Category Archives: Europe

Progress or War: On Islamophobia and Europe’s Demographic Shifts

Europe’s identity crisis is not confined to the ceaseless squabbles by Europeans over the EU, Brexit or football. It goes much deeper, reaching sensitive and dangerous territory, including that of culture and religion. Once more, Muslims stand at the heart of the continent’s identity debate.

Of course, anti-Muslim sentiments are rarely framed to appear anti-Muslim. While Europe’s right-wing parties remain committed to the ridiculous notion that Muslims, immigrants and refugees pose a threat to Europe’s overall security and unique secular identities, the left is not entirely immune from such chauvinistic notions.

The right’s political discourse is familiar and is often condemned for its repugnantly ultra-nationalistic, if not outright racist, tone and rhetoric. The left, on the other hand, is a different story. The European left, notably in countries like France and Belgium, frame their ‘problem’ with Islam as fundamental to their supposed dedication to the secular values of the State.

“A problem arises when, in the name of religion, some want to separate themselves from the Republic and therefore not respect its laws,” Macron said during a speech in October 2020.

Leftist politicians and intellectuals were just as eager as the right to prevent Ihsane Haouach, a Belgian government representative, from serving as a commissioner at the Institute for the Equality of Women and Men (IEFH). Again, both sides joined forces, although without an official declaration of unity, to ensure Haouach had no place in the country’s democratic process.

It was a repeat of a similar scenario in France last May when Sara Zemmahi was removed from the ruling party’s candidates list for seemingly violating France’s valeurs de la République – the values of the Republic.

These are but mere examples, and are hardly restricted to French-speaking countries. There are many such disquieting events pointing to a deep-seated problem that remains unresolved. In Britain, Rakhia Ismail, who was celebrated as the country’s first hijab-wearing mayor in May 2019, resigned from her post less than a year and a half later, citing racism and marginalization.

While the Belgian, French, and British media elaborated on these stories as if unique to each specific country, in truth, they are all related. Indeed, they are all the outcome of an overriding phenomenon of anti-Muslim prejudice, coupled with a wave of racism that has plagued Europe for many years, especially in the last decade.

Though Europe’s official institutions, mainstream media, sports clubs and so on, continue to pay lip service to the need for diversity and inclusion, the reality on the ground is entirely different. A recent example was the horrific outcome of England’s defeat in the EURO2020 final against Italy. Gangs of white English, mostly males, attacked people of color, especially black people, whether on the street or online. The extent of cyber-bullying, in particular, targeting dark-skinned athletes is almost unprecedented in the country’s recent history.

Various British officials, including Prime Minister Boris Johnson, condemned the widespread racism. Interestingly, many of these officials have said or done very little to combat anti-Muslim hate and violence in the past, which often targeted Muslim women for their head or face covering.

Strikingly, Johnson, purportedly now leading the anti-racist charge, was one of the most disparaging officials who spoke demeaningly of Muslim women in the past. “Muslim women wearing burka look like letter boxes,” he said, according to the BBC.

Of course, Islamophobia must be seen within the larger context of the toxic anti-refugee and anti-immigrant sentiments, now defining factors in shaping modern European politics. It is this hate and racism that served as the fuel for rising political parties like Le Front National in France, Vlaams Belang in Belgium, The Freedom Party in Austria and the Lega in Italy. In fact, there is a whole intellectual discourse, complete with brand new theories that are used to channel yet more hate, violence and racism against immigrants.

And where is the left in all of this? With a few exceptions, much of the left is still trapped in its own intellectual hubris, adding yet more fuel to the fire while veiling their criticism of Islam as if genuine concern for secularism.

Oddly, in Europe, as in much of the West, crosses and Stars of David as necklaces, or the Catholic nuns’ head covering, velo delle suore, let alone the kippahs, the religious tattoos and many other such symbols are all part of Europe’s everyday culture. Why do we never hear of such controversy of a Jewish man being tossed out of a public building because of his kippah or a white French woman being expelled from university for wearing a cross? The matter has less to do with religious symbols, in general, than of the religious symbols of races and peoples who are simply unwanted in Europe.

Also, limiting the discussion to refugees and immigrants may give the impression that the debate is mostly concerned with the non-European ‘others’ who are ‘invading’ Europe’s shores, determined to ‘replace’ Europe’s original, white, Christian inhabitants. This is hardly the case, since a sizable percentage of Belgians and French, for example, are themselves Muslims, estimated at 6 percent and 5% respectively. Namely, these Muslims are European citizens.

Haouach, Zemmahi and Ismail actually wanted to be a part of – not break apart from – these societies by honoring their country’s most cherished political traditions, yet without erasing their own cultural heritage and religious identities in the process. Alas, they were all vehemently rejected, as if Europe has made a collective decision to ensure that Muslims subsist in the margins forever. And when Muslim communities try to fight back, using Europe’s own judicial systems as their supposed saviors, they are, once again, rejected. The latest of such spurns was in June, when Belgium’s constitutional court resolved that prohibiting the wearing of hijab does not constitute a violation of freedom of religion or the right to education.

It is time for European countries to understand that their demographics are fundamentally changing, and that such change can, in fact, be beneficial to the health of these nations. Without true diversity and meaningful inclusion, there can be no real progress in any society, anywhere.

But while demographic shifts can offer an opportunity for growth, it can also inspire fear, racism and, predictably, violence as well.

Europe, which has fought two horrendous wars in the last century, should know better.

The post Progress or War: On Islamophobia and Europe’s Demographic Shifts first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Divided We Stand: Eleven Regional Rivalries from Mountain People to the Swamps of Dixie

Orientation

The reason Yankee fans and Red Sox fans hate each other goes a lot deeper than sports. In his book American Nations, Colin Woodard identifies eleven regional cultures in the United States. He compares the conditions of the home country, settler conditions, climate, geography, religious history, population density and international loyalties. He points out the parallels between how settlers’ regional locations in England impacted the type of regional culture they developed in the United States. My purpose in this article is to:

  • reveal the political bankruptcy of trying to fit eleven different regions into two political parties; and,
  • reveal the economic bankruptcy of industrial capitalists in forming a single nation-state by attempting to pulverize the differences between these regions.

There are good reasons why the United States has rarely, if ever, unified, whether in war or peace. The notion that we were and are united  is pure political and economic propaganda.

Questions about regional rivalries

  • How might the time of settlement affect the culture of the region and how might the region feel about other regions?
  • How might the country of origin and its politics (feudal, capitalist) affect the politics of the region and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the geography (rivers, rainfall, flat-mountainous, valleys, plains) and means of subsistence (hunting, fishing, farming, herding, trading, industry) affect the culture of the region and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the religion of the region affect the culture and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the size of the population of the region (dense or sparse) affect the culture of the region and how might that region feel about different regions?
  • How might the history of the region’s relationship with immigrants or native Americans affect the culture of the region and how might that region feel about other regions?
  • Given the answer to the first six questions, which regions will have the greatest tensions? Why might they have these tensions?
  • The author of the book implies that the United States is too big for a single nation-state. Whether you agree or not, are there any regions that might have enough in common to join together? Or would it be better to be broken into regions that become nation-states like European states?

I cannot address all these questions in this article. I intend to answer most of them and leave the rest to stimulate your thinking.

Issues that Divided the Regions of the United States

The federal government of the United States only began to try to unify the country from the Atlantic to the Pacific after the Civil War with massive architecture, street names, and flags in every classroom. it is questionable how successful they have been. To talk about a common national experience over such a large territory confronts many problems.

David Hackett Fischer in his book, Albion’s Seed, identified four major regions in the United States with significant differences in their means of subsistence, their religion, the conditions of settlement and the parts of England these first settlers were from. In his book American Nations, Colin Woodard has expanded these settlements from four to eleven regions. Please see Table A to understand which country of Europe settled the region, the time of settlement and the region of the U.S. it occupied.

For this section I will be following Woodard’s description. According to him, Americans have been divided since the days of Jamestown and Plymouth. Colonists saw each other as competitors for people to settle their land, for the land itself, as well their ability to draw capital to their settlement. Here are some of the issues that divided the colonies:

  • Loyalty to England: Royalist Virginia (Tidewater) vs Yankee Massachusetts
  • Individualism: Yankees and New Netherlands were for individualism vs social reform orientation of New France
  • Religion: Puritanism (Yankees, New England) vs Quakers’ freedom of conscience (Midlanders). In addition, there was a tension between the liberal and evangelical spectrum about how to practice their religion.
  • Politics:  The importance of politics for the Deep South and the Yankees as opposed to apathy to politics of the Quakers (Midlanders)
  • Use of force: Active use of force by Tidewater, the Deep South and Appalachia vs Midlanders, (Quakers) non-violence.
  • Secession: Not only Tidewater and the Deep South, but Appalachia and New England also considered secession.

