Blogs > Liberty and Power > HUSSEIN, BIN LADEN, AND GRAMSCI

Jan 15, 2004 11:03 am


While the debate over the yet-to-be-found Iraqi WMDs continues, let's not forget that one of the other prime reasons for the US invasion was alleged evidence of"ties" between Al Qaeda and the Hussein regime. Because there were networks of Al Qaeda and Iraqi interests, some Bush administration officials suggested a full-fledged alliance was afoot.

I've no doubt that there were informal networks and, perhaps, even a few formal meetings between various Iraqi and Al Qaeda representatives. I didn't realize, however, that the existence of such networks would be a pretext for an invasion. Back in December, a Yemeni cleric was arraigned on charges that he had funneled $20 million in terror aid to Al Qaeda from a Brooklyn mosque. The cleric, Al-Moayad, allegedly bragged of two meetings with Bin Laden, to whom he"personally delivered" money and resources. Since the money came from a Brooklyn network, I fear it's only a matter of time before my hometown faces a US ground assault.

In the meanwhile, there is lots of evidence piling up to show that the hatred between Bin Laden and Hussein—which many of us noted in our debates with pro-war advocates—remained a real obstacle to any genuine alliance between them. Earlier this month, another one of those Bin Laden tapes surfaced, wherein the voice of Al Qaeda referred to the secular Saddam as the United States'"previous comrade in treachery, a hireling of America."

Now comes this news about Hussein's profound opposition to the jihad-loving Islamicists, an opposition that has not waned, even though Hussein is out of power. James Resin of the NY Times writes:

Saddam Hussein warned his Iraqi supporters to be wary of joining forces with foreign Arab fighters entering Iraq to battle American troops, according to a document found with the former Iraqi leader when he was captured ... The document appears to be a directive, written after he lost power, from Mr. Hussein to leaders of the Iraqi resistance, counseling caution against getting too close to Islamic jihadists and other foreign Arabs coming into occupied Iraq, according to American officials. It provides a second piece of evidence challenging the Bush administration contention of close cooperation between Mr. Hussein's government and terrorists from Al Qaeda. C.I.A. interrogators have already elicited from the top Qaeda officials in custody that, before the American-led invasion, Osama bin Laden had rejected entreaties from some of his lieutenants to work jointly with Mr. Hussein. Officials said Mr. Hussein apparently believed that the foreign Arabs, eager for a holy war against the West, had a different agenda from the Baathists, who were eager for their own return to power in Baghdad. As a result, he wanted his supporters to be careful about becoming close allies with the jihadists ...

All of this brings to mind, once again, that the Arab-Islamic world is not a monolith. In Iraq alone, the political, ethnic and ideological rivalries remain a great obstacle to democratic"nation-building." And when each of the rivals lacks the philosophical or cultural predisposition toward political freedom, I shudder to think of the kind of"nation" that is being built.

This speaks, at least tangentially, to issues raised by Will Wilkinson here, when he asks:"Does libertarianism, understood as an ideal for society, require, in order to be feasibly realized, that all or most members of society accept and endorse a certain set of moral and political premises?" I've long believed that libertarians can learn a lot from Antonio Gramsci, who, Marxist though he was, understood the importance of creating"a bloc of historical forces," a cultural hegemony that makes the need for a political revolution superfluous. We don't have to accept Gramsci's ideas for a socialist culture to appreciate the fact that a free society of whatever degree depends upon a certain constellation of philosophical and cultural premises; even if we never achieve full-fledged libertarianism, political freedom is only as good and sustainable as the cultural base upon which it is built.

And that is why I have been relentless in my emphasis on the cultural prerequisites for freedom in Iraq. Bad enough that the US itself is attempting to construct its way to Iraqi freedom with the tools of crony capitalism. Worse still: Constructivist impositions on a culture, which has no conception of Western democracy or freedom, cannot create or sustain either.

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Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 1/27/2004

Excellent comment, Charles... I'm just getting around to reading it.


Charles Johnson - 1/20/2004

Chris writes, concerning hostilities between Hussein's secular Ba'athism and bin Laden's Islamism: "All of this brings to mind, once again, that the Arab-Islamic world is not a monolith."

