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Revolution and zealotry, a dialogue

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The other day Weiss did a post criticizing a piece about the Arab Spring by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley published by the New York Review of Books and titled, “This Is Not a Revolution.” David Bromwich had a response to it. A dialogue ensued.


We disagree about the Agha-Malley article on the Arab Spring. Their first
few paragraphs (it’s true) are written in an impressionistic, excited manner,
piecing together unorganized images–a style they haven’t properly mastered.
Plainly it’s intended to show how little the events interpret themselves; but
the result conveys a bristling uncertainty and fear, perhaps at odds with what
was intended.

Still the message seems to me simple. This is something new in the world,
they are saying. We don’t know yet what it is. Let’s not either denounce or
celebrate prematurely. It will be hard to enough to look closely; hard enough
to think before we act.

You and I differed on the NATO bombing and drone attacks that gave Libya to
the rebels against Gaddafi. A very mixed force, as we now realize (we still
don’t know a lot about them). Enormous uncertainty–“guarded optimism” shaded
by real anxiety–was the tenor of a description I recently heard from an Arab
friend visiting from another of the revolutionized countries. This person was
brought up Muslim and has become secular. Was it phobic of him to express his
doubts? and to caution a young religious friend who sat with us (a Christian),
“Religion is a drug!” However you judge such wariness, evangelical Islamism is
a strong element in all these revolutions. When Texas rebelled against Mexico,
the rebels were also revolutionists. So, too, are the settlers who have been
taking one outpost after another from the Palestinians on the West Bank. Is it
Judeophobic of you to express reservations about the Jewish evangelists?

Revolutions are a strange thing. They can be great and good, or great and
terrible; sometimes both. What then dictates the imperative to “root for” them
simply because one of the strains we hear at a distance speaks of liberation in
a language we find familiar? The familiarity may be an illusion.

Other differences lie under this, of course. But (allowing for the misfire of
those opening paragraphs) why not grant to Agha-Malley that their published
doubts may carry a certain benefit? Among other things, they mean to cool the
sort of unearned enthusiasm that might induce us to support killing in a cause
we’ve haven’t yet understood.

Burke wrote in the opening paragraphs of his book on the French Revolution,
in 1790:

“When I see the spirit of liberty in action, I see a strong principle at work; and this, for a while, is all I can possibly know of it. The wild gas, the fixed air is plainly broke loose: but we ought to suspend our judgment until the first effervescence is a little subsided, till the liquor is cleared, and until we see something deeper than the agitation of a troubled and frothy surface. I must be tolerably sure, before I venture publicly to congratulate men on a blessing, that they have really received one. Flattery corrupts both the receiver and the giver; and adulation is not of more service to the people than to kings. I should therefore suspend my congratulations on the new liberty of France, until I was informed how it had been combined with government; with
public force; with the discipline and obedience of armies; with the collection of an effective and well-distributed revenue; with morality and religion; with the solidity of property; with peace and order; with civil and social manners. All these (in their way) are good things too; and, without them, liberty is not a benefit while it lasts, and is not likely to continue long. The effect of liberty to individuals is, that they may do what they please. We ought to see what it will please them to do, before we risque congratulations, which may soon be turned into complaints. Prudence would dictate this in the case of separate insulated private men; but liberty, when men act in bodies, is power. Considerate people, before they declare themselves, will observe the use which is made of power; and particularly of so trying a thing as new power in new persons, of whose principles, tempers, and dispositions, they have little or no experience, and in situations where those who appear the most stirring in the scene may possibly not be the real movers.”

Do you disagree with the prudence Burke recommends as a general stance? Or,
are there particular facts about the Arab Spring that you believe give grounds
for supporting those who attack the existing governments?–notwithstanding the
disorganization of the rebel parties. (If so, what are those facts?) On the
whole, I think Burke’s prudential warning stands up well. Zhou Enlai, whose
politics were remote from Burke’s, was asked late in life whether he thought
the French Revolution had been a success. He replied “It’s too soon to tell.”

Are Agha and Malley suggesting anything more uncharitable than the posture of
watching and waiting? What do we we know, thus far, about Tunisia, Egypt, Libya,
Syria, or any other country of that region which would suggest that we already
know enough, that it’s not too soon to tell, and that we should assist any of
the revolutions accordingly?


We differ. I was for the Libyan intervention, I’m still for it. Leaders have to decide, and I think Obama’s decisions vis-a-vis Libya and Egypt were the right ones. (In Egypt he might have saved that country from Syria’s fate.) There is absolutely no question that Salafis are empowered by all this, but I am progressive in my outlook: This needs to work its way out, but it will be a step forward. This is my temperamental prejudice.

