THE COUNTER RENAISSANCE

A publication by and for African Youth

Issue 6: January 2002 

 

INTERROGATING TERRORISM —

RENEWING EXPLORATION AND INQUIRY

"Bomb Blasts," "Plane Hijacks," "Islamic Fundamentalists," "Counter Terrorism," "Masked Attackers," "Islamic Extremists." These are some of the words and images that have come to occupy public consciousness since the September11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Several months after the U.S.A commenced its violent retribution, it appears that the promised ‘victory’ for the ‘good’ against the ‘evil’ is proving elusive. This issue of The Counter Renaissance goes beyond the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the dominant press in defining and treating the entire issue of terrorism. It engages in a critical Systemic as well as self-analysis of the causes of violence. What does it mean to ‘toughen up’ and punish the ‘uncivilized’ when the root causes are safely left unexamined? Who has gained since this ‘war’ started? Who really suffers when violence is used to respond to violence? Why throw million dollar missiles at ‘those barbarians’ when the conditions producing them exist here? What use pulling the pin on a hand grenade without having anywhere to throw it?

The President of the USA drew a line for all human beings on planet earth. After the Sep.11 attacks, he declared: "Either you are with us or against us!" He asked us to chose between the Taliban and the U.S government. Mr. Bush’s declaration puts all of us in the line of fire, either as supporters of terror or as its 'extinguishers'.

But in a response to this declaration, Arundhati Roy, in Why America Must Stop the War Now, states that "the people of the world do not have to choose between the Taliban and the US government. All the beauty of human civilization our art, our music, our literature lies beyond these two fundamentalist ideological poles. There is little chance that the people of the world can become [voracious consumers of American products] as there is that they will [all] embrace one religion. The issue is not about Good v. Evil or Islam v. Christianity as much as it is about space. About how to accommodate diversity, how to contain the impulse towards hegemony — every kind of hegemony, economic, military, linguistic, religious and cultural."

We have been researching extensively for voices of dissent from Africa but have not been able to find any. There has been a strange silence. We probably can not expect our ‘leaders’ to dissent, as their interests are too closely tied to the global political-economy. But those of us, the majority, who are not too soaked in either the immorality of this aggressive quest for wealth or the heartless decimation of human life (September 11th-style and its violent response in Central Asia) must speak. What does Mr. Bush think? Does he see the people of the world as a flock of mute creatures? Don’t we have a sense of what is going on? We must speak because ours are the voices of sanity. We must speak because in doing so, we not only stand to lay open the machinations of the merchants of death (those in positions of power), but we also articulate our own feelings about the destruction that we see. In dissenting, we articulate the voices of those who respect and understand the crucial role that inter-relationships and inter-dependencies play in our lives.

The lack of dissenting voices from the continent could be because of continued demoralization by the dominant voices, especially the media, that "one must not think about these matters because that could be a justification for terrorism." But such a position is utterly foolish, in fact, laughable. Historically and currently, the U.S government has been shown as the source and provider of resources for unleashing terror around the world. (The widespread terror and destruction in Latin America, Africa, Asia, have been extensively documented elsewhere -- see back page for resource guide.)

But what are the implications of September 11th for Africa? In terms of scale and character, Africa has suffered (and continues to suffer) murderous destruction in the hands of Western powers and their Africa-based ruler-cronies. These attacks are therefore not a "shocking illustration of violence" to anyone who has made the effort to lay open State-Market cruelty. But it is the consequences of these attacks, particularly in light of America’s violent response to them, that will now put Africa (especially communities that have refused to be incorporated into the exploitative global order) squarely under increased surveillance and control. Any of our efforts to resist the American Way of Life (and increased corporate penetration) will be labeled as acts of terrorism. This hegemony will be implemented by 'friendly regimes' in Africa willing to act as stooges and conduits for the USA in its continued predatory search for and pillage of resources.

In the face of this, we must make the effort to expose the web of deceit that has been spun around us. To believe, for example, that ballistic missiles are peace-makers is an illusion. One way to start could be by posing certain fundamental questions challenging current processes of domination and exploitation in African society. For example, the rooted-ness of today’s power structures to their overtly violent predecessors, the colonial structures.

Consistent with that is also the need to see that processes and institutions outside Africa, especially those that tie Africa to the global market, use the same violent instruments, to subordinate the continent to external interests. Processes like globalization claim to foster 'global co-operation' when in fact they are meant to provide the countries of Europe and the USA with control over Africa’s resources, naturally at the expense of African people. (Within the larger power structures, and imbalances inherent in them, the idea of a global village seems to be an illusion which, at its best, supports mutual exploitation and, at its worst, promotes large-scale destruction.)

