16 June 2006
Since the ‘death’ of ‘al-Zarqawi’ reams have been written from both a ‘left’ and right perspective on the significance of his death or even, as I along with other writers have asserted, whether the damn fellow existed in the first place, at least as he has been portrayed.
Regardless, the one thing that seems to be missing from all the ‘analysis’ (whether he existed or not is not really relevant), and that is the role of these ‘personalities’ in the scheme of things, or rather their use in mystifying events and their causes.*
The BBC produced an extremely hurried so-called documentary the other night on the ‘life and death’ of the man, that regurgitated every piece of US propaganda without criticism including the seminal Colin Powell speech at the UN in early 2003.
The gist of the piece was that ‘al-Zarqawi’ was pivotal to the so-called insurgency and that with his death, things could only get better. Central to the propaganda piece was the notion that behind the ‘insurgency’ is ‘al-Qu’eda’, Iraq branch. ‘al-Zarqawi’ then is the ‘match that ignited the fire’.
All notions that the ‘insurgency’ is not only home-grown but a direct response to the invasion and occupation has to be expunged from the public consciousness. Equally as important is linking the ‘insurgency’ to an ‘international conspiracy’, from which springs the ‘war on terror’.
There are several observations to make on this scenario the first of which is that by introducing these ‘foreign actors’ it reduces the Iraqi people to mere puppets, victims if you like, who have no will of their own. It parallels the role of the Soviet Union and China in the US invasion and occupation of Vietnam, only instead of ‘terrorists’ it was the ‘Reds’, an ‘alien’ force who used Vietnam to further their nefarious aim of destroying Western ‘civilisation’.
Aside from the inherently racist nature of this view (contrast it with the view presented of the British people’s reaction to 7/7, who united in their horror of the events, ‘pulled together’ etc. etc.), the idea that the Iraqi people might likewise be united by the even greater horror of watching their country systematically destroyed and hundreds of thousands killed and maimed, must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to penetrate the public’s consciousness.
Equally important from the perspective of the role given to ‘al-Zarqawi’ by Western propaganda is the removal of any reference to causes and relationship between causes and events. Thus ‘al-Zarqawi’ serves firstly to divorce USUK involvement from what is happening in Iraq and secondly, ‘al-Zarqawi’ ties very neatly into the conception of history being made allegedly by pivotal individuals.
And given the nature of ‘news’ reporting these days—which by the way is no mere result of technology, that is, 24-hour ‘rolling news’ etc—but a reflection of the ideology of the state which would have us believe that we are all at the mercy of forces over which we have no control.
At best we respond to them but an ‘al-Zarqawi’ character is to all intents and purposes a ‘lose cannon’; a “psychopath” as the BBC described him, a force that acts outside of history. This is precisely why the BBC uses the word to describe him, as a psychopath is not susceptible to logic, nor does a psychopath have a conscience.
This is also why without a hint of irony, the media has ‘al-Zarqawi’ flying all over the place and indeed often in different places at the same time! A ‘Will-O-the-Wisp’, who can transport himself to any convenient location that suits the script writers. ‘al-Zarqawi’ is, in every sense of the word, an invention, whether he exists or not as a ‘real person’ just as a well known actor becomes the part he or she plays to the degree that the public can no longer distinguish between the two.
In this regard, it is important that he not actually appear ‘in person’, only via anonymous videos, audio tapes or written statements, else he ceases to be a character and instead becomes a ‘real’ person. Kept at a distance he can made into anything the media/state want him to be.
This can only happen because ‘al-Zarqawi’ operates as a ‘celebrity’, a cypher, a symbol for all that ails Capitalism. He has no real history anymore than Saddam Hussein does except the one invented for him at any given time and supplied to the public. There is nothing paradoxical about Saddam the ‘ally’ and Saddam the ‘devil’, as the nature of the way the ‘news’ works never makes the connection between the different ‘Saddams’. ‘Saddam’ exists outside of history in just the same way ‘al-Zarqawi’ does.
Yet no one, least of all the media of course, is struck by how ludicrous this all is because time and space is rendered fluid, operating according to its own, mad ‘logic’ by the nature of the way the ‘news’ is structured; as disconnected bits, events, ‘news bites’.
These ‘characters’, for that is what they are, spring up unbidden like mushrooms after the rain. Once past their usefullness they are discarded (‘killed off’ or their roles re-written) and new ‘characters’ are written into the script just as the ‘replacement’ for ‘al-Zarqawi’ was named (sort of, just in case the replacement is miscast, or perhaps not up to the task?) by the US shortly after the ‘death’ of ‘al-Zarqawi’.