These regions had differences in religion between Catholics, Puritans, Anglicans, Quakers and Mormons. Each region differed in the kind of work people did, from cattle rearing, hunting, fishing, fur trapping, agricultural capitalism (producing tobacco, sugar and cotton), subsistence farming, herding, and industrial production (mining, railroad work and smelting). These regions were formed with different intentions including for religious purposes, commercial purposes, political independence or as a home for refugees. The politics of the regions differed drastically, from authoritarian (Deep South) to egalitarian (New France) to liberal (New England town-hall and the Left Coast) to classical republican (Tidewater) to libertarian (Far West).

Regionalists in the U.S. respected neither state nor international boundaries. It was only when England began to treat these colonies as a single unit and implemented policies that threatened them all, that they formed a united force. It is important to realize the uniting against an enemy does not create unification after the confrontation is over. After all, the greatest regional battle in US history occurred almost a hundred years after Independence Day.

Woodard points out that Americans are one of the only countries in the world who do not make a distinction between a statehood and nationhood. A state is a sovereign political body that monopolizes the means of violence. A nation is a group who share a common culture, ethnic origin, language, historical experience, artifacts and symbols. Some nations are stateless like the Kurdish, Palestinians and Quebecers. Most agricultural states such as Egypt, China, Mesopotamia and India had states without being a single nation (Anthony D. Smith’s work is great for these distinctions). Using these criteria, the regions of the country are like the “nations” of America. Americans may have a federal state, but not a single nation. Before turning to the predominant struggle between regions, Table B contains a close-up of the differences between all eleven regions.

Neither the American Revolution Nor the Civil War United the Regions

It is tempting to think that the revolutionary war against England united the regions. This is far from true. Native Americans fought on both sides of the revolutionary war. It was the New England Yankees that were the backbone of the revolution. New Netherlands was the stronghold of the loyalists after England drove out the Dutch. In the Midlands:

The region would not have rebelled at all, if a majority of the states attending the Second Continental Congress hadn’t voted to suppress Pennsylvania’s government (132)

Until the battle of Lexington, the Deep South was torn as to who to join until it was rumored that the British were smuggling arms to the slaves. It was the prospect of freed slaves that made them fight the English. Southern Appalachia fought on the side of the English and lost.

Neither did the Civil War pulverize the regions into two. Woodard says that the Civil War was a conflict between two coalitions of the Deep South and Tidewater against the Yankees. The other regions wanted to remain neutral and were considering breaking off into their own confederations

The Conflict Between the South and the East Prior to the 19th Century

Slave aristocracy of the Deep South

To begin with, there was an aristocracy in the thirteen colonies  but this aristocracy did not rule over peasants who did subsistence farming. The plantation owners of the South ruled over slaves who produced commercial goods of sugar, tobacco and cotton for a world market. In the East, there were university educated professionals of lawyers and clergy(“Brahmins”) who joined with merchants attempting to develop home industry (rather than trade with England, as the plantation owners did.)

All regions are not economically equal

While all eleven regions had their conflicts with each other, some regions were settled longer and they concentrated more economic wealth at their disposal. For example, the mountain people Appalachia herded sheep, pigs and goats. They were in no position to compete for cultural dominance with the planters of Tidewater or the Deep South. The settlers of what became known as New France made their home in Canada and in Louisiana. They were fisherman, fur-trappers, and hunters. They could not compete with the Yankees of the Northeast or the fur traders of New York. Even those with capital who settled late, as in the Far West, did not have centuries to build up a culture the way those in Tidewater, the Deep South, Yankeedom and New Netherlands did. These regions had over a 200-year head start.

What does it mean to be an American?

When we compare the civilizational processes of the United States, we are really talking about the differences between the New Englanders, New Netherlands and Midlands and to a lesser extent, Appalachia. It is from these regions that the concept of an American grew. In the case of the other regions, El Norte was long abandoned by the Spanish and New France by the French. Both these regions were inhabited by people who never accumulated capital. Native American tribes were decimated. Tidewater and the Deep South are not cultures which are  termed “American”. While the Far West and the Left Coast certainly had wealth, they were settled too late to have civilizational impact.

There is a reason I am focused on the initial time of first settlement and not discussing these regions all the way to the present. It has to do with Wilbur Zelinsky’s “first effective settlement law”which says:

Whenever an empty territory undergoes settlement, or an earlier population is dislodged by invaders, the specific characteristics of the first group able to affect a viable self- perpetuating society are of crucial significance for the later social and cultural geography of the area, no matter how tiny the initial band of settler may have been. (American Nations, 16)

The fundamental arena in which American civilization played itself out, is between Tidewater and the Deep South on the one hand, and the Yankees and New Netherlands on the other. Civil War historians might call this the battle between the “North and the South”, but this crudely lumps the eleven regions we discussed into two. The people of Appalachia might technically be in the South but they always had animosity to the planters. The Midlanders of the North might have sided with Yankees and New Netherlands against the slave traders, but they were not industrial capitalists who had a material interest in luring poor farmers into their factories. Therefore, there are two processes of being civilized in the United States, one southern and the other East and Central parts of the United States.

Culture of honor in Colonial South

Roger Lane, in his book Murder in America: A History, traced the major differences between the North and the South to a southern “culture of honor” that did not exist in the North. But where does this culture of honor come from? Lane argues that the process begins when we examine the differences in the kinds of work people did in the regions of England that they came from before settling in America. The inhabitants of Tidewater came from the Scotch-Irish borderlands of Britain where they engaged in herding. With moveable property, herders always had to be on guard, otherwise their animals might be stolen. Because herding was a difficult life, herders were not competing with many other herders for grazing ground. The sparseness of the settlement pattern makes it difficult for herders to rely on others to protect their land.

Lastly, in both the borderlands of Britain or the areas of Virginia in which they settled, there was no centralized state to act as law enforcement. Under these conditions, herders develop very rigid protective mechanisms, being suspicious quickly, while reading body language for potential thievery. The culture of honor occurs when people cultivate a trust among equals. A culture of violence is the result of what happens when the culture of honor is violated. Someone who does not stand up for themselves has a sense of deep shame among herders. He has a reputation to defend. If insulted, the insult is addressed publicly in a duel or family feud.

Culture of Dignity in the Colonial North

On the other hand, the New England farmers came from East Anglia in England where farming was practiced.  Farming lends itself to living in close quarters, thus providing a social protection against theft. In addition, once they settled in New England, they lived near large cities and under the rule of law. This meant there was some legal ground for recovering stolen property. These conditions meant that farmers did not cultivate suspicion and a code of honor. Consequently, they were less likely to kill as a result of stolen property. Rather, the farmer cultivated a sense of “dignity” based on universal rights. These farmers were more likely to be self-constrained and feel guilty over imagined violations over God’s law. Violations are less likely to be settled publicly. Farmers do not engage in duels. Though farmers have been known to engage in family feuds, farmers are just as likely to bring their case to the law, depending on the region of the country and the social class of the farmer.

The South and the East in the 19th Century

By the 19th century, the capitalist interests in New England and New York area had crystalized into an investment in industry, building factories for textiles and railroads for transport. This form of capitalism was irreconcilable with the plantation economy of the South. As mass commodity production spread and geographical mobility of workers increased, it became more and more important that consumers were able to get along with strangers as they bought and sold goods. What being “civilized” in the East meant to treat strangers with an even-handed polite indifference or “tolerance”. It was also civilized for industrial capitalists to have same values as the Puritans: hard work, punctuality, planning and investing. In the East, the industrial capitalists were liberal politically.  To be conservative in the North in the 19th century had more to do with holding on to rural, Puritan traditions.

The plantation owners in the South had very different notions of what was civilized. In plantation life, most everyone knew everyone else and among other plantation owners there was a culture of honor which carried over from their south English heritage. Between plantation owners and slaves there was a deep expectation of deference. Encounters with strangers were much more loaded. While the Eastern cities cultivated a cool indifference to strangers, in the South what was civilized was “southern hospitality”, which meant bringing hospitality to a stranger. This meant being generous with time, food and culture. But strangers who, for whatever reason, were not candidates for southern hospitality were not ignored. They were driven out or killed.

