Guardian, December 12, 2022
A wider definition of human rights obliges real-world assessments … to discriminate between greater and lesser abuse, to shun specious moral equivalence. Suppose every word our media say about Assad to be true: a huge stretch, I know, but stay with me. Could he inflict a fraction of the death, misery and mayhem the US and its partners in crime have? To answer this we need to acquaint ourselves with a little postwar history …
If your understanding of world events doesn’t account for the easily quantifiable fact that the US is the most tyrannical regime on earth by a massive margin, nothing else in your understanding of world events will be fact-based. Caitlin Johnstone
… IMF bullying and covert ops, deadly sanction and deadlier missile strike put states dubbed ‘pariah’ (read, distasteful to Wall Street) on a war footing. We in the west enjoy freedom of expression and limited democracy, fruits of a prosperity based on exploiting the global south. When progressive governments must fight for survival – as in Castro’s Cuba, Chavez’s Venezuela and Ba’athist Syria – those freedoms may jeopardise gains without which democracy and human rights are meaningless except as cover for their antithesis …
I wrote the above five years ago, for a post on Syria in which I also quoted Noam Chomsky:
So when American dissidents criticize the atrocities of some enemy state like Cuba or Vietnam, it’s no secret what the effects of that criticism are going to be: it’s not going to have any effect whatsoever on the Cuban regime, for example, but certainly will help the torturers in Washington and Miami to keep inflicting their campaign of suffering on the Cuban population [i.e. through the US-led embargo]. Well, that is something I do not think a moral person would want to contribute to.
His point never loses its applicability (even if Chomsky forgets it at times). Least of all now, as we are invited to vent our rage at the theocrats in Tehran without asking too many questions, i.e. any at all, about (a) what chain of events brought them to power in the first place, and (b) the lethal sanctions – disproportionately hitting the poor, sick, very young and very old – which form so irreducible a component of the current protests, and of why the Ayatollahs see little choice but to tough it out …. 1
… invited too to virtue-signal an unspecified ‘solidarity’ with Iran’s protestors. On the face of it, reports of harsh ‘justice’ meted out by the Iranian authorities are harder to gainsay than are the dubious claims of oppression of Uighurs in Xinjaing. Personally I find the former more credible. But what of that? The differences, while significant, are vastly outweighed by the similarities.
You’re Not Actually Helping When You “Support” Protesters In Empire-Targeted Nations
Truthout has a recent article titled “The Left Can Support Protesters in China Without Shilling for US Imperialism” with a subtitle asserting that “Chinese workers and Uyghurs need solidarity from leftists worldwide,” and it at no point attempts to defend either one of those titular claims.
The article features comments from New York University’s Rebecca E Karl and is replete with leftist-sounding phraseology like “heteronormative patriarchy” and “the hegemonic hold of white power,” but what it does not contain is any attempt to substantiate the claim that the left can support protesters in China without shilling for US imperialism or the claim that they need solidarity from leftists worldwide.
This is because those claims are entirely baseless. I run into such claims all the time and often challenge them when I encounter them, and nobody has ever once been able to logically and coherently explain to me what is gained by leftists in the English-speaking world displaying “support” or “solidarity” with protesters in nations like China and Iran that are targeted for regime change by the US-centralized empire. Nobody has ever once been able to provide me with a good explanation of how leftists can throw their weight behind narratives that are being exploited for propaganda against empire-targeted governments without assisting those propaganda campaigns.
This is because no good explanation exists.
And I don’t mean to single out Truthout for this; pushing leftists to help decry empire-targeted governments is something that’s done all the time by western leftist and leftish media. Jacobin ran an article last month insisting that “the international left must formulate a way to effectively express solidarity” with protesters in Iran, and Shock Doctrine author Naomi Klein was recently making the same case regarding Chinese protesters as well. Any time there are protests in an empire-targeted country, we are presented with Official Leftists admonishing us that we must add our voices to the mainstream fray in cheering them on.
And it’s always for unclear, inarticulately argued reasons. It’s generally framed as something that leftists should just assume is inherently true because it’s presented with leftist-sounding jargon like “solidarity”, but nobody ever clarifies what actual, concrete benefits are delivered to protesters in empire-targeted governments by expressions of solidarity from the west, or how those benefits outweigh the negative drawbacks of helping to amplify condemnations of a government that the empire is trying to manufacture consent for aggressions against.