This is, incidentally, one reason out of many to depise the phrase "Islamo-fascism" (an anti-concept cooked up in the fevered brain of Christopher Hitchens, and spread like a virus throughout the war-hawk's sphere of intellectual influence). The phrase is anti-conceptual because it has *absolutely no coherent reference*; it picks out a motley grab bag of (admittedly nasty) ideologies that have nothing in particular in common other than the fact that they are all held by either Arabs or Muslims. Ba'athism *is* arguably a form of fascism (it is definitionally pan-Arabist national socialism). But it is *Arab* fascism, not *Muslim* fascism; its politics are secular, nationalist, and particularist. Islamism is certainly "Islamo," and it is certainly nasty, but it is not a form of fascism; its politics are theocratic, INTERnationalist, and universalist. (Membership in the Ba'athist polity is conceived in terms of being born into a particular ethnic group, viz. the Arab nation; membership in the Islamist polity is conceived in terms of *choosing* to submit to a universalistic faith in the eyes of which all nations are equal, viz. Islam.) Islamism, in fact, was *invented* in *direct opposition* to the secular nationalism of pan-Arabists such as Nasser and the Iraqi and Syrian Ba'ath Party; the programme as it was originally theorized by Sayyid Qutb et al. was always *mainly* concerned with winning the soul of the *Muslim* world away from secular nationalism, whether pro-Western or anti-Western). The only things that the two have in common are:

(1) People who believe in them are either Arabs, or Muslims, or both.
(2) They endorse totalitarian politics
(3) They oppose the policies of the Euro-American powers
(4) Christopher Hitchens doesn't like them.

Of course, neither (1) nor (2) picks out any coherent kind; "Arabs or Muslims" does not pick out any single class of people except in the racialist ignorance of an unfortunate proportion of the American public (and professional political "experts"). (2) is certainly an important thing to know about any political ideology; but it doesn't mean that there is a coherent tradition or body of ideology between two politics that share it (nobody tries to make a serious point of intellectual analysis by talking about "fasco-Stalinism" or "Keynsio-Islamism"). (3) is, of course, even further from categorizing by essentials; libertarians and anarchists, after all, mostly oppose the policies of the Euro-American powers; but that does not (/pace/ Bill O'Reilly!) make for any real affiliation (whether 'objective' or 'subjective') with Islamists or Ba'athists. (4) is the thing that most closely binds together everything that is called "Islamo-fascism;" but (4) is not a cognitive category; it is a shared "Boo! Hiss!"

(Of course, boos and hisses can be legitimate uses of language; they need not be anti-concepts. But "Islamo-fascism" is anti-conceptual because it *purports* to be a serious term of analysis and criticism; in fact it cannot stand up to even the most superficial of either.)

As Chris himself quite rightly points out in (among other places) AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL, Rand's work on anti-concepts and their use in the discourse of statism is illuminated when thought of in connection with Gramsci's notion of hegemony; the anti-concept is one of the chief weapons of the intellectual bodyguard of the Leviathan. A radical libertarianism should realize that if the Leviathan looks vast and undefeatable, it's only because it is bloated up with a lot of rhetorical gas. As Gramsci and Rand both stressed, the study of philosophy and the practice of philosophical criticism is *essential* to building a free society--in part because it is necessary to *deflate* the anti-conceptual supports that hold Leviathan up; the political upshot of philosophy should be, as it were, to put the "truth" in "Speaking truth to power."


Chris Matthew Sciabarra - 1/15/2004

That's a good question, Will. Much of my approach to this is influenced by Rand---or rather, my own tri-level reconstruction of Rand's understanding of social relations and social change. I discuss this in AYN RAND: THE RUSSIAN RADICAL and in TOTAL FREEDOM: TOWARD A DIALECTICAL LIBERTARIANISM.

I think that libertarians simply have to revel in their division of labor and specialization of knowledge, and do everything and anything to challenge the status quo on every level of human discourse. I don't think there is any one trans-historical formula that would allow libertarians to reach critical mass either culturally or politically. But I do think it is something that has to be attacked on a variety of levels and from a variety of vantage points, and that this multi-pronged strategy allows each level to reciprocally reinforce the other levels.

That means making films and music, writing novels and plays, publishing comic books, and penetrating the academic journals, university press catalogues, scholarly conferences, the Internet and the blogosphere. That means that Liberty & Power is part---a small part---of building that cultural hegemony.

Great to have you here!

Will Wilkinson - 1/15/2004

Chris, I wonder then... in strategic terms, shouldn't libertarians be far more focused on making films, writing novels, and the like, than on abstract scholarship. Or is there some critical mass of systematic thought that is required before the pro-freedom onslaught on the mass culture? What's the strategy for building cultural hegemony?