A counter renaissance re-prioritizes community inter-reliance as processes that free us from institutional dependence and instructional education. The latter can only transmit institutionalized values in society. The low intensity wars taking place today in African society have an institutional basis. The depletion of natural resources, destruction of entire countries under the impetus of World Bank–International Monetary Fund sponsored reforms (see Rwanda and Somalia), the displacement of pre-existing small-scale social and economic production systems by privatized large-scale companies, are all wars which ordinary people have not created. De-colonizing and de-institutionalizing our minds is thus crucial, not only in understanding violence as a systemic element in Africa, but also in taking possession of the skills and elements that make us human.

Do we see that, as human beings, we are inter-dependent on the diversities of nature and other human beings or on institutions? The big wars in history some of them deceptively called 'World-Wars' have all been caused and fought, not by ordinary people, but by governments and dominant private interests for territorial control and institutional aggrandizement.

We, African youth, cannot pretend not to understand the devastating violence in Central Asia today. The forces that covertly tighten their grip on Africa via Globalization and the African Renaissance, are the same ones that are right now (overtly) bombing people to pulp in Central Asia. To pretend that we do not have any values in common with "those people in Afghanistan" is to fail to grasp how one can be and must be fully human. It is also to refuse to understand the global homogenizing tendencies of these forces whose larger and most crucial purpose is to Control the hopes, dreams, aspirations and thoughts of humanity. Of course, our cultures and civilizations have many diversities (we must remember too that even between us, Africans, these diversities are a reality). We do not have common customs, food, assumptions, stories, experiences. But we know that Afghan people have lives, think, feel, speak to one another, perceive, create, express, generate visions of society, etc. We can get to understand, more deeply, the Meanings of all these by making personal and collective efforts at constant exploration and inquiry and by not falling in the trap of ‘Us’ vs. ‘Them.’

-The Counter Renaissance Team

 

ROOTING OUT THE VIOLENCE OF SILENT OBEDIENCE

After the September 11 attacks in the USA, the word 'terrorism' has enjoyed immense media and public attention. It has come to describe the widespread political violence of individuals and groups who are opposed to public "peace and harmony". It has also provided a prescription for action, by governments, against those people perceived to be a threat to the existing social order. But in this article, I use certain personal experiences to make the case that 'terrorism', going by the dominant understanding, is really the symptom of a malady that runs much deeper. What we are dealing with is a deeply ingrained brand of violence, and it would make better sense if we focused our attention on its root causes in society.

The Systemic Dimension

From history, we know that Africa’s current institutions and structures have been and continue to be colonial in nature. Violence is an integral characteristic of this system. Today, the police, the courts and the bureaucracy rely on the same pattern of violence to strengthen their hold on vital aspects of societal life. This organized violence helps the rulers themselves keep the ‘natives’ (ordinary people) disorganized and disoriented, which gives the rulers unhindered control. It also covers up acts of oppression through the promise of such abstractions as ‘uplifment of the people’s standard of living’, 'freedom' and 'equality for all'. You cannot have 10% of the continent’s population devouring 90% of its resources, while the rest rely on a paltry 10% of the same resources, and not use violent control to maintain this ‘reality’. We are therefore conforming to a pattern of social order built on violence.

Does violence only exist "out there"? Why could I not see myself as part of it? Because, as a student, I went through an educational system whose very existence depends on passive, ‘obedient’ and unquestioning individuals. For instance, I sat for countrywide exams with 300,000 other students. Only 30,000 of us made it (and were supposed to make it) to university and professional training institutions. It is stupid to imagine that the ‘failed’ 270, 000 students would have all ‘passed’, if only they had ‘worked hard’. Why? Because the structural requirements for dumping 90% of us and therefore, for destroying the lives of the majority, had been laid well before we stepped into the exam room! This was planned violence, and my obedience to it the ‘violence of obedience.’

Similarly, as a citizen, I became dependent on an economic model whose growth relies a great deal on mindless consumerism. Spend, spend, spend! That’s the mantra of our dominant model of economics. The following are vital for this system to survive and ‘grow’: (1) depletion of natural resources (so that communities can depend on the corporate— dominated commoditized free market), (2) community and family breakdowns (increases the number of ‘consuming units’), and (3) the erosion of the capacity to be locally interdependent (as the free market puts absolutely no value on community supported economies). The avid consumer in me, beholden to the wonders of material success, was not only oblivious of the larger consequences of my avarice (the economic, environmental and social costs), but more importantly, was obediently playing the part of the patriotic citizen.[1]  It was (and is) obvious to most people outside the commerce/economics profession that clever phrases, such as Gross National Product involve real human costs, but such costs never factored into my Business Administration orientation.

