Category Archives: culture

What We Communists Want

Following on my last post concerning the danger of reproducing the dismal logic of contemporary capitalism in representations of uneven development, this morning I began thinking about the question of what we communists want.

well-being-map-gallopPart of the problem in trying to think this question today is that utopian horizons have been smashed and discredited by the patent failures of “really existing” socialism around the world during the last half century. But another strong problem is the way in which capitalism has gotten under our skin and into our minds, defining what is possible.

So, if we’re going to insist that another world is possible, what kind of world do we want it to be?  Certainly not the one we currently inhabit. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) has been doing a great deal of work on the issue of Well Being. Two key facts they mention: since 1970, the UK’s Gross Domestic Product has doubled, but people’s satisfaction with life has not changed; 81% of Britons believe the government should prioritize creating the greatest happiness rather than the greatest wealth.

The NEF has participated in some important attempts to redefine Well Being on a national and international level, shifting the conversation away from GDP, which, as they point out, can be augmented through increased sales of guns and tobacco just as much as through increased spending on education and child care facilities. The projects of theirs that are worth checking out: Happy Planet Index (the “leading global index of sustainable well being) and the National Accounts of Well Being project.

Part of the problem here is that prescriptions for well being can often come across as pretty banal. NEF’s Five Ways to Well Being thus includes a list of actions that seem pretty obvious:

  • Connect
  • Be Active
  • Take Notice
  • Keep Learning
  • Give

They also seem hopelessly oriented to middle class citizens of affluent, overconsuming nations of the global North. It makes sense on some level to target such hyperconsumptionist subjects since the materialistic values that we Northerners have been coaxed to embrace are at the leading edge of destroying the planet through anthropogenic climate change, and our materialism is being disseminated through the global media as the paradigm to which all developing countries should aspire. We have to shift values in the global North if we are to avert catastrophe.

We also need to dismantle the skein of false desires generated by capitalist culture. This has been a dominant preoccupation of the Left over the last century, from the Frankfurt School intellectuals’ dyspeptic critiques of consumer culture, to Thomas Frank’s more recent discussion of the rise of Right-wing sentiments among the U.S. working class in books like What’s Wrong With Kansas?, to Sara Ahmad’s The Promise of Happiness, which discusses the ways in which the imperative to be happy leads to straightened and oppressive definitions of the self and social being.

Despite, then, the importance of this discussion of alternative definitions of well being in the North, it’s important to simultaneously ask what the question of well being would look like from a global South perspective. A partial answer to this question is given in the Vivir Bien project. Growing out of the insurgent Bolivarian movement in Latin America, the project is explicitly anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist.

An immediate set of demands on the path to well being were articulated at the World People’s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth.  The People’s Agreement crafted at this conference in Bolivia includes the following demands:

  • harmony and balance among all and with all things;
  • complementarity, solidarity, and equality;
  • collective well-being and the satisfaction of the basic necessities of all;
  • people in harmony with nature;
  • recognition of human beings for what they are, not what they own;
  • elimination of all forms of colonialism, imperialism and interventionism;
  • peace among the peoples and with Mother Earth;

I’d be very interested to hear what kinds of other models of well being have been articulated by social movements around the globe in recent years. At the beginning or the end of these lists, of course, should come the abolition of capitalism and its drive to ceaseless accumulation, which is of course at the roots of everyone’s unhappiness as well as the threat of planetary extinction.

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Uneven Geographies

uneven 2In his important book Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Rob Nixon discusses the efforts of writer-activists to document what he describes as forms of “attritional violence whose effects are scattered across time and space.” How, he asks, do such intellectuals made visible the otherwise hidden, imperceptibly gradual but nonetheless deadly impact of environmental toxins such as depleted uranium.

I’ve been thinking about these questions as I write an essay for an edited collection focusing on the visual arts and critical landscapes. My piece looks in particular at artists such as Allan Sekula, George Osodi, Ursula Biemann, and the World of Matter collective.

My argument is that these artists are intent on documenting the forms of accumulation by dispossession that uneven 1characterize contemporary capitalism. One of the most interesting questions that I have come across while working on this essay has been the issue of how the visual arts can engage in forms of what Fredric Jameson called cognitive mapping while avoiding simply reproducing the soul-crushing landscape of exploitation that characterizes uneven development today. How, in other words, can you document without enervating?