As to your question, Yes, I disagree with Burke’s recommendation of prudence; inasmuch as, these moments represent stark choices, and when the fat is already in the fire, as it was in Egypt and Libya (and Syria too), I will choose revolution. I tend to favor these releases of human liberty, I recognize the tremendous dislocation they bring about, but I’m on the side of the dislocation. I think the French revolution was in the end a good and vital thing, and that even the Iranian revolution had some positive results, though it is impossible to view that revolution outside the context of an imperial relation, which we have the power to modify.

And by the way, it’s in view of the tremendous suffering that these revolutions have caused that I am for boycott. There are revolutionary materials being stacked in Israel and Palestine. Someone will light them on fire. The real prudence here is to attempt to forestall a stark choice between tyranny and chaos by pressuring the leaders…
As to your analogy of the Salafists to the settlers, I accept the analogy; and this is why I am for a democracy of all the governed, in which extremists might be marginalized by a broad center, something that Israeli society on its own and Palestinian society on its own are incapable of achieving, without political combination. I think that there is something about this in the Federalist papers: that the way to deal with revolutionary energy, which is inevitable, is thru democratic processes. C.f., The Tea Party, now largely dissipated.
I know nothing about Islam, as I concede, and I’m leery of Islamism; but the other day a Muslim said to me, There is an Islamic principle, which almost all Muslims have obeyed, that decades of tyranny are better than one day of chaos. That is a truly conservative principle; and you can see that it does not work any more…
It was unsustainable before I put my two cents in, or Obama did. Because of a modern idea, of self-determination, which we cannot contain. (And when I told my friend I wanted to use the statement, he adds: “The prophet has said ‘the most meritorious jihad is saying truth to a tyrant.’ So you can see from both quotes that like any complex system of thought, there is always authority for conflicting ideas and notions, and they came about in various contexts, and they get emphasized depending on context.”)
John Brown was a religious madman. He was a Salafist in his way. His only reading was the Bible; and he happily sacrificed his sons to his cause. It is inevitable that people who are absent material interests play an outsize role in this type of history. I imagine that the zealots of France and Russia were no easier to get your arms around, to judge from what I’ve read of Burke and Dostoyevsky’s Devils. (I don’t know about American history; so I shouldn’t have mentioned our revolution).
But I don’t see how these types can be excluded when people take up arms against tyrants, though it is my aim in Israel/Palestine not to empower them.

Your response makes the issue plain. You are a liberationist of a sort. In me, the anti-war principle outranks almost every other; support no war except in self-defense–and it has to be really myself and really defense. We agree in wanting to discourage and work to stop oppression.

Update: Thanks to commenter Gamal for correcting Zhou Enlai reference, which we had as Ho Chi Minh earlier.

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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47 Responses

  1. Mooser on November 5, 2012, 1:21 pm

    Frankly, I’ve never seen how it is possible to react to someone who “supports” wars they have no intention of fighting, nor even the possibility of being endangered by, (let alone any conception of paying for) with anything but the most complete contempt.
    Wow, somebody brave enough to bear the images of a far-away war in the media, what a frickin’ hero.

    • Inanna on November 5, 2012, 7:42 pm


      • Citizen on November 6, 2012, 7:39 am

        Ditto here. It’s all quiet on the Western Front.

    • Bruce Wolman on November 5, 2012, 8:15 pm

      @ Mooser

      I agree. It’s a peverted voyeurism.

    • marc b. on November 6, 2012, 10:14 am

      Frankly, … etc.


      • Mooser on November 6, 2012, 1:12 pm

        If I knew how many people would agree with me, I would never have written that comment. Thanks, all. I’ve had a problem with chicken-hawkery ever since it came into fashion with Desert Storm.

        The fact that a US citizen (who isn’t of a proper military rank or doesn’t contract) thinks there is some benefit to him from intervention, and that he can afford it, is for me the first sign I don’t need to listen to anything else he says. He lives in a dream-world of media war-porn. But that’s just me.

      • marc b. on November 6, 2012, 2:41 pm

        mooser, i think it was max blumenthal who showed up at one of the young republican events, and without exception each of the f*ckwits had some medical excuse or equally bogus reason why they had not volunteered to join the military, while simultaneously expressing their support ‘for the troops’ and the war effort. i ask the same question. my military service is the perfect opportunity when i’m in a group of 20-somethings. i actually had a guy thank me for my service, and when i asked him what was stopping him from joining up he said that he was afraid he might get hurt. no sh*t sherlock. that’s the point.