As young people, the doctrines of Nationalism[2] were inculcated in us. Nationalism meant, for us, the fierce protection of our national borders against perceived hostile neighbors. In effect, we were made to feel ‘secure’, by knowing that our state-of-the-art military equipment could easily spill more blood than theirs! Patriotism, Nationalism, Common Good, Good Citizenship, etc. make for very profitable business. These phrases are cleverly exploited by those seeking wider powers and greater material enrichment. Our obedience to these phrases makes us participants in this organized violence against our fellow human beings and nature.

The violence against nature by this global economic model is manifested in the brutal alienation of millions of people from their homes lands and forests to make way for 'development' activities. The result is massive destabilization, by war and conflict, of hitherto locally interdependent communities. The rapacious exploitation of natural resources, deforestation in particular, for commercial purposes has "degraded land irreversibly, created artificial scarcities, and impoverished millions" (Goodland, 1996). The rupture of the ozone layer, by Chloro-Floro carbons (CFCs) released into the biosphere, is already making life unbearable in many parts of the earth, as "crop yields decline drastically, skin cancers intensify [and] food production diminishes" (Goodland,1996) Serious ecological catastrophes will produce even more poverty and misery. All these are often rationalized as necessary to provide for "our needs". But one must pause to ask whose needs are really being met and who decides what it means to be 'needy'.

I participated in this violence of obedience also because I narrowed my understanding of 'terrorism' to mean acts of physical/visible destruction. As long as I could not 'see' any overt acts of destruction or subjugation, then violence did not exist. Today’s market economy silently devastates communities around the world. Its single-minded drive for profit puts human beings under sustained oppression and anxiety. It is hard to imagine that some of them will not burst out in 'terrorist ways'.

The argument that poverty can be eradicated if only everybody obediently 'works hard', serves to divert attention from the fact that poverty emerges from carefully constructed structural barriers and institutional mechanisms, not from the absence of hard work.[3]

Finding Peace

Am I condoning ‘terrorism’? Certainly not! Not even in the narrow sense in which it is currently defined. But how do we deal with a problem before properly understanding neither its root causes, nor its magnitude?

The word ‘Peace’ has often been abused, not only to dissuade us from asking questions about whose peace we need to preserve, but also to cover up our own complicity in this destruction through our violence of obedience. Even though educationists, religious leaders, politicians, etc. pontificate about "peace for mankind", they are always laying the ground for conflict and violence, by failing to engage in serious self — as well as institutional — analyses of the causes of violence.

I have made an effort to try to reflect deeply about and understand the processes of disorder and destruction in society. For all of us, this deep understanding will, for a start, help us reject certain outright false-hoods which complicate our search for genuine peace. For instance, the myth that unrelentless pursuit of profit should be the dominant value system for society. We can then purposefully get over our culture of silence. I have studied violence outwardly (systemically) as well as inwardly (how my dependence on institutional dogma actually reinforces this arrangement). From this, has emerged a deep awareness of the nature of our interdependence.

To counter these relations of submission and domination, we must make efforts at ‘real human contacts.’ This is important if we are to recreate inherent human interdependencies, as opposed to one-way dependence on institutional dogma. Several unlearning processes, dialogues with many African youth and personal research into numerous ‘alternative’ ways of living, have helped me think about ways to get over my part in this violence of silent obedience. To begin to liberate ourselves, it is vital that we open/make available spaces for experiential reflection. These spaces unveil crucial relationships (to people, to resources and to the Self) that are fundamentally different from the top-down, control that institutions subject us to.

- Isaac Ochien'g

[1] Economic advance means reckless consumption and expenditure. Truly patriotic citizens must therefore disregard questions regarding who else is having to ‘pay’ for their excesses as our dear economy must grow no matter what.

[2] Nationalism also means the standardization and homogenization of an entire population around one simplistic identity, diversities and hopes disregarded.

[3] The 'developed' world --- USA, Europe and Japan --- consume 80% of the world’s environmental resources. Today, if the rest of humanity were to ‘work hard’ and consume at the same level, existing resources would be depleted instantly! (The July issue of The Counter Renaissance exposes, more forcefully, this myth of ‘hard work’).