It seems to me that this is a crucial question which many on the left are asking today. I think, for example, of Judith Halberstam’s recent The Queer Art of Failure and Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism, each of which in its own way grapples with the pessimism of our current historical moment.

In thinking through these questions, I found the catalog essay by TJ Demos for Uneven Geographies, a show he uneven 3co-curated at the Nottingham Contemporary Art Museum, particularly useful. Demos puts the issue in the following terms: “in focusing on uneven development today we risk simply reaffirming its existence in the realm of representation.” How are visual artists, curators, and intellectuals more broadly to respond to this dilemma?

Demos argues that we may respond to the dismal moment in which we find ourselves by engaging with creative work that does not simply document but also responds to the uneven geographies of capitalism in a variety of modes and genres. We also need, he suggests, to document movements which are intent on articulating alternatives to the present suicidal state of affairs. Here is Demos from the exhibition catalog:

The exhibition’s ambition has been to highlight numerous aesthetic approaches—sociological as well as affective, documentary as much as performative. These approaches not only record, map, and explore forms of inequality related to neoliberal globalisation, but also reveal the power of oppositional and creative energies that are already directed against its economic-political arrangements, and open up other modes of globalisation. They thereby complicate and challenge the analysis of uneven geographies as an otherwise potentially disempowering fatalism.

Demos’s argument resonated for me in particular in relation to environmental issues. As Eddie Yuen argued recently in Catastrophism, “the politics of failure have failed.” While we need to be clear about the extremely grave future we face as a result of anthropogenic climate chaos, trying to galvanize public opinion through further displays of environmental catastrophe is a losing proposition. We need to concentrate our intellectual energies on viable alternatives to the grim present, as well as on articulating plausible alternative futures.

 

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Cities in Conflict

With the ongoing uprisings in Cairo and other cities in the Arab world, the role of cities as crucibles for social egypttransformation and conflict is clearer than ever. Urban dwellers across the globe are more intent than ever on claiming what the great French theorist Henri Lefebvre called the right to the city.

In tandem with such democratizing current, however, today’s megacities are also sites for various forms of escalating inequality and violence. From urban warfare among drug cartels in cities such as Medellin, to increasing interpersonal violence against women, to the many forms of imperial destruction visited on far too many cities around the world today, cities are sites for a variety of key conflicts today.

This sgunemester I’m teaching a seminar at the CUNY Graduate Center that focuses on urban culture in the global South. The topic of conflict features prominently on the syllabus, a copy of which can be found here: ENGL 86600 syllabus.

Fortuitously, the OpenDemocracy project has just started an essay series on the topic of Cities in Conflict. The site describes the brief of the series in the following terms:

The Cities in Conflict series seeks to examine the manner in which cities are conceptualised, planned or contested as sites of conflict, security or resistance. With increasing public awareness of cities’ role in hosting globally significant conflicts and social upheaval, whether in Cairo, Athens or Mumbai, the series will look to examine the city as a key terrain of conflict and a politics of spatial securitization. In particular the series will scale down mainstream media security discourse to the urban/local level – examining the everyday, covert ruminations of urban conflict.

Contributors to the series include some of today’s foremost analysts of urban conflict.  Well worth checking out!

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Staten Island Noir

The first short story I’ve ever written is forthcoming in Akashic Books’ fantastic noir series. I just got this copy of the cover; the book comes out in early November.

Each volume in Akashic’s series is based in a different city around the world. The publisher has been particularly attentive to cities in the global South, with titles like Kingston Noir, Delhi Noir, and (forthcoming) Lagos Noir featuring prominently in their catalog.

The series features and is edited by local writers, so it plays an important role in bringing collections of authors to the attention of audiences in the North who might otherwise remain below the radar.

I intend to explore the rubric of noir in future scholarly work. In what ways, I want to ask, are crime and policing responses to the contradictions of neoliberal capitalism that have forced literally millions of people off the land and into sprawling mega-cities in postcolonial nations? How adequate is the discourse of noir to reflecting critically on the impasses of neoliberal globalization? What gets left out of crime lit, and what crimes cannot be solved be even the most hard-boiled sleuth?

