corporate hypocrisy in some time.

Hypocrisy’s victory

But the reality is they are probably right. Everyone is clearly anxious to get back to the way it was, and by the time Woods walked toward the 18th green on Sunday he was smiling and shaking hands with his course partner for the day, K.J. Choi, while receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.

No doubt most of those in attendance and watching on television will be happy to see Woods resume his golfing prowess. After all, no public figure better symbolised the power, purpose and determination of the US in the 2000s.

His fall from grace in many ways mirrored America’s – the gleaming steel surface and sunny gaze turned out to be, if not quite rotten, then in need of major repair.

The blow-back of Woods’ behaviour is being played out in front of the world. So is that of US policy. With enough reflection and determination, one can hope that Woods will rise above the hypocrisy that apparently has defined much of his professional and personal life.

But it is much harder for countries to do this, as it demands not one, but millions of people, from political leaders and commentators to ordinary citizens, to reflect deeply and honestly on what brought them to their present situation.

Perhaps if the fog remains lifted for long enough, one may be able to grasp the beginnings of the process of moving away from political and media cultures based on hypocrisy, greed and power and toward cultures that actually support peace, freedom and dignity.

Ref; Al jazeera

Mark LeVine is currently visiting professor at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Lund University, Sweden. His books include Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam and Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

Keeping Track of the US Empire’s Crimes

If you catch the CIA with its hand in the cookie jar and the Agency admits the obvious — what your eyes can plainly see — that its hand is indeed in the cookie jar, it means one of two things:

a) the CIA’s hand is in several other cookie jars at the same time which you don’t know about and they hope that by confessing to the one instance they can keep the others covered up; or

b) its hand is not really in the cookie jar — it’s an illusion to throw you off the right scent — but they want you to believe it.

There have been numerous news stories in recent months about secret CIA programs, hidden from Congress, inspired by former vice-president Dick Cheney, in operation since the September 11 terrorist attacks, involving assassination of al Qaeda operatives or other non-believers-in-the-Empire abroad without the knowledge of their governments. The Agency admits to some sort of program having existed, but insists that it was canceled; and if it was an assassination program it was canceled before anyone was actually assassinated. Another report has the US military, not the CIA, putting the plan — or was it a different plan? — into operation, carrying out several assassinations including one in Kenya that proved to be a severe embarrassment and helped lead to the quashing of the program. (The Guardian, July 13, 2009.)

All of this can be confusing to those following the news. And rather irrelevant. We already know that the United States has been assassinating non-believers, or suspected non-believers, with regularity, and impunity, in recent years, using unmanned planes (drones) firing missiles, in Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia, if not elsewhere. (Even more victims have been produced from amongst those who happened to be in the same house, car, wedding party, or funeral as the non-believer.) These murders apparently don’t qualify as “assassinations”, for somehow killing “terrorists” from 2000 feet is morally and legally superior to doing so from two feet away.

But whatever the real story is behind the current rash of speculation, we should not fall into the media’s practice of at times intimating that multiple or routine CIA assassination attempts would be something shocking or at least very unusual.

I’ve compiled a list of CIA assassination attempts, successful and unsuccessful, against prominent foreign political figures, from 1949 through 2003, which, depending on how you count it, can run into the hundreds (targeting Fidel Castro alone totals 634 according to Cuban intelligence)2; the list can be updated by adding the allegedly al Qaeda leaders among the drone attack victims of recent years. Assassination and torture are the two things governments are most loath to admit to, and try their best to cover up. It’s thus rare to find a government document or recorded statement mentioning a particular plan to assassinate someone. There is, however, an abundance of compelling circumstantial evidence to work with. The following list does not include several assassinations in various parts of the world carried out by anti-Castro Cubans employed by the CIA and headquartered in the United States.

1949 – Kim Koo, Korean opposition leader

1950s – CIA/Neo-Nazi hit list of more than 200 political figures in West Germany
to be “put out of the way” in the event of a Soviet invasion

1950s – Chou En-lai, Prime minister of China, several attempts on his life

1950s, 1962 – Sukarno, President of Indonesia

1951 – Kim Il Sung, Premier of North Korea

1953 – Mohammed Mossadegh, Prime Minister of Iran

1950s (mid) – Claro M. Recto, Philippines opposition leader

1955 – Jawaharlal Nehru, Prime Minister of India

1957 – Gamal Abdul Nasser, President of Egypt

1959, 1963, 1969 – Norodom Sihanouk, leader of Cambodia

1960 – Brig. Gen. Abdul Karim Kassem, leader of Iraq

1950s-70s – José Figueres, President of Costa Rica, two attempts on his life

1961 – Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, leader of Haiti

1961 – Patrice Lumumba, Prime Minister of the Congo (Zaire)