Southern gentleman planters, like their aristocratic brothers in Europe, had a contempt for hard work and Puritanical values. What was civilized to them was the cultivation of taste in the arts, in manners and in clothing. For them, being civilized meant to enjoy life and display wealth. Politically, the Southern planters justified their existence as classical republicans who believed that liberty was only for the upper classes. They were contemptuous of the Enlightenment value of science and technology and saw themselves as the inheritors of Roman values. Please see Table C for a summary of these regions.

Manners in the East, the Midlands and Appalachia

Tocqueville famously commented that on one hand, Jacksonian America was far more egalitarian than anywhere in Europe, and less deferential. However, there was more bragging. His explanation was because of a lack of clear class boundaries, people bragged as a way to establish a status of which they remained unsure. According to  Stephen Mennell, (The American Civilizing Process) both Hegel and De Maistre commented on the lack of manners in America. Baudelaire described America in the 1850s as “a great hunk of barbarism illuminated by gas… a construction of hardened chewing gum and idiotic folklore.” Complaints about Americans chewing tobacco were common by Europeans. By the mid-19th century, Europeans also commented on what they saw as a general American obsession with cleanliness. But Yankees weren’t always like this.

Those who washed daily did so at the kitchen sink. Soap was mainly used for laundering clothes. By the 1830s, the bathtub and daily bath were beginning to spread beyond the very rich. Immigrants new to cities were taught by social workers, educators and employers how, where and how often to bathe with soap and warm water (66). In 1840, only a tiny minority of the wealthy city-dwellers had running water and flushing water closets in their homes (65). (The American Civilizing Process)

According to Mennell, books about American manners penetrated deeper into the class structure, in part because of the lack of the English social elite in the colonies to draw inspiration from and because a higher number of lower-class people could read.

How Did Frontiersmen See Eastern and Midlands Civilization?   

Mennell says that the following stereotypes were common among frontiersman about people in eastern cities. The East was seen as decadent, whereas the frontier was pristine. The East was mired in interdependent social ties such as proletarians linked to wage labor and factories in cities. The frontier, on the other hand, was the home of independent hunters, fur-trappers, ranchers or miners who called their own shots. While the East was the home of elite bankers and industrialists, there was a rough social equality on the frontier.

But what does living in a country with a frontier do to the civilizational process? Turner, in his book The Frontier in American History, traced the steady penetration of the frontier westward from the eastern seaboard in the 17th century all the way to the Rocky Mountains in the 19th. century. He distinguishes three phases:

  • the traders’ frontier—characteristic of French colonization and fur trade
  • the miners’ and ranchers’ frontier of the West
  • farmers’ frontier—which left the trademark of the English in the Midlands

Turner argued that the constant availability of free land meant that Americans would be less in danger of creating elite hierarchies because these hierarchies would be broken up since there was a constant return to more primitive conditions.

The Uncivilized Nature of the Frontier

According to Mennell, when people who have been socialized in more settled conditions are cast out into the margins of society, their behavior will change. The behavior will become more blatantly self-interested if they can get away with things that they couldn’t get away with under more settled conditions. This behavior will become even more confrontative if, because of the rough balance of power, calculations of what will happen are less predictable. These higher levels of danger will produce emotions that are more impulsive and more violent, just as Huizinga claimed occurred during the European Middle Ages.

According to historian Patricia Limerick, the image of the self-reliant and individually responsible pioneer was not supported by her research account that outside of every farm in the 1880’s stood a great mound of empty food cans. She further pointed out these “self-reliant” pioneers often blamed the federal government for their problems along with everyone else.

The consequences of the frontier process, according to Turner, were that:

  • The westward move diluted the predominantly English character of the eastern seaboard.
  • The advance of the frontier decreased America’s dependence on England for supplies.
  • It helped to develop the central government. The very fact that the unsettled lands had been vested in the federal government was vital to the federal government’s battle to control recalcitrant regions of the country.

The Western Frontier as Yankee romanticism

As Richard Slotkin warns us, we must distinguish between the people who actually lived on the frontier—hunters, trappers, miners, gold prospectors – and how the frontier was portrayed in American literature, as in dime-store novels and the work of Cooper’s Leatherstocking tales. We are interested in how the frontier romance in literature was a way for readers to:

  • escape the dark side of the industrialization process;
  • escape the increasingly militant class struggle taking place between New England, Yankeedom on the one hand and the southern plantation owners on the other;
  • muffle the class struggle in industrialized cities in hopes that the frontier stories could provide an outlet.

In the United States, the rebellion against civilization was directed not at an aristocratic class but at lawyers, merchants, industrialists and bankers of the East. Whatever their dissatisfactions were with relentlessness of the industrialization of the cities, it did not result in a romantic, organic view of nature as in Europe. In Europe, during the romantic period, many nation-states claimed their roots in more primitive peoples, whether they are Anglo-Saxons or Celts. But for Puritans, the heathen Native Americans were out of bounds as people to go back to nature with. To return to the pristine way of life was to adapt the way of the savages, which for them would be “hell on earth”. Puritans bitterly condemned those who “went native” and lost their souls.

While aristocratic romantics of Europe used tame country scenes to trigger collective memories of by-gone days, in the New World, what was romantic was pristine, wild and like the subtle paintings of the West by Remington and Thomas Moran. While romantics in Europe took the occasion to delve into the pre-modern world of the peasantry through the study of language and folklore, writers on American romanticism did not do this. In America, there was a deep anti-historical sense, and what appealed to romantics was the exotic world of mountains, rivers and forests that have not been seen before. In addition, the frontier was about trappers, hunters and miners who were half-way between Eastern decadent civilization and the “savagery” of the native Americans. Stories about the frontier were about Puritan’s “errand into the wilderness”. Puritans were terrified of the savagery of native Americans. Their roots were in Puritanism, not in knowing more about native culture that was from a non-Christian world.

In the New World, the sources of romanticism were men of action, men who fought Indians, gambled and blazed trails. Different frontiersman represented different regions of the country and utilized different means of subsistence. For example, stories about Daniel Boone took place in Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri. The stories of Kit Carsen were those of a fur trapper of the mountains. Stories about Davy Crockett were more about the frontier in the Southwest.

What romantics on both sides of the Atlantic had in common was a refusal to play roles. This was certainly true of the frontiersman attitude towards the ways of the East. Additionally, both kinds of romantics refused to act in ways that demonstrated they were civilized. While in the United States there was a championing of what was wild, unpredictable and dangerous, this did not lead to identification with mental illness as the romantics did in Europe. However, the romanticism of outcasts in the wild west, such as gun fighters like Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jane, and Buffalo Bill was taken way beyond Europe. The glorification of the frontier, the west and the cowboy hasn’t let up even in the 21st century!

Conclusion

The purpose of this article is to show the deep political and economic fault-lines of the eleven regions of the United States. We began with eight questions about how the time of settlement, the country of origin, geography, religion, population density, attitudes to immigrants and natives might affect how these regions felt about each other. Where in the country would the greatest tensions between the regions be? What regions had the most in common where alliances could be formed? We then named six topics which were the deepest tension point in the regions. These tensions are hardly cosmetic. They remained throughout both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

We then turned to the conflict between Tidewater, the Deep South, Appalachia and Yankees as the central struggle in the United States. Being an “American” was forged between four regions—Yankeedom, New Netherlands, Midlands and Appalachia. I closed my article with our focus on the West. This included how frontiersman themselves viewed the East as decadent and how writers of the East romanticized the West in dime store novels and paintings.

The United States of America is hardly united, nor has it ever been. The real physical economy today is hammered by lack of investment and lack of work due to COVID. Meanwhile finance capital continues to destabilize the economy with the mania of printing free money. As extreme weather pounds the regions from Florida to California and from Texas to North Dakota, it would be hardly surprising that as Anglo-American capitalism sinks into the bog, that part of the sinking will involve a fracturing of the regions in a good ole American style, with each region for itself, and the Devil taking the hindmost.