They generally don’t even explain what they mean by “solidarity”. Presumably they don’t mean flying to those countries and providing them with hands-on assistance or they would have said that, so what do they mean? Tweeting your support with the relevant hashtags? Feeling feelings of solidarity in your feely bits? Is the claim that if people voice expressions of “solidarity” with their voices and on the internet and feel feelings of solidarity in their feely bits, something good will happen? What is the good thing that will happen? What specifically is the material benefit being delivered? They never say.
I could see the argument being made if we were talking about an issue that’s not receiving adequate attention. Palestinian rights, for example, is an issue that has for generations been both ignored and actively propagandized against, and grassroots efforts to drag that issue into the spotlight have made it much harder for Israeli apartheid to continue with the kind of support it’s going to need going forward.
But when you’re talking about protests in an empire-targeted government like Iran or China, you’re talking about an issue that’s already receiving maximum coverage from all the most powerful media and government institutions in the anglophone world. This is because western media give wildly disproportionate coverage to protests in nations the US doesn’t like compared to protests in nations it favors.
You can’t just conduct yourself as though these propaganda campaigns aren’t a thing. If you live in one of the member nations of the US-centralized power alliance, you can’t just pretend your expressions of support and solidarity mean the same thing as if they were coming from someone in Latin America, Asia, or Africa. You’re not the same. You’re speaking from within the most powerful empire that has ever existed, and you are always necessarily in some kind of relationship with that empire’s campaign of global conquest and the propaganda operations which grease its wheels.
And you need to be responsible with that relationship. If you live in the US or any of its imperial member states like the UK, the EU, Australia or Canada, it simply is not possible for you to lend your voice to the cause of protesters in empire-targeted nations without facilitating the empire’s propaganda campaigns about those protests. It cannot be done. You either have a responsible relationship with this reality or an irresponsible one.
Western leftists who go out of their way to amplify protests that are part of an ongoing imperial propaganda operation have an irresponsible relationship with that reality. They’re not doing anything that actually helps the people in those countries, but they are absolutely doing something that could end up hurting them. And if they’re really honest with themselves they know this. But they do it anyway because it looks good in front of their propaganda-addled leftish friends and followers.
Before they drop bombs, they drop narratives. Before they launch missiles, they launch propaganda campaigns. Before they roll out sanctions, they roll out perception management. If you choose to help them do this by participating in their propaganda campaigns, then you are just as complicit in their consequences as the military personnel who carry them out. Regardless of whatever leftist-sounding justifications you might spin for yourself about why you did it.
This isn’t a fucking game. The world isn’t a catwalk for you to strut your fashionable lefty expressions of “solidarity” on to win likes and retweets. If you live inside of the empire, then you need to be responsible with your relationship with its propaganda. Otherwise you’re just a garden variety imperialist with a cutesy story about yourself.
“The Left Can Support Protesters in China Without Shilling for US Imperialism.” No they can’t. Knock it off.
* * *
- I’m no friend of mediaevalist theocrats, nor do I have illusions about this caste’s self-serving clinging to power. But should they fall, now, under these circumstances, who gains? I have friends, their knowledge of Iran far greater than mine, who assure me the protests are untainted by CIA or other foreign infiltration. These are good and intelligent people but what they say beggars belief. It flies in the face of all we know about US-led ‘colour revolutions’. More to the point, even if true, such assertions ignore a greater truth. Should the theocrats fall, the power vacuum will not be filled by democratic elements fiercely independent of Washington. The gains to the most tyrannical regime on earth, its tentacles in every corner of the globe, will be incalculable: gains it has sought since at least the start of this blood-soaked century. Does this make me indifferent to Iran’s suffering? No, it just puts it in perspective. It’s an unfortunate truth – because so easily manipulated – of the human condition that the public hanging of a protestor counts for more with us than millions dying from bombs, starvation and preventable disease as a direct result of Western policies.
The man who was hung was accused of killing two members of the Iranian security forces and wounding four others during the protests in Mashhad. So he wasn’t hung for protesting, he was hung for multiple murder.