 

THE DIRTY POLITICS OF LABELLING

Labeling is a special feature of the global political economy. Today, labels are used so pervasively that virtually all human beings on earth find themselves slotted into some narrow, rigid category. For you and me, they usually say nothing about the real characteristics of the people labeled. But labels are by no means neutral. In Encountering Development: The Making and Unmaking of The Third World, Arturo Escobar says, "they embody concrete relations of power and they also influence the way we think and behave towards those so labeled." We must closely re-examine labels to expose how immoral forms of power are exerted over the ‘Other.’ Escobar adds, "the key element at work here is that the whole reality of a person's life is reduced to a single feature or trait [so that] a human being is turned into a ‘case’." In this way, labels take the agency away from human beings. They easily also allow those doing the labeling to avoid any critical self-reflection over their own actions or any larger systemic analysis.

One such label, ‘Rogue States’, is debunked by Noam Chomsky in his book, Rogue States: The Rule of Force in World Affairs. In it, Chomsky challenges the ‘game of morality’ indulged in by the world’s superpower. To legitimize their exploitation against others, the US and its allies crown themselves ‘free’, ‘democratic’, 'civilized', etc. Those who choose not to follow their orders are branded as 'demonic', 'barbaric' by the media.

Get Involved! - Further Reading

Bhasin, K., et al., 2001. Voices of Sanity: Reaching Out For Peace. Delhi: Lokayan.

Chomsky, N. 2001. 9-11. New York: Seven Stories Press.

Roy, A. 2001. the algebra of infinite justice. New Delhi: Viking.

Shiva, V. 1997. Biopiracy: The Plunder of Nature and Knowledge. Boston: South End Press.

Web: <http://www.igc.org/mef/>

Web: <www.zmag.org>

 

FELLOW AFRICANS BEWARE!!!

"I have heard that because of foreign aid, people may become dependent on us for food. To me, that's good news -- because before people can do anything, they have got to eat. And if you are looking for a way to get people to lean on you and to be dependent on you, it seems to me that food dependence would be terrific."

- Hubert Humphrey, 1957

"Let us remember that the main purpose of foreign aid is not to help other nations, but to help ourselves."

- President Richard Nixon, 1968

 

A Brave and Startling Truth

Maya Angelou

We, this people, on a small and lonely planet
Travelling through casual space
Past aloof stars, across the way of different
Suns
To a destination where all signs tell us
It is possible and imperative that we learn
A brave and startling truth

And when we come to it
To the day of peace making
When we release our fingers
From the fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

When we come to it
When the curtain falls on the minstrel show of hate
And faces sooted with scorn and scrubbed clean
When battlefields and coliseum
No longer rake our unique and particular sons
and daughters
Up with bruised and bloody grass
To lie with identical pots in foreign soil

When the rapacious storming of the churches
The screaming racket in the temples have ceased
When the pennants are waving gaily
When the banners of the world tremble
Stoutly in the good, clean breeze

When we come to it
When we let the rifles fall from our shoulders
And children dress their dolls in flags of truce
When land mines of death have been removed
And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

When we come to it
Then we will confess that not the Pyramids
With their stones set in mysterious perfection
Nor the gardens of Babylon hanging as eternal beauty
Not the Grand Canyon
Kindled into delicious color
By Western sunsets

Nor the Danube, flowing its blue soul into Europe
Not the sacred peak of Mount Fuji
Stretching to the Rising Sun

Neither Father Amazon nor Mother Mississippi
who, without favor,
Nurture all creatures in the depths and on the shores
These are not the only wonders of the world

When we come to it,
We, this people, on this minuscule and kithless globe
Who reach daily for the bomb, the blade and the dagger
Yet who petition in the dark for tokens of peace

We, this people on this mote of matter
In whose mouths abide cankerous words
Which challenge our very existence
Yet out of those same mouths
Come songs of such exquisite sweetness
That the heart falters in its labor
And the body is quieted with awe

We, this people, on this small and drifting Planet
Whose hands can strike with such abandon
That in a twinkling, life is sapped from living
Yet those same hands can touch with such
healing, irresistible tenderness
That the haughty neck is happy to bow
And the proud back is glad to bend
Out of such chaos, of such contradiction
We learn that we are neither devils nor divines

When we come to it
We, this people, on this wayward, floating body
Created on this earth, of this earth
Have the power to fashion for this earth
A climate where every man and every woman
Can live freely without sanctimonious piety
Without crippling fear

When we come to it
We must confess that we are the possible
We are the miraculous, the true wonder of this world
That is when, and only when we come to it.

Maya Angelou is a renowned African American writer of prose, poetry, theatrical and television plays. She is also known for the first volume of her autobiography, Why The Caged Bird Sings.