• First published in Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Divided We Stand: Eleven Regional Rivalries from Mountain People to the Swamps of Dixie first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Kneeling against Racism: Solidarity in EURO 2020 Should Not be “Controversial”   

Another football ‘controversy’ has started when football players participating in the ongoing ‘UEFA Euro 2020’, kneeled down during national anthems to protest racism, a serious problem that has plagued football stadiums for many years.

Yet, while some players chose to kneel down, others opted not to, offering flimsy excuses as “players weren’t ready”, and “politics should stay out of football”. Racism in sports is real, though it cannot be separated from racism within society. In fact, the reactions to the moral stances taken by some players were reflections of how rightwing, populist and chauvinistic movements wield such massive influence over various European societies, to the extent that these movements often define mainstream political sensibilities.

For example, the French national team, comprising largely black and Muslim French players, came under attack led by right wing politicians and media outlets to the point that, on June 15, the entire team decided not to take a knee at the start of their matches, likely fearing racist repercussions.

In the French example, racism in sports prevailed over the anti-racism sentiments. Worse, the country’s highest football association, the French Football Federation (FFF) does not even acknowledge the necessity to discuss the issue. FFF president, Noel Le Graet, was quoted as saying that racism “does not exist”, following an incident last September during the Marseille-Paris Saint Germain game, when the Brazilian Neymar was called a  ‘monkey motherf—er’ during a scuffle.

Not only are racist incidents in football games on the rise and well-documented in France and elsewhere, the ‘monkey’ slur is particularly popular among European football fans who, sometimes in groups, carry out what is known as ‘monkey chanting’, which specifically target black and other dark skin players. When the despicable practice in Italy finally received national attention, an Italian court dismissed the case as ‘unfounded’, and fans who were caught ‘monkey chanting’ on camera were ‘unconditionally acquitted.’

This in mind, it was unfortunate that only half of the Italian team took a knee during their game against Wales on June 20, and eventually, they decided not to kneel down at all in a later game. It is telling that, while racism in sports continues to prevail, anti-racist gestures are considered unnecessary and divisive.

The truth is that football, like any other sport, is a reflection of our societies, our unities and divisions, our economic privileges and socio-economic inequalities, our strong communal bonds and, yes, our racism. Instead of attempting to fully understand and, when necessary, alter these relationships, some conveniently opt to ignore them altogether.

Assertions such as ‘sports and politics must not mix’ are not only wishful thinking – as they ignore the fundamental premise that sports are a direct expression of reality – they are also underhanded as they are meant to divert attention from core issues that should concern everyone.

This misleading logic falls within the same category of the phrase “all lives matter” in response to the legitimate outcry for racial justice under the banner, “black lives matter”. The latter is meant to illustrate – in fact, challenge – racism and violence, which disproportionately target black people in the United States specifically because of their skin color; while the former, although technically accurate, is meant to delude and undermine the urgency of confronting systemic racism.

When American football player, Colin Kaepernick, kneeled down in 2016 to protest racial injustice, he did mean to be disruptive, not to ‘disgrace’ American ‘values’ and ‘symbols’, but to force millions of people out of their comfort zone to contend with far more consequential questions than winning or losing a football match. His statement was an act of protest against the mistreatment of black communities across the US. As a black man with access to media platforms, it was his moral duty to speak out. He did. But that wholly symbolic, non-violent act was perceived by many in government, media and society as a treasonous one, which ultimately cost the athlete his career.

The entire episode, which reverberated across the world and the violent, often racist, responses to it were all political, unwittingly proving, once more, that the relationship between politics and human rights, on the one hand, and sports, on the other, are impossible to separate. Interestingly, those who insisted that Kaepernick has violated the sanctity of sports have no qualms with other, essentially political acts throughout football: the national anthem, the endless display of flags, the nationalist chants, of soldiers being honored for their services in various wars and, at times, of air force fighting jets flying overhead, intoxicating the crowds with the might and power of the US military. Why are nationalistic politics acceptable while a single black man kneeling down to shed light on the plight of the innocent victims of police brutality is perceived to be an act of treason?

Whether it is convenient or not, sports is rife with political symbols and is a reflection of existing realities: inequalities, racism and more. It can also be a source of harmony and unity. In fact, sometimes it is, as was the heartwarming exchange between Portuguese international player, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Iranian footballer, Ali Daei, when, on June 24, Ronaldo  equalized the international goal record of Daei. It can also be a reflection of rooted socio-political ailments, such as racism.

Racism is a political disease, like cancerous cells spreading across the body, or body politic of society. It has to be stopped, on and off the field. While taking the knee will not end racism, it is meant to serve as a conversation starter, a moral stance by players and a meaningful gesture of camaraderie and humanity.

The post Kneeling against Racism: Solidarity in EURO 2020 Should Not be “Controversial”    first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Monotheistic Roots of Nationalism

Orientation

Over the last three hundred years in the West, nationalism has supplanted religious, regional, ethnic and class loyalties to claim a secular version of the commandment “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have strange gods before me”. How did this happen? Let’s say we have an Italian-American member of the working-class who lives in San Francisco. How is it possible that this person is expected to feel more loyalty to a middle-class Irishman living in Boston compared to Italians living in Milan, Italy? How is it that this loyalty is so great that this Italian-American would risk his life in the military against the same Italian in Milan in the case of a war between the United States and Italy? Why would the same working-class man kill and/or die in a battle with Iraq soldiers who were also working class? My article attempts to explain how people were socialized in order to internalize this nationalistic propaganda. Nationalism used the paraphernalia of a particular kind of religion, monotheism, to command such loyalty. This article is a synthesis of part of my work in chapters two and three of my book, Forging Promethean Psychology.

Questions about nationalism, nations, and ethnicity

Nationalism is one of those words that people immediately feel they understand, but upon further questioning, we find a riot of overlapping and conflicting elements. There are three other words commonly associated in the public mind with nationalism and used interchangeably with it: nation, state, and ethnicity. The introductions of these terms raise the following provocative questions:

  • What is the relationship between nationalism and nations? Were there nations before nationalism? Did they come about at the same time or do they have separate histories? Can a nation exist without nationalism? Can nationalism exist without a nation? Ernest Gellner (Nations and Nationalism) thinks so.
  • What is the relationship between a state and a nation? Are all states nations? Are all nations states? Can states exist without nationalism?
  • What is the relationship between ethnicity and a nation? Can one be part of an ethnic group and not have a nation? Can one be a part of a nation without being in an ethnic community?

There is rich scholarly work in this field and most agree that nations, nationalism, ethnicities, and states are not interchangeable.  Despite scholars’ differences about the questions above, they agree that nationalism as an ideology that arose at the end of the 18th century with the French Revolution. Because our purpose is to understand nationalism as a vital component in creating loyalty we are, mercifully, on safe ground to limit our discussion to nationalism.

Elements of Nationalism

Four sacred dimensions of national identity

In his wonderful book Chosen Peoples, Anthony Smith defines nationalism as an ideological movement for the attainment and maintenance of three characteristics: autonomy, unity, and identity. Nationalism has elite and popular levels. Elite nationalism is more liberal and practiced by the upper classes. Popular nationalism is more conservative and practiced by the lower classes. According to Smith, the four sacred foundations for all nations are (1) a covenant community, including elective and missionary elements; (2) a territory; (3) a history; and (4) a destiny.

The fourth sacred source of nationalism – destiny – is a belief in the regenerative power of individual sacrifice to serve the future of a nation. In sum, nationalism calls people to be true to their unique national vocation, to love their homeland, to remember their ancestors and their ancestors’ glorious pasts, and to imitate the heroic dead by making sacrifices for the happy and glorious destiny of the future nation.

Core doctrine of nationalism

These four dimensions of sacred sources in turn relate to the core doctrine of the nation, which Smith describes as the following:

  1. The world is divided into nations, each with its own character, history and destiny.
  2. The source of all political power is the nation, and loyalty to the nation overrides all other loyalties.
  3. To be free, every individual must belong to a nation.
  4. Nations require maximum self-expression and autonomy.
  5. A world of peace and justice must be founded on free nations.