I hope my scholarly work on these kinds of questions will be productive. For now, though, I can say that I had great fun writing “Teenage Wasteland.” This story, set, of course, on Staten Island, explores the politics of toxic garbage disposal in the Fresh Kills dump during the late 1970s. The protagonist is a young Italian-American woman who gets diverted from her career as a fledgling punk rocker in her favorite stomping ground – CBGBs – by a rash of toxin-induced illnesses in her home neighborhood on Staten Island.

I definitely feel that there is more ground to explore here. Both in terms of garbage politics in NYC and in terms of the protagonist I created. I have ambitions to send her to Love Canal and to Italy. After all, the story is set during the anni di piombo (the years of lead), when the Italian government colluded with the mafia, NATO, and the CIA to shift Italian politics to the right by staging a series of bombings which were blamed on anarchist groups and on the Left in general. Lots to explore… Stay tuned.

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Publication

I finally handed my manuscript off to the publishers about a week ago. What a relief!

I got this potential cover image back almost immediately.

The proofs are due back in September, and the book has already been advertised for publication in Routledge’s 2013 catalog.

Although I don’t have full control of the graphic design, it’s exciting to see the project moving closer to publication.

I also don’t have full control of the title: would have liked to call it A Radical History of Twentieth-Century British Literature, but maybe A Concise History is just as good – that way it springs the radicalism on unsuspecting members of the general public.

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May Day Reborn!

The Occupy Movement has revived May Day. For far too many years, this holiday, which was of course also a solidarity-building occasion, has been ignored by the US labor movement. Ironic, given the fact that May Day actually began in the US.

Here’s a bit of the history behind May Day. In 1884, militant unions in the US declared that eight hours would constitute a legal day’s work beginning on May 1, 1886. When workers went on strike at a factory in Chicago on May 3, 1886, police fired into the peacefully assembled crowd, killing four and wounding many others. The workers movement called for a mass rally the next day in Haymarket Square to protest this brutality. The rally proceeded peacefully until the end when 180 police officers entered the square and ordered the crowd to disperse. At that point, someone threw a bomb, killing one police officer and wounding 70 others. The police responded by firing into the crowd, killing one and injuring many others.

Following the Haymarket Affair, eight of the city’s most active unionists were charged with conspiracy to commit murder even though only one was actually present at the meeting. All eight were found guilty and sentenced to death. Commemoration of this day and the outrages against justice that followed quickly became an key element of the international struggle for worker’s rights.

In 1904, the International Socialist Congress called on “all Social Democratic Party organizations and trade unions of all countries to demonstrate energetically on May First for the legal establishment of the 8-hour day, for the class demands of the proletariat, and for universal peace.” The congress made it “mandatory upon the proletarian organizations of all countries to stop work on May 1, wherever it is possible without injury to the workers.”

Why was May Day not celebrated in the US? In a demonstration of the complicit nature of segments of the US labor movement, the Knights of Labor (a racially exclusionary organization) caved in to the demand of President Grover Cleveland that the Haymarket Massacre would not be commemorated on May Day. So we now have a state-sanctioned and relatively toothless Labor Day in early September.

Yesterday Occupy revived the suppressed tradition of May Day on a joyous celebration of solidarity and outrage. The day started out for me with brilliant talks offered in Madison Square Park by folks like David Harvey, Frances Fox Piven, Andrew Ross, Drucilla Cornell. The Free University provided a great space to listen to debates about a series of key issues, from the right to the city, to student loans and debt, to the history of the labor movement.

From the Free University we marched down to Union Square, where more speakers and music were on offer. The entire park gradually got jam packed with people. This was a great opportunity to hang out with friends and make connections with activists from a variety of different organizations and walks of life. It was also a moment to revel in the carnivalesque spirit of the Occupy movement. Here are some photos that I think conjure up a sense of the celebratory atmosphere in Union Square:

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Unfortunately, all was not wine and roses. The police refused to allow us to march out of Union Square. As this image makes clear, they set up steel cattle pens in order to box marchers in, and then arbitrarily blocked off exist from these pens when it was time to march. Most of the demonstrators around me, seasoned protesters all, told me that this was in order to demonstrate the police’s power over us rather than to preserve our safety during the march. In fact, once they eventually let us out of the cattle pens, instead of allowing us to march directly down Broadway, where the march had been permitted, the police instead directed us down W. 17th street to 6th Avenue, so that we had to walk through the middle of traffic. This was obviously not a safe situation. Police officers then lined the street and tried to force us onto the sidewalk, despite the fact that our march was permitted. Tempers quickly frayed, and it looked like things were not going to go well. A friend of mine was violently pushed into a pile of garbage on a sidewalk by a group of police when he challenged their attempt to force us onto the sidewalk. Thankfully, we eventually got back to Broadway and the rest of the march proceeded in a jubilant spirit.