  2. bobsmith on November 5, 2012, 1:46 pm

    You guys can agree or disagree on non-intervention all day, but this is a separate discussion from the one about the flavor of Malley & Agha’s article. Bromwich says something similar, but ascribes to M&A simple “watching and waiting.” Wrong. This dynamic duo would alter US foreign policy to punish Islamists wherever they are to be found, no matter whether democratically-elected. Using Burke to justify skepticism of any new democratically-elected government would also call Israel’s relatively new form of ethnocracy into question — or for that matter, a new aggressive Capitalism, should Romney win tomorrow. One can apply this petty little rule as one sees fit. This also ignores the fact that practically any elected government is better than a dictatorship or monarchy. Thus, Morsi is to be congratulated. If he turns out to be a dictator, we can change our minds later.

  3. DICKERSON3870 on November 5, 2012, 4:29 pm

    RE: “I was for the Libyan intervention, I’m still for it. Leaders have to decide, and I think Obama’s decisions vis-a-vis Libya and Egypt were the right ones.” ~ Weiss

    MY COMMENT: I initially supported it as well, but very soon afterwards I began to very much regret it after seeing the way the U.S. and its allies flagrantly, grotesquely, and shamelessly abused the UN Security Council resolution on Libya (authorizing member states to establish and enforce a no-fly zone) in order to instead pursue their own “regime change” agenda.
    Frankly, it was disturbingly reminiscent of Israel’s “intervention” in Lebanon in the summer of 1982.*
    Consequently, as I see it, the U.S. and its NATO allies absolutely cannot be trusted to intervene in Syria in a responsible manner.
    Because the U.S and its NATO allies so badly abused “responsibility to protect” (R2P or RtoP) in regards to Libya (much like they abused the right to defend themselves by invading Iraq), I simply cannot support any intervention under any circumstances on their part no matter how seemingly deserving the purported beneficiaries of such intervention might be.

    * FROM WIKIPEDIA [Lebanese Civil War]:

    [EXCERPT] . . . Israel launched Operation Peace for Galilee on 6 June 1982, attacking PLO bases in Lebanon. Israeli forces quickly drove 25 miles (40 km) into Lebanon, moving into East Beirut with the tacit support of Maronite leaders and militia. When the Israeli cabinet convened to authorize the invasion, Sharon described it as a plan to advance 40 kilometers into Lebanon, demolish PLO strongholds, and establish an expanded security zone that would put northern Israel out of range of PLO rockets. In fact, Israeli chief of staff Rafael Eitan and Sharon had already ordered the invading forces to head straight for Beirut, in accord with Sharon’s blueprint dating to September 1981. . .
    . . . By 15 June 1982, Israeli units were entrenched outside Beirut. The United States called for PLO withdrawal from Lebanon, and Sharon began to order bombing raids of West Beirut, targeting some 16,000 PLO fedayeen who had retreated into fortified positions. . .
    . . . The fighting in Beirut killed more than 6,700 people of whom the vast majority were civilians. . .

    SOURCE –


    • DICKERSON3870 on November 5, 2012, 4:34 pm

      P.P.S. ALSO SEE: “The imperial agenda of the US’s ‘Africa Command’ marches on”, by Dan Glazebrook,, 6/14/12
      With mission accomplished in Libya, Africom now has few obstacles to its military ambitions on the continent

      [EXCERPT] . . . Libya was a test case. The first war actually commanded by Africom, it proved remarkably successful – a significant regional power was destroyed without the loss of a single US or European soldier. But the significance of this war for Africom went much deeper than that for, in taking out Muammar Gaddafi, Africom had actually eliminated the project’s fiercest adversary.
      Gaddafi ended his political life as a dedicated pan-Africanist and, whatever one thought of the man, it is clear that his vision for Africa was very different from that of the subordinate supplier of cheap labour and raw materials that Africom was created to maintain. He was not only the driving force behind the creation of the African Union in 2002, but had also served as its elected head, and made Libya its biggest financial donor. To the dismay of some of his African colleagues, he used his time as leader to push for a “United States of Africa”, with a single currency, single army and single passport. More concretely, Gaddafi’s Libya had an estimated $150bn worth of investment in Africa – often in social infrastructure and development projects, and this largesse bought him many friends, particularly in the smaller nations. As long as Gaddafi retained this level of influence in Africa, Africom was going to founder.
      Since his removal, however, the organisation has been rolling full steam ahead.
      It is no coincidence that within months of the fall of Tripoli – and in the same month as Gaddafi’s execution – President Obama announced the deployment of 100 US special forces to four different African countries, including Uganda. . .


  4. pabelmont on November 5, 2012, 4:32 pm

    And I thought “speaking truth to power” was a Quaker aphorism. Perhaps it is, even as the idea seems to have arisen independently with Muhammad:

    Our title, Speak Truth to Power, taken from a charge given to Eighteenth Century Friends, suggests the effort that is made to speak from the deepest insight of the Quaker faith, as this faith is understood by those who prepared this study. We speak to power in three senses:

    To those who hold high places in our national life and bear the terrible responsibility of making decisions for war or peace.
    To the American people who are the final reservoir of power in this country and whose values and expectations set the limits for those who exercise authority.
    To the idea of Power itself, and its impact on Twentieth Century life.