The Iranian method of hanging is inhumane as the person being hung does not drop and then have their neck broken as they come to the end of the rope, as used to be the case in UK, but instead is hoisted by a crane and left to strangle.
Caitlin Johnstone is right to say that you can’t support protesters in China (or Iran) without supporting US Imperialism. The replacement regime is likely to be worse than the previous one (at least that’s what happened in all the previous regime change operations) and the women may have to continue wearing headscarves if that is politically expedient for the new regime.
I can’t confirm either way that Majidreza Rahnavard was hanged for murder rather than protesting but here too our lovely media have form. A few years ago two young men – boys really – were publicly hanged in the slow manner you describe. It was widely put out that their crime was to be gay, but there are credible suggestions they had jointly and multiply raped a boy.
Our media lie more by omission than commission, though of course both happen when it really matters to power. And as you and I have discussed on other occasions, that systemic mendacity does not presuppose – nor yet rule out – consciously dishonest journalists and editors.
Yes good piece, including comments below. I read Caitlin’s article this morning. Unfortunately I believe most people are too blinkered/unwilling to use critical thinking to see that “solidarity” with people in places such as Iran helps not one single Iranian person, but absolutely does bolster support for the evil empire. Obviously hanging, any execution no matter the method used, is barbaric, and on a purely human level I weep for anyone dying this way
Peace to you too Margaret. On the point about virtue-signalled ‘solidarity’ by leftist ‘progressives’, Caitlin’s earlier observation, in the context of the US war on Russia in Ukraine, is apposite:
Just what do such people think they are achieving?
I don’t really have much to offer except to agree with Johnny and Caitlin in that the clerics of Iran and their God Police are not actually torturing people to death as is the case of people held in US & other “detention” camps who have never been given the opportunity of a trial much less a conviction. Such US arbitrary detentions, as has been shown, notwithstanding Abu Graibe, ” special renditions”, or even Gitmo, are found to be completely acceptable by the collective west and rarely get too much of a mention from the so-called “Leftist” talking heads. Every year 100 people(mostly of colour) die at the hands of the US police too many times without any provocation.
So when Caitlin and others ask what good is the term solidarity when talking about hand wringing concern for the fate of people in other countries on the US shit list if we in the west can turn a blind eye to our own treatment of oft times innocent victims of a corrupt judiciary and regime in the west, the old saying it brought to mind for me is “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones” accompanied by Burns words “Oh for the gift that God did gey us, to see ourselves as others see us”.
I can’t imagine people in Russia or China find it reasonable to withhold health care from the poorest or let poverty run rampant while the most aggressive and murderous empire spends $1 trillion on “defence” for purely economic gain but doesn’t give a damn about the plebs/proles it pretends do not exist.
Caitlin says it all with her own distinct style and it is bang on point. Talk about hitting the nail on the head.
Hi Susan. Great post, and good to see at least two women commenting on the site – I wish there were more, to counteract the usual preponderance of men. Maybe it’s the Irish ancestry! I just have to correct your Burns quote though. It should be:
“…O wad some Power the giftie gie us
To see oursels as ithers see us!
It wad frae monie a blunder free us… “
That’s to say, god didn’t give us the gift – but Burns wishes that he had. Now I’ll take my pedantry off-line!
Hi Susan. Let me offer, not for the first or last time, these two reminders of Washington’s heartrending concern for human rights:
One, on the death of half a million Iraqi infants, courtesy the ‘sanctions’ imposed by Bill Clinton and Madeline Albright years before Dubya and Blair came to finish the job:
Two, Abu Graib jail after Iraq’s ‘liberation’. Yes, it’s a fictional mock up but what it depicts is 24-carat documented truth:
Not just Iran. The current situation in Serbia vis a vis Kosovo may also point, as Alistair Crooke observes in this piece….
….to a switch in emphasis by Western Imperialism away from the failing Ukraine project to something which might offer a more palatable quick win for The Official Narrative (TON) to latch onto and divert the attention of its own populace – the tame and controlled faux-left Caitlin Johnson identifies included – away from the present debacle.
Which raises the question as to where the now captured faux left and its self appointed icons and their mouthpieces will stand if/when things kick off again in Serbia? On recent evidence it will no doubt, when stripped of all the self-justifying cant, be not a million miles away from that of The Official Imperial Narrative.