Not surprisingly, mainstream media coverage latched onto the scuffles and arrests that resulted from the police kettling strategies rather than focusing on the joyous and constructive spirit of the rest of the day. This article in the New York Times is typical of such a jaundiced approach. Luckily, though, there are other sources of information and reflection about the events of yesterday, including this excellent coverage on Democracy Now, which highlights the international dimensions of the protests.

It was an undeniably great day for radical activism and for the movement for global justice. That said, this May Day was more of a celebration of our collective and potential powers than a real General Strike (which is what many Occupy activists had called for). Much work remains to be done before the dispersed powers of the movement can be collected into a force capable of doing real damage to capital, let alone giving birth to a new world.

But although such skeptical assessments are perhaps necessary, they should not overwhelm the joy of the day. I’ll close therefore close this post with some video clips that capture the ridiculously creative energies unleashed by the movement. First of all, here’s a bit of fancy footwork and wonderful brass music from the Rude Mechanical Orchestra:

And here, to remind us of the history of Union Square and to challenge the Christian evangelical movement on its own terrain, is the Reverend Billy and the Stop Shopping Gospel Choir:

Last of all, here, once again, is the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, performing the uproarious Smash the Banks Polka:

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Back to the Big Apple

Italy was really great, but it’s so good to be back in NYC!

Today I walked through Union Square, which is filled with tables distributing information for Occupy May Day. There’s a very exciting series of events planned, as well as an immense amount of wonderful cultural production. The radicalism of the various booklets I picked up was so inspiring, with articles about the ecological crisis, resistance to foreclosure, the international military industrial complex, etc.

Here are some posters generated by the Occupy movement to publicize the events on May Day:

After spending time talking to Occupy activists, I went down into the subway. There I came across an amazing band called Underground Horns busking for money.

How inspiring to find so much vibrant popular culture on the streets.  Okay, the US is an extremely reaction country on a general political level, but cities like New York are filled with such redemptive popular energy.

Here’s a clip of Underground Horns’ performance:

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Welcome to the Land of Inequality

Teaching American Studies in Torino, as I am for the next two weeks, is an eye-opening experience.  I feel a bit as if I am a native informant, who has to try to undermine the inaccurate views of my students about the United States. One of the foremost of these is the myth that the U.S. is the land of opportunity.

My first class this week will focus on The Monster, Michael W. Hudson’s encyclopedic account of the depredations of the subprime mortgage industry in the U.S. over the last two decades. The industry that, in cahoots with Wall Street banks like Lehman Brothers and using arcane financial instruments like Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) invented in order to profit from the subprime mortgage market, wrecked the global economy.

The sordidness of the subprime mortgage industry is impossible to overestimate. It was run by completely unscrupulous capitalist bosses who purposely targeted working class people of color, people who had finally managed to build up a bit of equity through government-backed mortgage schemes in the decades after the New Deal and the Second World War. Equity, mind you, that was radically less than what the average white suburban family was able to build up in the same period. Here’s an excellent video that gives a sense of the unequal (racialized) landscape of housing in the U.S.:

The subprime mortgage industry targeted working class people of color, siphoning their hard-earned housing equity into an insane Ponzi scheme built on virtually impossible to penetrate financial instruments like CDOs and Credit Default Swaps. The result was a complete crash of the global economy. Here’s a video that very nicely explains how all of these arcane financial instruments worked?

Underlying this crisis of credit reminds us that, of course, the assault on working- and middle-class wages begun by global financial elites in the mid- to late-1970s, led, particularly, by Ronald Reagan in the U.S. and Margaret Thatcher in the U.K. As elites clawed back more and more of the wage gains and other social benefits win during the period since the Great Depression and the Second World War, life for the average person became more and more difficult.

What this led to was the financialization of everyday life. The 99%, in the Occupy parlance, were forced to live more and more off credit (and women had to enter the workforce in order to maintain middle class standards of living). Slowly, people came to think of life itself in financial terms, as a kind of risky investment.