  5. MRW on November 5, 2012, 5:15 pm

    If Burke’s prudence had been applied by the US (and the world community) to Israel in 1948, we wouldn’t have the untenable situation we have now. We could have taught the revolutionaries from Bialystock what it means to create a nation; in fact, insisted upon it instead of allowing them to slide like mercury over other people’s lives and land, with no borders, no constitution, then claim the gall to call it a democracy because the benefactor liked the word.

    The anti-war principle outranks almost every other with me as well, but then I like Sun-Tzu.

    • Bruce Wolman on November 5, 2012, 8:18 pm

      @ MRW

      Yes, if only those revolutionaries from wherever listened to US tutelage, the world would be so different from what we now find.

      • MRW on November 6, 2012, 8:45 am

        Burke was Irish, but anything to plaster over your dual loyalism.

  6. Keith on November 5, 2012, 6:41 pm

    PHIL- “I was for the Libyan intervention, I’m still for it.”

    You still support the destruction of Libya, the death of over 50,000 people, the ongoing sectarian strife? Spoken like a true liberal, a loyal supporter of empire. There never has been, nor ever will be a humanitarian intervention. States and empires don’t function that way. It is all about power. But you can’t allow yourself to believe that or you wouldn’t be able to fit in within the boundaries of permissible dissent. You still cherish your role within the doctrinal system, prudently pushing the boundaries on Israel, Zionism and Jewish kinship, but nowhere else. Libya is one of the more egregious examples because the ugly reality of imperial intervention is rather obvious if you care to look.

    • Sumud on November 6, 2012, 5:19 am

      +1 Keith.

      Egypt and Tunisia were (are) revolutions, Libya was obviously *only* an exercise in regime change, and Syria is designed chaos fuelled by injections of weapons from Turkey, KSA and Qatar with behind the scenes manoeuvring by the US – probably all about breaking apart the Iran/Syria/Hezbollah alliance.

      • Keith on November 6, 2012, 2:52 pm

        SUMUD- “Egypt and Tunisia were (are) revolutions….”

        I disagree. Both were upheavals precipitated by the harsh economic consequences of neoliberal globalization. Tunisia started when the guy burned himself because he lost his livelihood. Both have been contained within the framework of the global financial empire. In Egypt, Morsi has made it abundantly clear that he supports neoliberalism and further economic ‘reforms.’ Actually, he has little alternative. Egypt lacks the wherewithal to break from the global financial matrix of control. The world is radically different from what it was thirty years ago. Not only has the USSR disappeared as a potential counterweight to imperial dominance, but the advent of computers and satellite communications have enabled the establishment of a matrix of financial control inconceivable in the past. If Egypt gets too independent, their funding will be restricted resulting in all sorts of social upheaval. Anyone waiting for China to ride to the rescue needs to be aware that China is a willing and integral part of the neoliberal onslaught. In fact, China may well be the model for the type of social control now being imposed in the US.

      • aiman on November 6, 2012, 11:52 pm

        Exactly. Both Egypt and Tunisia were upheavals. Very different from Syria and Libya where the false ideology of revolution is being served to strengthen tribal and sectarian factions and replace one form of tyranny with another and chaos to boot. The Taliban, with all their revolutionary fervour, are case in point, nurtured under the administration of Pakistan which swallowed the revolutionary and Puritanical pill under its false prophet Maududi and abetted by US policy in its Cold Wars. Revolution is all about bombastic hatred, self-patronising rhetoric and violence that cannot be curtailed. Even now “revolution” is about the Cold Wars. What happened in the US or France ages ago was particular to those circumstances. Keep revolution out of the Middle East and Africa. It is unhealthy, bad for women and immigrants (like the subSaharan workers in Libya culled by racist and tribal-minded ‘revolutionaries’) and twists the whole meaning of theology breeding further oppression and tribal ascensions for power.

      • gamal on November 7, 2012, 5:13 am

        As you mention Pakistan aiman, not forgetting of course that Maududi was merely the mouldy glove concealing Zia ul-Haq’s American sponsored fist, it was Haq who introduced the phony banner of Islam in to Pakistani law and politics with such venomous gusto and thus distorted that nations politics till the present, utilizing the Jama’at as willing co-conspirators, I used to deal with Nawaz Sharif loyalists (PML) during my communal career, I cant think of people I have less regard for, they were just the pits, so that between Sharifs PML and the Jamaat Pakistani politics descended into a protracted farce and also keeping in mind that it was Haq’s Pakistani 2nd division troops who slaughtered Palestinian fighters during Black September, the comprador world is a small and dismal world, he was awarded the highest honours by the plucky little king Hussein.