The upshot of this process is entirely predictable; a public that sees every event in much the same way it views a ‘reality show’, that is as hermetic, sealed into its ‘time slot’. Belief in a coherent, if totally insane, external reality is suspended and thus the outrageous activities of ‘our’ governments can be tolerated, accepted as ‘real’ just as the characters in the aptly named ‘Big Brother’ are accepted as ‘real’.
Where it really becomes insidious is when we compare ‘al-Zarqawi’s’ script to the one supplied to Tony Blair for example, whose speeches are structured in exactly the same way; aphorisms, theatrical and medical phrases; talk of “viruses” and “innoculations”, “dark forces”, of a “a dark curtain descending”. The one thing none of Blair’s speeches contain is any reference to the real world, all is vague and impossible to pin down in any real sense.
“…a new and deadly virus has emerged.
“The virus is terrorism, whose intent to inflict destruction is unconstrained by human feeling; and whose capacity to inflict it is enlarged by technology. This is a battle that can’t be fought or won only by armies. Our ultimate weapon is not our guns but our beliefs.
“Here it is that the poison is incubated. Here it is that the extremist is able to confuse in the mind of a frighteningly large number of people, the case for a Palestinian state and the destruction of Israel; and to translate this into a battle between East and West; Muslim, Jew and Christian”
Tony Blair’s speech to the joint session of Congress, 18 July 2003
(See also ‘Hail Caesar’ for other examples)
What is important is that Blair’s speeches ‘dovetail’ with how the world is presented to us by the media. The line between fiction and reality is obliterated completely, a process that is the bread and butter of television and its hand-maidens, advertising and PR. Just look at the backgrounds of Blair’s closest ‘advisors’ and you see that the space between the political and economic classes has disappeared completely.
Past expressions of the ruling economic class were almost entirely represented by what we like to call the ‘Establishment’, that is the upper echelons of the civil service, the judiciary, the police, the armed forces the education establishment, and of course the media as it then was, and the political class that led them, the government and its revolving door parties, the Tories and the Labour Party.
That this has changed is evidenced by the occasional public clash between Blair’s ‘advisors’ and the traditional civil service, the ‘Whitehall Mandarins’ with their innocuous-sounding names, permanent secretary or permanent under-secretary to this or that minister or committee who resent the ‘upstarts’ usurping their positions. This is Mussolini’s Corporatisation of the State, the merging of big business and government, or Fascism to use its vox pop name.
In the US it’s revealed by the changing balance of forces between the State Department and the Department of Defense, with the DoD representing the increasingly (open) militarisation of the state. The DoD was one of the first arms of the government to employ PR companies and advertising agencies to sell its wars, initiated under Reagan with the invasion of Grenada. And with good reason, the experience of Vietnam had taught the ruling elite a painful lesson, one that it wasn’t going to allow to happen again, not if it could help it. This is where ‘al-Zarqawi’ was born, in the ‘baby incubators’ of Kuwait City.
Some commentators have ascribed this shift to a battle between the ‘old’ Eastern Establishment and the ‘new’ Southern ‘aristocracy’ based in Texas, whereas I contend that it reflects the shifting centre of economic power which now resides in energy, media and information technology (and of course, weapons) which are now owned almost entirely by vast banking, investment and insurance corporations.
Ultimately, it represents the failure of Capitalism as a system to rule by ‘consent’ or to use another misnomer, ‘democracy’ which in turn masks an even deeper contradiction, that of the over-accumulation of capital and the fact that in order to maintain the rule of capital (and its profitability) it has had to return to its old tried and trusted methods—brute force but do so with relatively well-heeled populations who have for the past fifty-plus years been told that once the former ‘enemy of democracy’ was dispensed with, Communism, all would be well with the world. In that former world, the world of the invasion of Vietnam, people could be trusted to back the old patriotic line and of course, the fear of Communism, which at least actually existed. How untrue the new paradigm has turned out to be is revealed by the return of the poor and dispossessed to their tried and trusted methods—resistance, for we once more see the ‘spectre of Communism’ raising its fearsome head, only now it’s ‘down South, Mexico way’.
* For a different take on Zarqawi, see ‘Zarqawi: Western fearmongering made flesh’ by Brendan O’Neill. Tuesday 13 June 2006. It’s not a view I subscribe to, considering it just a mite to naive and one-dimensional about the role of ‘Zarqawi’ in the machinations of the Capitalists and ignoring the history of comparable figures throughout the 20th century and even earlier. O’Neill’s article is based almost exclusively on the work of Loretta Napoliani, author of ‘Insurgent Iraq: Al-Zarqawi and the New Generation, on how a nobody became the most notorious terrorist in the world.’