One area in which this shift is particularly apparent is higher education, which went from being seen as a right that was provided to the people free of charge through public higher education systems like the City University of New York and the University of California systems, to being seen as an investment that people had to pay for through tuition charges. This was a Faustian deal, though, since it only made sense – if it ever made sense – when the economy was doing well and this “investment” could be payed down quickly after snagging a well-paying job. Now that unemployment is high for young people, high tuition rates in universities (including public ones) seems more like a scam than a just exchange.

There was a good article in the New York Times today about a couple of French economists who have shown that inequality in the US is nearly as bad as it was during the Great Depression. This is no news break to Occupy activists, but one suspects that the American Dream myth is keeping most people in the U.S. in the dark about this fact, not to mention many people around the world, who continue to think of the U.S. as the land of milk and honey. Here are some amazing charts from the article that demonstrate spiraling income inequality:

It will take tremendous push-back in order to turn this horrible situation around. We’re just at the beginning of such efforts, but the Occupy movement has already initiated some very creative and brave responses to the economic crash. Here is a video of folks from Occupy Foreclosures who block house auction proceedings with choral singing:

The pranksters at Occupy also recently produced a beautiful video that, in Situationalist terminology, “detourn”s West Side Story to cover many of the issues I’ve touched on in this post:

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Accidental Deaths

I’m in Torino, Italy for a couple of weeks to teach a course in the Masters in American Studies program. The course is on American Disasters, but while I’m here I’m trying to catch up on Italian culture. Part of that process simply involves walking around Torino soaking up the ambiance on the streets.  Here are some photos that give a sense of the city:

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I’ve also been having some pretty interesting conversations. My friend Andrea Carosso, who teaches at the university here, told me recently about how pope John Paul II funded Solidarnosc in Poland in order to bring down communism, in the process bankrupting the Vatican’s bank.  Andrea told me that it is quite well known in Italy that the Vatican turned to the Roman mafia for funds following its bankruptcy. Apparently there were numerous other suspicious dealings, including the hanging of “God’s banker” Roberto Calvi – who, as the nickname suggests, was lending the Vatican money – under the Blackfriars bridge in London in 1982 after a complex plot involving Italy’s biggest private bank, Banco Ambrosiano, and the Sicilian mafia.

Adding to the sense of skullduggery, last night I went to see the latest film by the exceptional Italian film director Marco Tullio Giordana. The film deals with a bombing that took place in a Milanese bank: the so-called Piazza Fontana bombing. The subject has been treated before, including in the great playwright Dario Fo’s Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

The story, as the film explains, hinges on the framing and then “accidental” suicide of an anarchist activist who was being held in custody in relation to the bombing. Giordana’s Romanzo di una strage demonstrates that this suicide was actually a murder carried out by interrogators who are working in cahoots with state authorities. During a time of political mobilization in the 1970s, Right wing elements within the state colluded, the movie suggests, with CIA agents to carry out the devastating Piazza Fontana bombing in order to legitimate the decree of a state of emergency in Italy and the suspension of constitutional liberties. The idea was for Italy to follow in the footsteps of Greece, where a military regime had taken power two years before the Piazza Fontan bombing (with NATO support). Giordana’s film also focuses on the role of Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro in staving off the imposition of martial law, implying that this helps explain his subsequent killing (which, we are led to suppose, did not occur at the hands of the Red Brigades). Here’s a trailer for Giordana’s film:

Pretty scary stuff, particularly given the financial instability currently roiling southern Europe. The resonance of this history was underlined to me this morning, when I came across the following video about the resurgence of Greek fascism while readingThe New York Times:

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Beirut Dispatch: The Arab Spring and the Muddled Left

Lebanon is a country with a long history of sectarian strife. The remnants of the civil war, which pitted Christians against various Muslim groups (Shiite and Sunni are both represented in the country), with groups like the Druze additionally complicating the fray, are still evident here in Beirut, despite the relative civil harmony in the country today. But then it was precisely such splits that the Arab spring challenged, so it’s a very exciting time to be here in Beirut.

Given the tectonic shifts the entire region is undergoing, it should not be so surprising that the politics underlying the conference organized by the American University of Beirut’s Center for American Studies and Research, a conference which I recently attended, should be a little muddled. In fact, the conference theme – Shifting Borders – reflects the huge changes the region is currently undergoing, and the resulting complexity and confusion among political and cultural analysts about the future.