      • aiman on November 7, 2012, 6:55 am

        Yes I’ve heard of Zia ul-Haq, actually read about him in my research on Maududi. I wouldn’t call Maududi merely a mouldy glove given the extensive reach of his theological heresy which, I would go so far as to say, affects all these modern Islamist groups. Thanks for sharing thoughts on Haq and your experiences. Truly this Haq character was most odious and detestable! I quoted this article in one of my essays, relying also on Sheila McDonough’s book that covers Maududi:

        Another great book on this is Riaz Hassan’s Inside Muslim Minds which critiques this cast of mind and calls it ‘Salafibism’ often defined by ignorance, puritanism and cruelty.

      • gamal on November 7, 2012, 12:14 pm

        salafibism made me laugh, yes i know Maududi was somehting of a force outside the politics of 70’s Pakistan, its like trying force a foul smell back into the container from which it emanates, pointless, but it was Haq who really destroyed Pakistani politics with what i now realize was the manipulation of a self serving salafibist tendency amongst the feudal Lords, PML and Sharif were the same side of that counterfeit coin, Lords of industry, i think he was a steel magnate or something, really a bit like democrats and republicans operating in a political sphere were the policy options are so narrow as to be indistinguishable the only choice is do you want fries with that or onion rings, anyway didnt God, Darwin and Einstein write the American constitution.

        you know i cant remember who but someone, perhaps Chomsky mentions an experiment by a Sociologist who took selected quotes from the Communist Manifesto and quizzed various groups of Americans about where theses quotes originated and sizable number thought they were from the American Constitution,

        the PakistaniMuslimLeague crowd were some of the most corrupt and vicious people i ever had the displeasure of working with, they severely embarrassed us in a Parliamentary Committee discussion,( not in front of the white people, init, chaaa), and after that we kept them at arms length and worked with a Pakistani member of the house of Lords who seemed able to control these unruly community representatives perhaps it was cultural but they were routinely abusive to my female and junior staff, and utterly craven when challenged, and would then repeat the behavior, it drove me crazy.

      • Keith on November 7, 2012, 6:38 pm

        AIMAN, GAMAL- You two add considerable depth to the discussion. Please keep it up!

      • aiman on November 7, 2012, 11:43 pm

        You’ve made me something to think about. I never took the influence of rulers/tyrants very seriously, rather the compass of ideology, of thinkers who gave meaning to nations and communities. It appears that rulers have very much a part to play and are not merely echoing the ideology created by thinkers but foisting their own flag as well are doing what the thinkers are thinking (?). Somebody once rightly said that all institutions are evil, and I agree with the separation of the church and the state since how can an institution, which is already evil, manage morality? Morality is not a product on the shelf, it is something for an individual to think about for herself or himself, not forced on to people, and even then it is forced by morally reprehensible lowest of low humans, the beard or the ritual is nothing more than a propaganda flag. It appears Haq and his evil cabal treated morality like that, no wonder they were devoid of not only morality and goodness but even ritual. For them it was all about “images” and “iconography”, like the Christian Right. I wouldn’t be surprised about the Pakistani League crowd. Watched this documentary called The Road to Mecca, the journey of Muhammad Asad, where these Salafibists plotted against him. It’s after the 1 hr 4 min mark:

      • Citizen on November 8, 2012, 6:46 am

        I agree with Keith. More comments, the better.

    • marc b. on November 6, 2012, 10:22 am

      Spoken like a true liberal, a loyal supporter of empire.

      i think you mean neo-liberal, keith. just more of the same. libya cheerleader, ‘clash of civilizations’, and on. weiss is just about down to his g-string and tassels.

      • Keith on November 6, 2012, 2:54 pm

        MARC B- “i think you mean neo-liberal, keith”

        Nope. “Neoliberal” specifically refers to an economic philosophy also known as the “Washington Consensus.” Phil has never indicated support for privatization or cutting taxes on the rich. He is, however, part of that political grouping usually referred to as “liberal,” even though his support for liberal values is primarily rhetorical, never challenging the system itself. Beginning with Roosevelt, liberals have usually been military interventionists, their support for war and empire camouflaged with noble sounding justifications. Humanitarian intervention the modern version of white man’s burden. They tend to whine a lot about the inevitable consequences of a system they basically support. In the past, they served to ameliorate some systemic harshness, however, now that systemic growth has reached it’s limits and only pillage remains, they have essentially capitulated to the reality of corporate control. This is why Chris Hedges refers to the death of the liberal class.

      • marc b. on November 7, 2012, 10:27 am


        perhaps you’re right, although i’d like to hear a fuller explanation of weiss’s support for the ‘clash of civilzations’ meme before i’d concede the point. a bit of an interview with david harvey on neo-liberalism:

        SL: Could you give us a working definition of “neoliberalism” — a term that’s particularly confusing to people in the US who associate liberalism with socially progressive policies?

