Today around the world, from the uprising in India by traditional peoples against Tata Motors massive factory development, to the massacre in the Amazonas Province of Peru, Native people are striving to protect their lands from resource extraction and environmental pollution. No ideology unites them, no international organization can protect them from armies and corporate militias and death squads. National governments call those who resist "terrorists" and so class any actions of self-defense. Today the only organized resistance to global development exercised by transnational corporations and the developed world nations from which their power has risen is increasingly seen by the poor and dispossessed of the world is al Qaeda.
What is new is the combination of drug war, religious terror and new media. But what seems also to be ignored is that everywhere in the world where there is change driven by global economics there is unrest and this unrest is a problem for the West as it is for China and yet it is an opportunity for al Qaeda for it could form the basis for a new ideological challenge to Christian Capitalism, as well as Chinese State Capitalism and Social Democratic capitalism.
One could imagine a new movement like the Khmer Rouge only projected internationally where the main ideological idea is the protection of indigenous culture and local control couched in a political analysis where wealth inequality and an identified transnational ruling elite are pictured as the enemy. But there is nothing new about this situation and reminds one immediately of the situation in the first century of our common era when millions of Jews had fled the religious intolerance, political chaos and tribal conflict that led to the Roman occupation and later the two “insurgent” wars against fanatic nationalists.
What is significant is the failure of the west to consider the causes of the current rising successes of insurgents to recruit and expand their operations. The fact that al-Qaeda’s North African branch appears to be engaged in transporting drugs as reported by Devlin Barrett (Associated Press, 19 December 2009) is only a natural evolution of the blindness that afflicts Western governments. In America the war on drugs has turned most of South and Central America into a battlefield and allied with the operations of authorities under the Patriot Act erodes American civil liberties.
Together counter insurgency operations and drug eradication and interdiction assaults have turned the world into an open American attack plan. The fallout from these operations, not only in loss of lives but income and the chaos and corruption that has followed, is creating the new armies America and the west face everyday in new fields of resistance. Most of the casualties have been in tribal areas or where tribal populations have been pressed into urban masses. The conditions of life in these areas only fuels rebellion more. As Louis Dupree noted in his work on Afghanistan in the 1970s, it has been the fantasies of the west over drugs and tribes that have lead to the most serious disasters and mistakes in foreign policy in the past 200 years. 19th century Europe and its colonial spin-offs saw tribalism as its main enemy. To eliminate local power structures – kinship relations – would result in acculturation and order. This has largely been the strategy and rationale for globalism and staying in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Eliminate tribalism and you get docile workers, more profit and an end to resistance and terror. Instead the 21st century is reaping a harvest of uprisings driven and magnified by the very acculturation that was expected to be so positive (profitable?). Drugs and money play a significant role in the acceleration of that process.
As Sociologist Max Weber noted in the middle of the 19th century, peasants removed from their lands become docile and easily adapted to new forms of work, and Kevin Starr found in his study (Inventing the Dream) of the early 20th century that the invention of mass media made the manipulation of masses of rootless people an effective substitute for police and military action. Canetti (Crowds and Power) found that mass media conditioned people to act as crowd elements and has promoted a consciousness of crowd in modern society. The lack of reason and response to fact we are seeing in American political debate is evidence of how far this has developed. From crowd consciousness to mob action is only a small step. Murdock with his Fox News (see my entry on him at: http://www.dailykos.com/... and Murphy of Liberty News instill this way of thinking every day. However, media has come to be the voice of not just nations, but religions and ideologies. The cross-purposes and new techniques seem to be capable of motivating people to mass murder as in Rwanda and the states of the former Yugoslavia. However, all that is missing is a means to organize this resistance is for al Qaeda to see the opportunity and to fabricate an ideology that can be translated across cultural and religious barriers. The outcome of such an ideology might be a collapse of social complexity in urban wars, where fanaticism and millenarianism like that of the Christian right blend with visions of a nuclear apocalypse (see John Hagee's Beginning of the End: the Assassination of Yizhak Rabin and the Coming of the Antichrist, Nashville, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996, a New York Times bestseller!).
Using religion and ideology as a weapon is not new and currently the US is engaged in such a program that may backfire. Major General Douglas Stone told reporter Andrew K. Woods of plans developed by the U.S. Army to utilize prisoners in the various camps held by the military for a grand reorganization of Islam into a more peaceful religion. Possessing a doctorate in public administration, and a degree from Stanford Business School and having made a fortune in Silicon Valley, General Stone outlined how the military would win the “battlefield of the mind.” Under his direction, military prisons like Abu Ghraib were transformed after 2006 into seeing their detainees as strategic assets that could be reshaped to spread the seeds of a new Islam to the Middle East and Asia. Aided by the Rand Corporation, Stone and the U.S. military have undertaken a reeducation process and successfully released their charges (students) back to their home countries. Of the 8,000 men released since 2006 only 24 have been recaptured, what Stone considers to be proof of success, interpreting this as a recidivism rate of less than 1%.
While this idea of Stone’s and the program he describes may be simply a U.S. military disinformation project specially designed to discredit those returning or to increase suspicions among anti-U.S. groups in the Middle East, the concept is of interest as it reflects the first time in history that one military has used a religious sect as a counterintelligence movement. The issue of ethics aside, the idea of using religion as a weapon wielded by an enemy is dangerous, though during the Counter Reformation there were some efforts that came close to the effect if not the intent they were hardly successful.
There is a liability to the leaders of a Qaeda. By diluting their messages to encompass such a wider ideological perspective they may loose their core population support. Like the earlier effort of the Soviet Comintern, control of locally appropriated issues and movements is difficult and can have considerable unintended consequences.
It is of interest to note that where two of the most successful rebellions of non-European peoples in the Americas took place were where (Yucatan and Bahia) natives and slaves had not been deprived of kinship by either the slave system or the hacienda system. We are seeing a combination of effects, drugs, religion, ideology and mass media all promoting anti-government action and directed toward specific “enemies.”
By ending the drug war we can begin to defuse the avalanche of conflict. By calling a peace conference at the United Nations and inviting al Qaeda we might be able to end the war on terror and create a plan to protect indigenous peoples at the same time. By removing American forces from the Middle East we can go far to reducing the antagonistic posture we have presented for half a century. What is better, paying our enemies not to fight us in Iraq and Afghanistan or ending the war on terror by actually coming to a diplomatic confrontation on issues?
Niccolo Caldararo, Ph.D.
Dept of Anthropology
San Francisco State University