That said, some of the presentations at the conference reflect pitfalls that the Left really needs to avoid if it is going to contribute significantly to the democratizing currents that have been sweeping through North Africa and the Middle East over the last year.

For example, the conference began with the keynote address by Rani Khouri of the American University of Beirut. Professor Khouri argued that we are currently living through one of the most significant changes in modern Middle Eastern history. The significance of the mass uprisings were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor, on 4 January one year ago is to introduce the first process of citizen-based self-determination, leading nations in the region towards a genuine politics of sovereignty.

For Khouri, the mass uprisings and the movements for democracy they unleashed redress grievances felt since the anti-colonial nationalist movements of the 1950s and 1960s liberated the region from colonial control, but then introduced different varieties of authoritarian military rule. Often, these dictatorial regimes were tied to foreign powers, including, of course, the US. As a result, they lacked popular legitimacy on a variety of levels.

These uprisings were generated, Khouri argued, by a combination of material grievances – based on declining incomes across the region – and popular demands for the meaningful recognition of their citizenship, constitutional changes to enshrine democratic processes, and social justice.

Khouri’s major intervention was to challenge the Islamophobic discourses so often heard in the Western media. He explained that Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood are reaping electoral gains from the revolutions of the last year precisely because they have been so effective in articulating popular discontent with the status quo across the region in recent decades. They have, he argued, consistently expressed popular anti-imperialist sentiments, argued for popular empowerment, provided a sense of transnational unity, and have delivered basic service to people in the increasing absence of the state (or of any aspect of the state other than its police-military face).

In order to question Euro-American Islamophobia, Khouri compared Islamist groups to the Civil Rights movement in the US. Both, he argued, were driven by assertions of social justice and human dignity. As a result, such groups gave people a sense of human and a belief in their ability to change history. This link between the US Civil Rights movement – which often had a religious underpinning – and Islamist movements in the Middle East is an interesting and original comparison.

Khouri argued that the electoral victory of these movements would have the same impact as the triumph of the Civil Rights movement in the US: the religious grounding of these groups will become less evident as they take over the state and become engaged in basic issues of effective service provision that are necessary in order to retain their popular mandate.

This argument seems questionable to me. To what extent are currents of fundamentalism in Islamism more comparable to Christian evangelical groups in the US than to the Civil Rights movement? Moreover, to what extent will such groups move towards secularism as they are confronted with the increasingly intractable political-economic woes of neoliberal capitalism? Moreover, given the likely intensification of climate change in coming years, can we assume that these movements will settle easily into the liberal democratic capitalist trajectory that Khouri seemed to assume – drawing on the US model – is the universal norm and goal?

The central problem in Khouri’s argument, in other words, is its liberalism. As far as I could tell, there was no analysis of the anti-capitalist element in the revolutions of the last year. Nor was there any acknowledgement of the problems such movements will face as a result of increasingly grim global crises of capitalism. Because of the liberal framework of Khouri’s analysis, he ironically ended up retaining a neo-colonial sense that the US is the telos or goal towards which the societies of North Africa and the Middle East must aspire. Given the current political-economic crises in the US and EU, such an argument seems harder to sustain and more self-defeating than ever.

Juxtaposed with this liberalism at the keynote, organizers of the conference had also invited a number of Iranians to present their work, including the head of American Studies at Tehran University. A professor in such a position could only be complicit on one level or another with the increasingly authoritarian regime in the country. Sure enough, during his presentation, this professor proceeded to argue that Iran is one of the major victors in the region as a result of the revolutions of 2011. Although this Iranian was quick to denounce US imperialism, he ducked questions about the ungoing repression in Syria and of course had little to say about the violent suppression of the Green Movement – which can, in many ways, be seen as one of the antecedents of the Arab Spring – in his own country.

The fact that CASAR organizers gave public platforms to both liberals such as Khouri and the Iranian contingent suggests the extent of the muddle about what a progressive politics in the Middle East might look like. How hard it is to forge a coherent anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, anti-patriarchal and anti-homophobic front. This is what democracy must look like, after all, in the Middle East and elsewhere. If the Left does not stand up for all these values, it will be on the wrong side of history.

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