Phases of nationalism

Most scholars agree that nations are a necessary but insufficient criterion for nationalism. While most of them agree that nationalism did not arrive until the end of the 18th century, almost all agree with the following phases of nationalism:

  1. Elite nationalism—This first nationalism emerged when the middle classes used language studies, art, music, and literature to create a middle-class public. The dating of this phase varies depending on the European country and ranges from the Middle Ages through the early modern period.
  2. Popular nationalism—A national community took the place of the heroes and heroines who emerged with the French Revolution. This nationalism was political and was associated with liberal and revolutionary traditions. This phase is roughly dated from 1789 to 1871.
  3. Mass nationalism—This nationalism was fueled by the increase in mass transportation (the railroad) and mass circulation of newspapers. It also became associated with European imperialism and argued that territory, soil, blood, and race were the bases of nationalism. This last phase of nationalism was predominant from 1875 to 1914.

In the second and third phases of nationalism, rites and ceremonies are performed with an orchestrated mass choreography amidst monumental sculpture and architecture (George Mosse, The Nationalization of the Masses)

Due to the Industrial Revolution, among other things, individualists began to sever their ties to ethnicity, region, and kinship group as capitalism undermined these identities. By what processes were these loyalties abandoned while a new loyalty emerged? The new loyalty is not based on face-to-face connections, but rather it was mediated by railroads, newspapers and books. This is a community of strangers whose loyalty to the nation is not based on enduring, face-to-face engagements. As we shall see, states create nationalism by two processes: first by pulverizing the intermediate relationships between the state and the individual and second by bonding individualists to each other through loyalty to the nation forged by transforming religious techniques into secular myths and rituals.

Centralized State Against Localities and Intermediate Organizations

Absolutist states in Europe didn’t emerge out of nothing. According to Tilly, they emerged out of kingdoms, empires, urban federations, and city-states and had to compete with them for allegiance. In feudal times, local authorities could match or overwhelm state power. This slowly changed as the state centralized power.

In their battles against these other political forms, states learned hierarchical administration techniques from churches that had hundreds of years of experience.

Churches held together the sprawling kingdoms of Europe, beginning with the fall of the Roman Empire and throughout the early, central, and high Middle Ages. In order to command obedience, the absolutist state had to break down the local self-help networks that had developed during the feudal age and among those states that became empires. What stood in the way of state centralization were the clergy, landlords, and urban oligarchies who allied themselves with ordinary people’s resistance to state demands.

Dividing and conquering intermediaries

Early modern popular allegiances of culture, language, faith, and interests did not neatly overlap with centralized political boundaries. States played a leading role in determining who was included and who was excluded in their jurisdictions. This would force people to choose whether they wanted to live in a state where they would, for example, become a religious or cultural minority. Furthermore, the state can play its cultural, linguistic, and religious communities against one another by first supporting one and then switching to support another.

It may seem self-evident that absolutist states would try to join and expand whatever local identity a people had, such as the Basques or the Catalans in Spain. However, this was not initially the case. A local identity was interpreted as a threat just like any other non-state identity—region, ethnic group, or federation—because it competed with the state for people’s loyalty. It was only later when states were out of cash and desperate for manpower that they began trying to manipulate these outside loyalties by promising citizenship and later education in exchange for taxes and conscription.

Sociologists and social psychologists have demonstrated that among a group with internal conflicts, the best way to get them to forge unity is to present them with a common group enemy. An individual’s group loyalty is solidified by discrimination against an outside group. Most often a scapegoat is selected because it is present, visible, powerless to resist, and useful for displacing aggression.

Building a centralized nervous system: postal networks and newspapers

States reduced barriers between regions by developing roads and postal systems. In the late medieval world, the emergence of private mercantile networks enabled postal communication to form. In the 15th and 16th centuries, private postal networks were built. In France, the postal system was created as early as the late 1400s, and in England it came about in 1516. They expanded until they linked much of Europe together, employing 20,000 couriers. Turnpike construction upgraded routes from major centers to London. From the second half of the 18th century on the postal network offered regular service between regions as well as into London. By 1693 in the United States regular postal service connected Philadelphia, New York, and Boston, and the comprehensive postal network assured postal privacy. The network of US postal systems came to exceed that of any other country in the world and was a way to bring the Western frontier under the umbrella of the Northern industrialists in their struggle against the agricultural capitalists of the South.

Postal networks also supported the creation of news networks intended for bankers, diplomats, and merchants. They contained both the prices of commodities on local markets and the exchange rates of international currencies. Newspapers also helped centralize and nationalize American colonies by pointing to commonalities across regions. For example, the Stamp Act led to the first inter-colonial cooperation against the British and the first anti-British newspaper campaign.

State vs. Religion Conflicts

In spite of what they learned from ecclesiastical hierarchies about organization, the state and the Catholic church were opposed to each other. The church was an international body that had a stake in keeping any state from competing with it for power. Before the alliance between merchants and monarchs, the Catholic Church played states off of one another. One event that began to reverse this trend was the Protestant Reformation. Protestant reformers may not have been advocates for the national interests of Germany, Switzerland, Holland, or England per se, but they were against the international aspirations of the Catholic church. Protestant leaders like Wycliffe and Hus called for the use of vernacular (local language) rather than internationalist Latin in religious settings. The Protestant religions became increasingly associated with either absolute monarchies or republics (e.g., the Dutch).

Religious Roots of Nationalism

What is the relationship between nationalism and religion?

It is not enough for states to promise to intervene in disputes and coordinate the distribution and production of goods, although this is important. Bourgeois individualists must also bond emotionally with each other through symbols, songs, initiations, and rituals. In this effort, the state does not have to reinvent the wheel. There was one social institution prior to the emergence of absolutist states that was also trans-local and trans-regional. Interestingly, this institution also required its members to give up their kin, ethnic identity, and regional identity in order to become full members. That institution was religion. A fair question to ask is, what is the relationship between religion and nationalism?

Do religion and nationalism compete with each other? Do they replace each other? Do they amplify each other and drive each other forward? Do they exist in symbiosis? Theorists of nationalism have struggled with this question. At one extreme of the spectrum is the early work of Elie Kedourie (1960), who argued that nationalism is a modern, secular ideology that replaces religious systems. According to Kedourie, nationalism is a new doctrine of political change first argued for by Immanuel Kant and carried out by German Romantics at the beginning of the 19th century. In this early work, nationalism was the spiritual child of the Enlightenment, and by this we mean that nationalism and religion are conceived of as opposites. While religion supports hierarchy, otherworldliness, and divine control, nationalism, according to Kedourie, emphasizes more horizontal relationships, worldliness, and human self-emancipation. Where religion supports superstition, nationalism supports reason. Where religion thrives among the ignorant, nationalism supports education. For Enlightenment notions of nationalism, nationalism draws no sustenance from religion at all.

Modern theorists of nationalism such as Eric Hobsbawm (Nations and Nationalism since 1780) and John Breuilly, (Nationalism and the State) share much of this position. For these scholars, secular institutions and concepts such as the state or social classes occupy center stage, while ethnicity and religious tradition are accorded secondary status. For Liah Greenfeld (Nationalism: Five Roads to Modernity), religion served as a lubricator of English national consciousness until national consciousness replaced it.

For Anthony Smith, nationalism secularized the myths, liturgies, and doctrines of sacred traditions and was able to command the identities of individualists not only over ethnic, regional, and class loyalties, but even over religion itself. What Smith wants to do is conceive of the nation as a sacred communion, one that focuses on the cultural resources of ethnic symbolism, memory, myth, values, as they are expressed in texts, artifacts, scriptures, chronicles, epics, music, architecture, painting, sculpture, and crafts. Smith’s greatest source of inspiration was George Mosse who discussed civic religion of the masses in Germany.

How the State Uses Religious Paraphernalia in the French Revolution

If we examine the process of how the state commands loyalty, we find the state uses many of the same devices as religion. After the revolution in France, the calendar was changed to undermine the Catholic church. The state tried to regulate, dramatize, and secularize the key events in the life of individual—birth, baptism, marriage and death. French revolutionaries invented the symbols that formed the tricolor flags and invented a national anthem, “La Marseillaise.” The paintings of Delacroix and Vermeer supported the revolution. The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen became a new belief system, a kind of national catechism. By 1791 the French constitution had become a promise of faith. The tablets of the Declaration of Rights were carried around in procession as if they were commandments. Another symbol was the patriotic altar that was erected spontaneously in many villages and communes. Civic festivities included resistance to the king in the form of the famous “Tennis Court Oath,” (Serment du Jeu de Paume) along with revolutionary theater. The revolution, through its clubs, festivals, and newspapers, was indirectly responsible for the spread of a national language. Abstract concepts such as fatherland, reason, and liberty became deified and worshipped as goddesses. All the paraphernalia of the new religion appeared: dogmas, festivals, rituals, mythology, saints, and shrines. Nationalism has become the secular religion of the modern world, where the nation is now God.