Additional to the obvious highlights Crooke’s piece also raises some relevant points and insights into the process involved in TON’s perception management of whole populations – whatever self-identified political stance individuals and groups within that population take:
“Professor of Clinical Psychology at Ghent University, Mattias Desmet, has approached the disparity issue from a psychological perspective…..
…..He identified certain “primitive psychological mechanisms” which needed to be present for a distributed narrative to evolve into an insidious ‘mass formation’ that destroys an individual’s ethical self-awareness and robs them of their ability to think critically.
The primary condition was for there to be a segment of population lacking community bonds or meaning in their lives, and being further afflicted by ‘free-floating anxiety and discontent’, which leans towards aggressivity (i.e. by generalised feelings that ‘the system’ and economy are ‘rigged’ unfairly, against them).
Essentially then, mass movements attract people because they seem to offer hope to forlorn and dysfunctional beings.
Into this mental state, a narrative can be ‘dissolved’, suggesting a particular cause to the free-floating anxiety – and a means to deal with it (i.e. such as ‘Russia threatens our global advantage, our identity and values, and were it to be destroyed, the old system and values will right itself’).
The explanatory narrative gives an immediate sense of connection and of offering engagement in a ‘heroic project’; meaning thus is restored, even if that meaning be absurd, in relation to reality.”
Referencing Gustav Le Bon, Crooke takes aim;
“The critical lesson that has been indelibly absorbed by people in power, and those who advise them, is that fear works. There is, it turns out, almost nothing that a population will not sacrifice if they are systematically, relentlessly frightened…..
…..If the laws of the land do not permit you to stamp out all such deviant opinions, you can simply orchestrate an avalanche of opprobrium and disrepute on those who express them so that their professional reputations are undermined.”
An observation whose outcome is neatly detailed in the Caitlin Johnson piece in regard to far too many who claim to be on and of the Western political ‘left.’ A Western ‘left’ who have for generations failed to gain any sustainable significant traction in its own backyard but which, nevertheless, never tires on lecturing other peoples about what they should and should not be doing viv-a-vis what is and is not progressive. A point often made on this blog.
This same problematic attitude and approach identified in Johnson’s piece is not limited to aiding and abetting imperial narratives abroad – echoing as they do the self-selecting superiority of the Western Colonial mindset. This same ‘left’ also does a great deal of heavy lifting on behalf of other Official Narratives.
Not least of which is the Official Narrative which attempts to conflate sex and gender. An Official Narrative which, like Ayan Rand and Margaret Thatcher, insists on the primacy of the subjective reality of the individual over collective objective social reality. But only so far as those individuals who adopt that Official Narrative and its ideological base. The same individual reciprocal rights are neither available or on offer to anyone who deviates from that Official subjective reality.
Thus, as observed here….
…..”The fervour with which many male ‘self-identifying’ Marxists, communists, revolutionaries or just plain old social democrats, have taken up this issue, berated women who have raised concerns, relished in winding women up on social media and declared that they are better feminists than feminists, is suspicious. They seem to be unburdening themselves of years of pent-up frustration in having to pay lip service to demands for sexual equality and now finally they get to tell women to shut up….
….No doubt this would all matter less if the authoritarian closure on matters that are of interest to women was restricted to the splintered, defeated and demoralised remains of what used to be called the ‘extra-parliamentary’ left. It might have been thought that beyond these fragments, in properly functioning large-scale institutions, with their need to be responsive to large mixed constituencies, often through electoral processes and with their internal processes of managing and recognising conflicting interests, that a quite bizarre overturning of once accepted truisms about sex would find considerable hurdles. Yet many of the major institutions, corporate, state and civil society have been captured by the gender identity ideology, including the labour movement in both its trade union and political party organs…..
…..Both the left and liberal political cultures seem to have abandoned their deeper philosophical commitments.” [Quote ends]
Including, reason, critical thinking and what is referred to in this part of the world a single iota of ‘bottle’ – intellectual, moral, and ethical.
On that note, given the time of year, can I convey to all involved in both above and below the line discussion in this “saloon” a safe and enjoyable Christmas and New Year. It continues to be a privilege to read and digest the many cogent and insightful contributions throughout the year.
Thanks Dave – and season’s greetings to you too.