Thursday, February 16, 2012

Chris Hedges on the "Black Bloc." Not great but not bad.

David Graeber responds. "An Open Letter to Chris Hedges" accuses Hedges of eliminationist rhetoric
Surely you must recognize, when it’s laid out in this fashion, that this is precisely the sort of language and argument that, historically, has been invoked by those encouraging one group of people to physically attack, ethnically cleanse, or exterminate another—in fact, the sort of language and argument that is almost never invoked in any other circumstance.
The last time we met you responded to my questions about violence with a shrug and a laugh, saying, "kids like to have a little fun."

Since we are talking about Gandhian tactics here, why not consider the case of Gandhi himself? He had to deal with what to say about people who went much further than rock-throwing (even though Egyptians throwing rocks at police were already going much further than any US Black Bloc has). Gandhi was part of a very broad anti-colonial movement that included elements that actually were using firearms, in fact, elements engaged in outright terrorism. He first began to frame his own strategy of mass non-violent civil resistance in response to a debate over the act of an Indian nationalist who walked into the office of a British official and shot him five times in the face, killing him instantly. Gandhi made it clear that while he was opposed to murder under any circumstances, he also refused to denounce the murderer. This was a man who was trying to do the right thing, to act against an historical injustice, but did it in the wrong way because he was “drunk with a mad idea.”
Letter from Birmingham Jail
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At fist I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best-known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."

I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do-nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle.
I'm not making an argument for nonviolence. I'm making an argument for political maturity. David, I get the sense that your last book is pretty good; straightforward revisionism from the historical record. Stick to that.

Graeber's piece is in N+1.
A book review from last year by Bruce Robbins
In taking up the topic of the Arabs and the Holocaust, Gilbert Achcar, a Lebanese leftist who teaches at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, is therefore choosing to venture out from the pro-Palestinian lines just at the point where all the Zionist guns are already aimed. His book admits the worst about his fellow Arabs and goes on as it can from there. It’s hard to tell whether the undertaking is very brave or very foolhardy
"His book admits the worst about his fellow Arabs"
Imagine Robbins using such a phrase about Americans, or Jews. "His book admits the worst about his fellow Catholics" Would he do it? Would he get away with it?

Nikhil Pal Singh in Jadaliyya
When I told the Israeli border official who interviewed me that I was going to Ramallah, she sneered and wrinkled her brow: “okay.” Why would anyone go there, she seemed to say. There was no mistaking her disapproval. Looking at my US passport, she wanted to know about my family tree: my father's name and my father's father's name. “Tirlok Singh,” I recalled hesitatingly. "I was a baby when he died," I added with a bit more conviction. For a moment, she scrutinized my visage for some un-discernible trace, or sign. Then I was allowed in, rather more easily than I had imagined.

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