What occurs is a reorganizing of religious elements to create a nation-state, a social emulsifier that pulverizes what is left of intermediate organization while creating a false unity. This state unity papers over the economic instabilities of capitalism as well as the class and race conflicts that it ushers in.

Monotheistic Roots of Nationalism

How monotheism differs from animism and polytheism

Anthony Smith is not simply saying that religion itself is the foundation of nationalism. He claims that the monotheism of Jews and Christians forms a bedrock for European nationalism. However, Smith does not account for why animistic and polytheistic religious traditions are not instrumental in producing nationalism. What are the sacred differences between magical traditions of tribal people and monotheists? The high magical traditions of the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Aztecs, and Incas are not much like the Jews and Christians. We need to understand these religious differences so we can make a tighter connection between monotheism and nationalism.

According to Smith, the foundation for the relationship between a monotheistic people and its God is a covenant. A covenant is a perceived voluntary, contractual sacred relationship between a culture and its sacred presences. This contractual relationship is one of the many differences that separates monotheism from polytheism and animism. In my book From Earth-Spirits to Sky-Gods, I show how polytheistic and animistic cultures perceive a necessary, organicconnection between themselves and the rest of the biophysical world, and this connection extends to invisible entities. The monotheistic Jews were the first people to imagine their spiritual relationships as a voluntary contract.

The first part of a covenant agreement is that God has chosen a group of people over all other groups for a particular purpose. This implies that God is a teleological architect with a plan for the world and simply needs executioners. Polytheistic and animistic people imagine their sacred presence as a plurality of powers that cooperate, compete, and negotiate a cosmic outcome having some combination of rhythm and novelty, rather than a guiding plan. Like Jews and Christians, pagan people saw themselves as superior to other cultures (ethnocentrism), but this is not usually connected up to any sense of them having been elected for a particular purpose by those sacred presences.

The third part of a covenant is the prospect of spreading good fortune to other lands. This is part of a wider missionary ideal of bringing light to other societies so that “the blind can see”. It is a small and natural step to affirm that the possession of might—the second part of the covenant (economic prosperity and military power)—is evidence that one is morally right. We know that the ancient Judaists sought to convert the Edomites though conquest. On the other hand, while it is certainly true that animistic and polytheistic people fight wars over land or resources, these are not religious wars waged by proselytizers.

The fourth part of a covenant is a sacred law. This is given to people in the form of commandments about how to live, implying that the natural way people live needs improvement. In polytheistic societies, however, how people act was not subject to any sort of a plan for great reform on the part of the deity. In polytheistic states, the gods and goddesses engaged in the same behavior as human beings, but on a larger scale. There was no obedience expected based on a sacred text.

The fifth part of a covenant is the importance of human history. Whatever privileges the chosen people have received from God can be revoked if they fail to fulfill their part of the bargain. The arena in which “tests” take place is human history, in the chosen people’s relationship with other groups. For the animistic and polytheists, cultural history is enmeshed with the evolutionary movement of the rocks, rivers, mountains, plants, and animals. There is no separate human history.

Lastly, in polytheistic societies, sacred dramas enacted in magical circles and temples were rituals. This means they were understood as not just symbolic, representational gestures of a reality that people wished to see in the future. Rather, they were dramatic actions believed to be real embodiments of that reality in the present. In the elite phase of monotheism in the ancient world, rituals were looked upon with suspicion because people became superstitiously attached to the ritual and thought their rituals could compel God to act. In From Earth Spirits to Sky Gods, I coined the word ceremony to describe sacred dramas that were more passive and less likely to create altered states of consciousness. These were intended to show deference and worship to a deity who was not subject to magical incantations. A religious ceremony, at least among middle and upper-middle class, is more passive. The priest or pastor does most of the work while the congregation supports what the priest or pastor is doing.

Common Elements Found in Monotheism and Nationalism

Let’s start with some definitions. Monotheism is a sacred system prevalent in stratified state societies with possible developing empires in which a single, abstract and transcendental deity presides over “chosen people” via a contract or covenant. Nationalism is a secular system which exists in capitalist societies in which a single nation claims territory regulated by a state. Before launching into a description of the commonalities, Table A provides a snapshot overview of where we are headed.Loyalty to one God; loyalty to one nation

All sacred systems have to answer the question of whether the sacred source of all they know is singular or plural. Monotheistic religions break with the pluralistic polytheism and animism of pagan societies and assert that there is only one God. It is not a matter of having a single god who subordinates other gods. This is not good enough. The very existence of other gods is intolerable. Any conflicting loyalties are viewed as pagan idolatry.

Just as monotheism insists on loyalty to one God, so nationalism insists on loyalty to one nation. Claiming national citizenship in more than one country is viewed upon with suspicion. Additionally, within the nation, loyalty to the nation-state must come before other collective identities such as class, ethnic, kinship, or regional groupings. To be charged with disloyalty to the nation is a far more serious offence than disloyalty to things such as a working-class heritage, an Italian background, or having come from the West Coast. In the case of both monotheism and nationalism, intermediaries between the individual and the centralized authorities must be destroyed or marginalized.

Loyalty to strangers in the brotherhood of man; loyalty to strangers as fellow citizens

The earth spirits, totems, and gods of polytheistic cultures are sensuous and earthy. In tribal societies, they are part of a network among kin groups in which everyone knows everyone else. The monotheistic God is, on the contrary, abstract, and the community He supervises an expanding non-kin group of strangers. Just as monotheism insists that people give up their ties to local kin groups and their regional loyalties, so the nation-state insists that people imagine that their loyalty should be to strangers, most of whom they will never meet. The universal brotherhood of man in monotheism becomes the loyalty of citizens to other citizens within the state. In monotheism, the only way an individual can be free is to belong to a religion (pagans or atheists are barely tolerated). In the case of a nation-state, to be free the individual must belong to a nation. The state cannot tolerate individuals with no national loyalty.

Many inventions and historical institutions facilitate one’s identifying with a nation. The invention of the printing press and the birth of reading and writing helped build relationships among strangers beyond the village. Newspapers and journals gave people a more abstract sense of national news, and they were able to receive this news on a regular basis. The invention of the railroad, electricity, and the telegraph expanded and concentrated transportation and communication.

The problem for nationalists is that all these inventions can also be used to cross borders and create competing loyalties outside the nation-state. Increasing overseas trade brought in goods from foreign lands and built invisible, unconscious relations with outside producers. In the 19th century, another connection between strangers began with the international division of labor between workers of a colonial power and workers exploited on the periphery.

Monotheistic contract of equality before God; constitutional contract of equal citizenship

In polytheistic high magical societies, it was only the upper classes who were thought to have a religious afterlife. If a slave was to have an afterlife at all, it would be as a servant to the elite. Monotheism democratized the afterlife, claiming that every individual, as part of God’s covenant agreement, had to be judged before God equally. So too, nationalism in the 18th century imagined national life as a social contract among free citizens, all of whom were equal in the eyes of the law and the courts of the nation. In the 19th and 20th centuries, popular nationalism included the right to vote in elections.

Monotheistic and nationalist history is repackaged propaganda

According to Anthony Smith, the history that religions construct is not the same as what the professional historians aspire to do. For example, historians ask open-ended questions for which they do not have answers. They accept the unknown as part of the discipline and accept that an unknown question may never be answered. In contrast, accounts of religious history are not welcoming to open-ended questions. Rather, they ask rhetorical questions for which they have predictable answers. Those believers or non-believers who ask open-ended questions are taught that the question is a mystery that will only be revealed through some mystical experience or in the afterlife. Further insistence on asking open-ended questions is viewed as blasphemy or a sign of heresy.

So too, nationalist renditions of history do not welcome open-ended, skeptical questions. The history books of any nation generally try to paper over actual struggle between classes, enslavement, colonization, and torture that litters its history. Members of a culture that have built nationalist histories like to present themselves as being in complete agreement about the where and when of their origins. But, in fact, evidence about the past often competes with each other and are often stimulated by class differences within the nation. Just as religion attacks open-ended, critical questions of heresy, so nationalists tar and feather citizens as unpatriotic when they question national stories and try to present a revisionist history.