        DH: There are two things to be said. One is, if you like, the theory of neoliberalism and the other is its practice. And they are rather different from each other. But the theory takes the view that individual liberty and freedom are the high point of civilization and then goes on to argue that individual liberty and freedom can best be protected and achieved by an institutional structure, made up of strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade: a world in which individual initiative can flourish. The implication of that is that the state should not be involved in the economy too much, but it should use its power to preserve private property rights and the institutions of the market and promote those on the global stage if necessary.

        SL: Talk about the intellectual origins of neoliberal thought associated with the Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek.

        DH: Liberal theory goes back a very long way, of course, to the 18th century: John Locke, Adam Smith, and writers of that sort. Then economics changed quite a bit towards the end of the 19th century and neoliberalism is a really revival of the 18th century liberal doctrine about freedoms and individual liberties connected to a very specific view of the market. And the leading figures in that are Milton Friedman in this country and Friedrich Hayek in Austria. In 1947 they formed a society to promote neoliberal values called the Mont Pelerin Society. It was a minor society but it got a lot of support from wealthy contributors and corporations to polemicize on the ideas it held.

        SL: Did this group see their role as promoters of these ideas in the political realm?

        DH: They took the view that state interventions and state domination were something to be feared. And they weren’t only talking about fascism and communism, but they were also talking about the strong welfare state constructions that were then emerging in Europe in the postwar period and also talking about any kind of government intervention into how the market was working. They saw their role as very political, not only against fascism and communism, but also against the power of the state, and particularly against the power of the social democratic state in Europe.

        i don’t believe i’ve ever read weiss contradict the theory that “individual liberty and freedom can best be protected and achieved by an institutional structure, made up of strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade: a world in which individual initiative can flourish.” in fact, this theory fits neatly into his erroneous ‘meritocracy’ argument. but maybe this is all just semantics.

      • Keith on November 7, 2012, 12:00 pm

        MARC B- “i don’t believe i’ve ever read weiss contradict the theory that “individual liberty and freedom can best be protected and achieved by an institutional structure, made up of strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade: a world in which individual initiative can flourish.”

        What ‘theory’? What you quoted is a disingenuous justification for the ‘freedom’ of fat-cats to utilize their market power to control the rest of us. In other words, the ‘theory’ is bullshit from start to finish not really worthy of discussion. The reality is the facts on the ground, namely, a strong state underpinning the use of financial controls and markets to run society, laws and coercive force in the background. The reality is privatization and the shredding of the social contract and the gutting of legal protections. Phil has never advocated any of this although he, perhaps unwittingly, supports Wall Street’s main man in the White House who has done more to advance the cause of neoliberalism than any other President.

        As for the “Clash of Civilizations” meme, this is standard traditional imperial excuse making in support of intervention and warfare. Liberals have a deep need to justify killing and conquest as somehow noble, and are always looking for excuses to lessen feelings of guilt their actions give rise to.

      • marc b. on November 7, 2012, 1:56 pm

        Phil has never advocated any of this although he, perhaps unwittingly, supports Wall Street’s main man in the White House who has done more to advance the cause of neoliberalism than any other President.

        i can’t disagree with that, except for the unwittingly part.

      • Citizen on November 7, 2012, 3:05 pm

        I don’t remember Phil ever giving us his view on America’s current semi-free market system. Anyone familiar with the US Tax Code knows it’s a system of redistribution to, on the one hand, feed the desperate to avoid riots in the streets, and, on the other hand, give the rich ever more. Working Dick and Jane pay for both in this IRS Code system. Main elections simply give a little more to either beneficiary. Dick and Jane get the least from this system.

      • marc b. on November 8, 2012, 2:59 pm

        citizen, i don’t know that ‘liberalism’ exists anymore without the ‘neo’. but you’re right, i don’t remember weiss explaining in any great detail his opinion of 21st century american capitalism.

  7. Inanna on November 5, 2012, 7:41 pm

    I know nothing about Islam, as I concede

    Then might I be so daring as to suggest that you stick to what you know until you do know more about Islam?

    Additionally, I would argue that support for intervention in Libya was far more prejudiced than any sin you think was committed by Agha and Malley.