1961 – Gen. Rafael Trujillo, leader of Dominican Republic

1963 – Ngo Dinh Diem, President of South Vietnam

1960s-70s – Fidel Castro, President of Cuba, many attempts on his life

1960s – Raúl Castro, high official in government of Cuba

1965 – Francisco Caamaño, Dominican Republic opposition leader

1965-6 – Charles de Gaulle, President of France

1967 – Che Guevara, Cuban leader

1970 – Salvador Allende, President of Chile

1970 – Gen. Rene Schneider, Commander-in-Chief of Army, Chile

1970s, 1981 – General Omar Torrijos, leader of Panama

1972 – General Manuel Noriega, Chief of Panama Intelligence

1975 – Mobutu Sese Seko, President of Zaire

1976 – Michael Manley, Prime Minister of Jamaica

1980-1986 – Muammar Qaddafi, leader of Libya, several plots and attempts upon his life

1982 – Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of Iran

1983 – Gen. Ahmed Dlimi, Moroccan Army commander

1983 – Miguel d’Escoto, Foreign Minister of Nicaragua

1984 – The nine comandantes of the Sandinista National Directorate

1985 – Sheikh Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanese Shiite leader (80 people killed in the attempt)

1991 – Saddam Hussein, leader of Iraq

1993 – Mohamed Farah Aideed, prominent clan leader of Somalia

1998, 2001-2 – Osama bin Laden, leading Islamic militant

1999 – Slobodan Milosevic, President of Yugoslavia

2002 – Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Afghan Islamic leader and warlord

2003 – Saddam Hussein and his two sons

For those of you who collect lists about splendid US foreign policy post-World War II, here are a few more that, lacking anything better to do, I’ve put together: Attempts to overthrow more than 50 foreign governments, most of which had been democratically-elected. (* = successful ouster of a government.)

Albania 1949-53
East Germany 1950s
Iran 1953 *
Guatemala 1954 *
Costa Rica mid-1950s
Syria 1956-7
Egypt 1957
Indonesia 1957-8
British Guiana 1953-64 *
Iraq 1963 *
North Vietnam 1945-73
Cambodia 1955-70 *
Laos 1958-60 *
Ecuador 1960-63 *
Congo 1960 *
France 1965
Brazil 1962-64 *
Dominican Republic 1963 *
Cuba 1959 to present
Bolivia 1964 *
Indonesia 1965 *
Ghana 1966 *
Chile 1964-73 *
Greece 1967 *
Costa Rica 1970-71
Bolivia 1971 *
Australia 1973-75 *
Angola 1975, 1980s
Zaire 1975
Portugal 1974-76 *
Jamaica 1976-80 *
Seychelles 1979-81
Chad 1981-82 *
Grenada 1983 *
South Yemen 1982-84
Suriname 1982-84
Fiji 1987 *
Libya 1980s
Nicaragua 1981-90 *
Panama 1989 *
Bulgaria 1990 *
Albania 1991 *
Iraq 1991
Afghanistan 1980s *
Somalia 1993
Yugoslavia 1999
Ecuador 2000 *
Afghanistan 2001 *
Venezuela 2002 *
Iraq 2003 *

After his June 4 Cairo speech, President Obama was much praised for mentioning the 1953 CIA overthrow of Iranian prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh. But in his talk in Ghana on July 11 he failed to mention the CIA coup that ousted Ghanian president Kwame Nkrumah in 1966, referring to him only as a “giant” among African leaders. The Mossadegh coup is one of the most well-known CIA covert actions. Obama could not easily get away without mentioning it in a talk in the Middle East looking to mend fences. But the Nkrumah ouster is one of the least known; indeed, not a single print or broadcast news report in the American mainstream media saw fit to mention it at the time of the president’s talk. Like it never happened.

And the next time you hear that Africa can’t produce good leaders, people who are committed to the welfare of the masses of their people, think of Nkrumah and his fate. And think of Patrice Lumumba, overthrown in the Congo 1960-61 with the help of the United States; Agostinho Neto of Angola, against whom Washington waged war in the 1970s, making it impossible for him to institute progressive changes; Samora Machel of Mozambique against whom the CIA supported a counter-revolution in the 1970s-80s period; and Nelson Mandela of South Africa (now married to Machel’s widow), who spent 28 years in prison thanks to the CIA.

Ref: Counterpunch

William Blum is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II, Rogue State: a guide to the World’s Only Super Power. and West-Bloc Dissident: a Cold War Political Memoir.

He can be reached at: BBlum6@aol.com