Monotheistic and Nationalist History Is Cyclic

All national histories have a cyclical shape. They begin with a golden age and are followed by a period of disaster or degradation and, after much struggle, a period of redemption. First, there is a selection of a communal age that is deemed to be heroic or creative. There is praise for famous kings, warriors, holy men, revolutionaries, or poets. Second, there is a fall from grace, whether it be a natural disaster, a fall into materialism, or external conquest. Third, there is a yearning to restore the lost communal dignity and nobility. In order to return to the golden age, they must emulate the deeds and morals of its past epoch. For Christianity, the golden age consists of the story of Adam and Eve. For the Hebrews, it is the Old Testament with Moses in the wilderness. In the United States, it is the time of pilgrims, pioneers, frontiersman, cowboys, and Western expansion. These are mythic stories are endlessly recycled today in television program and movies.

Monotheist and Nationalist Founders Are Treated as Divine

Nationalist history is sanitized, polished, and presented as a result of the deeds of noble heroes. This mythology is intensified by the way the founders of religion and the nation are treated. It is rare that Moses, Christ, or Mohammad, in addition to their good qualities, are treated as flesh and blood individuals with weaknesses, pettiness, and oversights. So too, in the United States, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are treated like Moses or Christ, having charismatic powers.

Monotheistic and nationalist altered states of consciousness

Altered states can be created by either sensory saturation or sensory deprivation. A great example of sensory saturation to create an altered state is the Catholic Mass. Here we have the bombardment of vision (stained glass windows), sound (loud organ music), smell (strong incense), taste (the holy communion), and touch (gesturing with the sign of the cross). Sensory deprivation in a monotheistic setting includes fasting, prayer, or meditation. Popular monotheistic states of consciousness invite speaking in tongues, and devotional emotional appeal.

Sensory deprivation in nationalistic settings is being at boot camp and on the battlefield of war itself. Sensory saturation occurs in nationalistic settings at addresses by prominent politicians, such as the presidential State of the Union addresses, in congressional meetings, at political rallies, and during primaries. Presidential debates and elections are actually throwbacks to ancient rituals and ceremonies. Those diehards of electoral politics who attend these rituals are almost as taken away by the props as were participants in a tribal magical ceremony. In the United States, the settings include the Great Seal of the United States hanging above the event, along with the American flag, a solemn pledge of allegiance, a rendition of “God Bless America,” and a military parade.

Religious and Nationalistic Attachment and Expansion of Land

The relationship between monotheism and territorial attachment is conflicted. On the one hand, elite monotheists in ancient times depreciated the importance of territorial attachment as an expression of pagans whom Christians feel are enslaved to the land. The prophets promote a kind of cosmopolitanism. Yet on the other hand, the more fundamentalist sects in popular monotheism insist on locating the actual birthplace of the religion and making it the scene of pilgrimages—Muslims go to Mecca, Christians to Bethlehem—or even a permanent occupation as with Zionist Jews in Palestine.

In a way, on a more complex level, the rise of a nation’s sense of loyalty based on geography is a kind of return to pagan attachments to place. For nationalists, attachment to a territory is a foundation-stone. In the United States stories and music celebrating the pilgrims landing, the revolutionary cites like Bunker Hill and the settling of the American West are examples.

Religious Zionism to Nationalist Manifest Destiny

Earlier we said that what separates monotheism from polytheism is the expansionary, missionary zeal of monotheism. This tendency was also characteristic of many nation-building projects throughout history. Both monotheism and nationalism wish to expand. There is an exclusive commitment to either one religion or one nation; yet once that exclusive commitment is made, the religion or nation sometimes advocates for expansion around the world. We can see this with Western imperialism, which in many cases sends in the missionaries first.

Commonalities in the Processes of Socialization into Monotheism and Nationalism

Table A showed the relatively static commonalities between monotheism and nationalism. These center mostly on beliefs and the use of propaganda paraphernalia on people. But there are many commonalities in how people are socialized over time. These include methods of transmission, rites of passage, special occasions throughout the year, educational training and geographical pilgrimages. We also have similarities on conversion experiences, how loyalty and exclusivity are maintained and how religious and nationalistic populations are ex-communicated. Please see Table B for a summary.

Qualification: What About the Place of Islam in Nationalism?

It probably crossed your mind that I did not include Islam in my monotheistic roots of nationalism comparisons. Certainly, Islam is monotheistic. Furthermore, when we look at Islamic fundamentalism, it might seem like there is fanatical nationalism at work.

But a closer look shows that Islam has similar internationalism as the Catholics. Being fanatical about your religion that you will kill and die for it is not necessarily nationalism.

Why did Islam not develop a nationalism the way the Jews and the Christians did?

There are at least the following reasons.

  • Western nationalism was inseparable from the development of industrial While Islam had a “merchant capital” phase of capitalism, they never went through the industrialization process that capitalism did in the West. Industrialization is very important in pulverizing intermediate loyalties.
  • Nationalism in the West was not built by one country at a time. The Treaty of Westphalia in 1689 created a system of states that became the foundation for nationalism at the end of the 18th. There was no system of states that existed in West Asia at the time. Predominantly what existed were sprawling empires, not nation-states.
  • In the 19th and 20th century, Islam has become a religion of the oppressed. European nation-states were not fighting against imperialism when they arose in England, France, the United States, and Holland. Their development was not shackled by fighting defensive wars. West Asian nationalism could not develop autonomously.

Conclusion

My article began by drawing your attention to how powerful nationalism is in swaying people to be loyal to strangers they have never met as well as to kill and die for them just because they occupy the same territory. I drew some boundaries around the meaning of nationalism and pointed out how people confuse nationalism with nations, states and ethnic origin. Then, following the work of Anthony Smith, I identified four sacred dimensions of national identity, five parts of its doctrine and three phases of nationalism.

Next, I discussed the need for nationalists to first tear down competing loyalties of kinship ties, ethnic loyalties, regional and class identifications in order for it to rule without competition. After pulverizing intermediate loyalties, it then builds up a centralized state through postal networks, national newspapers, railroads and telegraph systems which act as networks for nationalism. I raised and answered questions about the relationship between the state and religion. Do religion and the state compete with each other? Do they replace each other? Are they mutually supportive? Then I gave an example of how the radical wing of the French Enlightenment used religious paraphernalia in the hopes of creating a society based on reason, which came out of the French revolution.

My article then takes a step further. I argue that the state uses a particular kind of religion to strengthen its loyalty. It is no accident that the countries of the world that never developed nationalism in the 18th and 19th centuries were not Jews and Christians. There is something about the monotheism of the Jews and Christians that was the best foundation to build nationalism and the centralized state that developed in Europe in the 19th century. Most of the rest of my article shows the similarities in the beliefs and dramatization between monotheism and nationalism. Lastly, I close with a table that shows how similar nationalism and religion are in their socialization processes from birth to death. I also addressed the question of why Islamic monotheism did not lead to Islamic nationalism.

It is no wonder that nationalism has such a hold on people. Since most Europeans and Yankees are either Protestant, Catholic or Jewish, nationalist indoctrination already has an infrastructure built in with monotheistic beliefs, practices, and socialization. Sure, there are some people who are monotheists and not nationalistic. And there are some people who are nationalistic but not very monotheistic. But most people in Europe and Yankeedom are both. Most of those people are the working-class people who buy both nationalism and monotheism and then get killed or maimed in wars, at least partly because they’ve drunk the Kool-Aid.

• First published in Socialist Planning After Capitalism

The post The Monotheistic Roots of Nationalism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The West Has Trouble Adapting its Behaviour to Cope With China’s Role

One of the more interesting phenomena at the present time is the campaign against China, to try to portray it as some sort of evil force determined to rule the world in its own image. The timing of this phenomenon is interesting. For much of the post-World War II period China was largely ignored. “China” in the eyes of the world was represented by the Nationalist regime that clung to China’s permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

Even after the resumption of China’s seat on the Security Council had occurred, China still had a small role in world affairs. Its rapid growth to economic prominence began in the 1980s, but at that time its economy was still a fraction of that of the United States. It was not perceived as any sort of economic power, much less a threat to the economic dominance of the United States.

It was only when China’s economy began to dominate that the attitudes of the West also began to change. The Chinese themselves publicly downplayed their increasing dominance in the world’s economy. They still persist in referring to themselves as the world’s second largest economy, and in nominal terms that is true. A far more accurate indicator of relative economic position, however, is to measure an economy in terms of its purchasing power. By that measure China is the world’s largest economy and has been so for several years.