  8. gamal on November 5, 2012, 8:55 pm

    “There is an Islamic principle, which almost all Muslims have obeyed, that decades of tyranny are better than one day of chaos. That is a truly conservative principle; and you can see that it does not work any more…”

    right so some guy told you what almost all Muslims adhere to? weird no reading of Muslim history could possibly support such an assertion as to what almost all Muslims believe, that is certainly a position adhered to by certain members of the Ulema, deeply cautious for humanistic reasons of war and disorder, Fitna.

    but in that distant land of Michigan there is Dr. Muqtedar Khan, who i dont need to agree with or not, thankfully having no responsibility to adhere to what almost all of my bretheren and sisteren may or may not believe, it makes you think though doesnt it Phil, why the constant need to pigeonhole “Muslims”, whats the point? are you now despite not knowing much posing as a reformer of Islam, do you think that Islam accounts for what all Muslims do, there is word for that kind of delusion, are you a prophet or what? Perhaps give the good doctor a call, you know where Michigan is, in the Holy Land of America.

    “The presence of this verse in the Quran clearly precludes a complete prohibition of violence. The verse is important because inspite of the enormous significance that the Quran attaches to peace and harmony, it is categorical in its assertion that persecution is worse than killing. There is nothing allegorical in this verse it is clear: persecution is worse than killing (Al-Quran; 2:217). Else where the Quran states: And fight them until persecution is no more (8:39).”

  9. piotr on November 5, 2012, 11:03 pm

    The principle of prudence dictates to be very cautious when someone invokes the principle of prudence. There is no principle that was not abuse — apart from principles so obnoxious that no way of using them can make them any worse.

    Right off the bat, due to natural caution concerning the revolutionary government in France, a number of powers, including England, waged a war on the revolutionary government. Not only the initial wars failed but the backlash to this aggression prompted militarization and eventual aggression by the French. Conservative prudence was as responsible for 20+ years of wars as the revolution itself.

    Most recently, I have read apologies of assassinations by governments (USA, Israel) as precautionary, prudent actions. A phrase “Tikkun Olam” was also tossed out in that context. Who can be against Tikkun Olam?

    • Mooser on November 6, 2012, 1:35 pm

      “Who can be against Tikkun Olam?”

      Not me, certainly! I’m always looking for a “fix”.

  10. Mac on November 6, 2012, 2:02 am

    I agree with Phil!

  11. aiman on November 6, 2012, 6:04 am

    Phil, I have never heard of the so-called Islamic principle that you quoted. Tyranny is condemned in Islam as Gamal explained. Regarding chaos, as Lao Tse explained, ritual is the beginning of chaos and is not related to morality or the more superior virtue of goodness. Revolution is chaos. Evolution is not. Both chaos and tyranny and the mere practice of ritual is condemned in Islam.

    The Qur’an endears itself to ‘believers who do good deeds’. I think it only mentions Muslims once and that, too, critically. I would never take the word of someone who just happens to be a Muslim, it is very possible that person is ignorant on Islam. I met many ignorant Muslims before I decided to purchase a Qur’an when I was 18 and I have heard them make many theologically incorrect positions. It is not a complex thought nor a complex faith, there is a right and wrong. When I want to study a religion, I look at a reputable text and if it belongs to a different place I look at a reputable translation. I don’t look at members of cultural traditions who belong to a religion genealogically rather than intellectually. Interestingly the first translation of the Qur’an I read was NJ Dawood’s who was Jewish but it was a translation that was quite well done even compared to the Muslim ones though it suffered from many mistakes but no more compared to those translations by Muslims themselves. Perhaps you might like to spend a minute learning about Islam from a translation such as The Message of the Qur’an as a curious intellectual:'an.

    I also think your support for the Libyan intervention stems from the establishment liberalism ideology, because the arguments you’ve made have already been addressed by Talal Asad in his critiques such as here:

    Talal Asad has also criticised the Muslim notion of just war.

  12. aiman on November 6, 2012, 6:28 am

    Another thing, what has come out in these armed ‘revolutions’ is this hypermasculine gun-toting bearded rebel. How ironical then that one of five societal traits that Islam came to oppose was this connection between manliness and violence (Kelsay, Islamic Ethics). Which is intelligently propounded in the story of Sodom, where hypermasculine thugs wished to sodomise travellers and wayfarers and abuse these meek people. When the rebels sodomised the tyrant no doubt Qaddafi with a knife and took the name of the same God who condemned such behaviour, did no one get the irony?

