Sunday, February 11, 2007


The crisis in the Middle East that began in 2001 is not in sight of any dénouement. At best, we are perhaps only at mid-point in the unfolding drama. New forces and faces are emerging that have something in common. Muqtada, Haniya, Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad: each has risen by organizing the urban poor in their localities—Baghdad and Basra, Gaza and Jenin, Beirut and Sidon, Tehran and Shiraz. It is in the slums that Hamas, Hizbollah, the Sadr brigades and the Basij have their roots. The contrast with the Hariris, Chalabis, Karzais, Allawis, on whom the West relies—overseas millionaires, crooked bankers, cia bagmen—could not be starker. A radical wind is blowing from the alleys and shacks of the latter-day wretched of the earth, surrounded by the fabulous wealth of petroleum. The limits of this radicalism, so long as it remains captured by the Koran, are clear enough. The impulses of charity and solidarity are infinitely better than those of imperial greed and comprador submission, but so long as what they offer is social alleviation rather than reconstruction, they are sooner or later liable to recuperation by the existing order. Leaders comparable to figures like Chávez or Morales have yet to emerge, with a vision capable of transcending national or communal divisions, a sense of continental unity and the self-confidence to broadcast it. Thanks to its ex-mayor, there is now a statue of Bolívar in Tehran. The region awaits an equivalent spirit.

Meanwhile, the emplacements of the hegemon have scarcely budged. The current turmoil is still confined to those areas of the Middle East where for twenty years or more American power never really penetrated: the West Bank, Ba’athist Iraq, Khomeinist Iran. The real us anchorage in the region lies elsewhere: in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Jordan. There its traditional clients have held the line, and are on hand to help out with regional problems. Beyond them, Europe and Japan stand shoulder to shoulder with America on Iran and Palestine, while Russia, China and India make no difficulties. It is too soon to count on imperial defeat.

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