  13. fultronix on November 6, 2012, 6:57 am

    wowah, phil , you say, “and when the fat is already in the fire, as it was in Egypt and Libya (and Syria too), I will choose revolution. I tend to favor these releases of human liberty, I recognize the tremendous dislocation they bring about, but I’m on the side of the dislocation.”
    What a stupendously insensitive thing to say.
    The facts about the NATO led murder of Libya’s sovereign leader as well as the Syrian “uprising” may be hazy to you, but it is not to the various countries of Africa who are trying to resist the re-colinisation of their continent by US/European capitalists. Gaddafi did his best to create a Pan African currency to resist the Euro-banker / Neo- Lib onslaught on their resources. “Human liberty” — my ass.
    I have read your blog since its inception and have always appreciated your honesty, but seriously, you need to get a grip here and do some research about the so-called Arab Spring and the “democratic” forces behind it.
    I do not feel that I need to provide any “links” to this info – it is way to easy to find this on your own.
    It is so disgusting to me that human lives are so unimportant to you that dislocation of thousands of people living in a prosperous society is a reasonable price to pay – and for what?
    As you say, ” it is impossible to view that revolution outside the context of an imperial relation, which we have the power to modify”. And how shall we modify that Phil? How shall we modify the destruction of a stable society that has been utterly destroyed and left in the hands of murderous bandits funded by Neo-Lib imperialists?
    I have had faith in your views on these matters of human survival (no I am not kidding). And now you disappoint me with this claptrap.

    OK – I’ll provide one link

    • marc b. on November 6, 2012, 10:30 am

      and what is really nauseating, i mean gut-wrenchingly ignorant, is the amnesiacs’ logic of intervention. for all of the saber rattling theatrics, libya and syria have been firmly in the ‘war on terror camp’, and had been carrying on deep relationships with the liberal west, just as hussein did, for decades. for recent history see france and libya. who could be so dim as to believe that the interventionists have the least interest in the welfare of the libyan or syrian people?

    • gamal on November 6, 2012, 11:44 am

      “Most worrying for the African continent, however, is the forward march of AFRICOM – the US military’s African command – in the wake of the aggression against Libya. It is no coincidence that barely a month after the fall of Tripoli – and in the same month Gaddafi was murdered (October 2011) – the US announced it was sending troops to no less than four more African countries – the Central African Republic, Uganda, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. AFRICOM have now announced an unprecedented fourteen major joint military exercises in African countries for 2012. The military re-conquest of Africa is rolling steadily on.

      None of this would have been possible whilst Gaddafi was still in power. As founder of the African Union, its biggest donor, and its one-time elected Chairman, he wielded serious influence on the continent. It was partly thanks to him that the US was forced to establish AFRICOM’s HQ in Stuttgart in Germany when it was established in February 2008, rather than in Africa itself; he offered cash and investments to African governments who rejected US requests for bases. Libya under his leadership had an estimated $150 billion of investments in Africa, and the Libyan proposal, backed with £30billion cash, for an African Union Development Bank would have seriously reduced African financial dependence on the West. In short, Gaddafi’s Libya was the single biggest obstacle to AFRICOM penetration of the continent.

      Now he has gone, AFRICOM is stepping up its work. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan showed the West that wars in which their own citizens get killed are not popular; AFRICOM is designed to ensure that in the coming colonial wars against Africa, it will be Africans who do the fighting and dying, not Westerners. The forces of the African Union are to become integrated into AFRICOM under a US-led chain of command. Gaddafi would never have stood for it; that is why he had to go.”

      Libya Africa Africom

  14. yourstruly on November 6, 2012, 10:14 am

    and the significance of the simultaneous appearance of the Arab spring, the mass mobilizations throughout Europe, the progressive democratic gains in South america & the occupy movements in the USA? Mere coincidence or a hint of what lies ahead, worldwide?

  15. aiman on November 6, 2012, 11:31 am

    “John Brown was a religious madman. He was a Salafist in his way.”

    Can you imagine Brown being part of a lynch mob? Revolutionary fervour is a modern experience, antithetical to religion (wonder why G_d only gave 10 commandments and not a thousand?), wonder how you missed that while calling self-determination a modern idea. Revolution is about flexing muscles against others muscles. The “Salafist” in this usage is a modern man with modern ideas. He hurls religious epithets because it gets him up, the beard is his propaganda flag and not his pious proof, he is very much the Zionist you detest, born of the same ideological flames in the 20th century.

  16. gamal on November 6, 2012, 12:51 pm

    also just to complete this display of ineptness, sorry but its quite a gaff,

    ” Ho Chi Minh, whose
    politics were remote from Burke’s, was asked late in life whether he thought
    the French Revolution had been a success. He replied “It’s too soon to tell.”

    it was Zhou Enlai, not Ho Chi Minh, ah but they all look alike i suppose, ever heard of him?
    suggest you google it, i think Nixons interpreter, demured and suggested that Zhou meant the 1968 revolution, but there you are misunderstanding and misattribution abound, in this complex world.

  17. Mooser on November 7, 2012, 12:51 pm

    For real fun, read:

    and then read this article in quick sucession.

    • aiman on November 8, 2012, 2:03 am

      Yes of course. I’m awaiting Phil to write a third article on this topic. We will soon be getting rollercoaster rides at his expense.

    • Citizen on November 8, 2012, 7:02 am

      “…cool the
      sort of unearned enthusiasm that might induce us to support killing in a cause
      we’ve haven’t yet understood.”

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