The second indicator of China’s growing economic influence was the development of the Belt and Road Initiative, commenced in 2013. Again, the Western nations took little initial notice of its development. It has expanded rapidly and now includes more than 140 countries from all parts of the world.

The United States has publicly refuted any possibility of becoming a member itself, loyally followed as always by its Australian acolyte. An initiative by the Australian State of Victoria to sign an agreement with China was this year publicly quashed by the federal government when it passed laws to give itself the power to kill the deal.

The attitude of the Australian government to the BRI is curious. China is by far Australia’s biggest trading partner taking around 40% of total exports. The antipathy of the Australian government to participation in the BRI can only be interpreted as not wishing to upset the Americans, whose antipathy to the BRI is well known.

At this year’s meeting of the Group of Seven nations in the United Kingdom, they resolved to start their own effort providing an alternative to the BRI. The source of funds for this exercise are unclear, although it seems that it is being left to private investment. It is difficult to take this initiative seriously. Most of the world’s major companies already have strong economic links to China. They are highly unlikely to become parties to a rival scheme and thereby jeopardise their relationship with the People’s Republic of China.

Apart from the worldwide BRI, China is also a party to a host of alternative arrangements. These include the BRICS nations of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa on the one hand, and more particularly its Asian neighbours through the ASEAN grouping of 10 nations with close proximity to China’s borders.

Russia and China recently marked the 20th anniversary of the China – Russia Treaty of Good Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation. Trade between these two countries has accelerated in recent years. In 2010 China surpassed Germany as Russia’s largest trading partner, and the relationship has accelerated in recent years. In 2020 the value of trade between the two nations reached $110 billion, which while a substantial sum is still a lot smaller than Russia’s $260 billion of trade with the European Union.

What is particularly noticeable is that as China has steadily increased its economic influence, the more it has attracted political criticism. This has been especially true of its alleged treatment of its Uighur population in northern China. China vigorously denies these accusations. The more lurid accusations include one of genocide against the Uighur people. It is an accusation that is refuted by the census data, that shows that the total Uighur population is, in fact, increasing at a faster rate than in the rest of China.

The persistence of the allegations of ill-treatment of the Uighurs points to a different political agenda being pursued by the Western critics. Not the least of their motives is influenced by the fact that the Xinjiang region is enormously rich in natural resources, including recently discovered massive reserves of oil. An estimated 900 million tons of oil and gas was found in the Terim Basin in northern Xinjiang. This find makes China a source of oil on a par with Russia and the United States.

The find has done nothing to reduce the flow of criticism of China. That criticism has little in the way of an objective foundation. China is unique in modern history in refusing to use its economic power to influence the domestic policies of countries with which it has a trading relationship. This is in marked contrast to the behaviour of the for

mer colonial powers, especially the United Kingdom and France, and the behaviour in more recent years of the United States.

The United States has not hesitated to use its power to try and influence nations that had resources they coveted, or they simply occupied parts of the world in which the United States had a geopolitical interest. This involved active interference in the political decisions of multiple countries, economic warfare, economic coercion through the role of the United States dollar as a major world currency, and when all else failed resorting to military intervention.

As the Cuba experience graphically illustrates, getting rid of an unwanted occupying power has proven an impossible task. The dismay of the Cubans at the unwanted American occupation is made worse by the fact that the Guantánamo Bay facility is a major vehicle for the holding of United States’ perceived enemies. For all its pretentions to democracy and the rule of law, the endless detention of its perceived opponents without trial or other resolution of their status makes a mockery of the United States’ claims to be a Government of law and justice.

No such charges can be advanced with any conviction against China. It is unique in modern history in resisting the temptation to match economic power with any sort of political coercion. This has not stopped Western criticism of China’s alleged faults which perhaps tell one more about the conscience of its accusers than it does about legitimate complaints of China’s actions.

The world has changed radically in the past 20 years. The sooner the West understands that fact and adjusts its behaviour the safer we are all likely to be.

The post The West Has Trouble Adapting its Behaviour to Cope With China’s Role first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The West’s Audacity of Sanctioning: The Latest Case is Belarus

On 23 May 2021 President Lukashenko ordered the Ryanair plane, flying from Athens to Vilnius, capital of Lithuania, carrying his Nazi-schooled threatening opponent and activist Protasevich and his girlfriend, to be diverted to Minsk. He did so after having received a message of a bomb threat on board the plane from the Swiss e-mail provider Proton Mail. Proton later said the message was sent after the plane was already diverted.  Whom to believe? If Proton Mail is right, why then send a message in the first place?  Neutral Switzerland is again caught red-handed – and red-faced.

The opposition activist Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, were immediately arrested upon landing in Minsk and are now jailed, awaiting judgment and/or extradition to Ukraine, where Protasevich is accused of having participated fighting in Kiev’s neo-Nazi battalion against Donbass.

As reported by RT, authorities of the self-proclaimed Lugansk Republic (LNR) have accused Roman Protasevich of being part of the neo-Nazi Azov Battalion. The LNR is an unrecognized state located in Ukraine and has existed since the 2014 western prompted “civil war” in Donbass, when separatists unilaterally declared independence from Kiev. The Azov Battalion is an ultra-right-wing military unit now incorporated into the National Guard of Kiev-Ukraine.

RT states that Azov fought during the height of the Donbass war, first seeing action at the Battle of Mariupol. The group is heavily linked to neo-Nazi ideology, with the regiment’s logo featuring the Wolfsangel, a symbol of many divisions of the Nazi German Army during World War II. Joining the Azov Battalion is illegal in Donbass, as well as in Belarus.

An LNR Prosecutor says there is evidence that Protasevich has fought in the Donbass war on the side of Kiev. See here.

Given the tense circumstances — call them western aggressions — after President Lukashenko’s landslide reelection, there may be good justification for Lukashenko to arrest his archenemy, Protasevich, whose unpredictability – and especially, his most likely following orders from the west, predominantly the US and its EU “compradores” – might be a threat to Lukashenko’s life.

The arrest of Protasevich is the official reason for predominantly the US, followed by the vassalic Europeans, to initiate a series of “sanctions” against the Lukashenko Government and Belarus. Sanctions include travel bans for prominent people, the freezing of Belarusian state assets and Belarusian private assets in the US and EU and in the west in general. For those who don’t know, this is only possible because the western dollar-based economy is totally controlled by US/Wall Street banks. Any western currency transaction flows automatically through a US bank – mostly through the SWIFT system – thus, can be interrupted and confiscated at any time by Washington orders.

The point is, the west – again especially the US – wants to get rid of Lukashenko, a close Kremlin ally. They want to replace Lukashenko by a friend of the west, so as to be free to advance with NATO into Belarus, a step closer to Moscow’s doorstep. Belarus is extremely important for Russia, not only as buffer zone, but more so because of Russia’s two key military bases in Belarus. The importance of Belarus to Russia is about equivalent to the importance of Crimea and particularly Sebastopol for Moscow.

NATO aggression — that’s the key reason. The west couldn’t care less about human rights, the reason they bring forward for the sanctions. The west has never cared – and under the current constellation will never care – for human rights. In fact, the west is the world’s biggest and most brutal offender of both civil and human rights. And this doesn’t even take into account the western instigated worldwide covid drama – decimating world population, as well as the world economy.

Just imagine the reverse, a ferocious eastern enemy of the Biden Administration, on a plane approaching the US, but destined to a neighboring country, say Nicaragua or Mexico, or, god-forbid, Cuba – with threats to harm President Biden or people of his entourage. The US would just let it go? I don’t think so. If Washington had a chance to bring the threatening eastern enemy onto US soil and arrest him, they would do so.

Would the east, and I mean the entire eastern alliance of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) – about the equivalent of the western alliance – start sanctioning the US, foremost the US President and his close support group; the European Union, putting up travel bans for political leaders and high officials of the US/EU Administrations – plus a myriad of economic sanctions; i.e., interrupting the eastern supply chain for western consumer goods, but foremost, for eastern (mostly Chinese) produced pharmaceuticals on which the west heavily depends?

Have eastern countries ever sanctioned the west? Never, as far as my history books say, and they were all edited and printed in the west. It’s not part of the eastern cultural and ethical standards punishing other countries – even their western self-proclaimed enemies – to punish them for their autonomous and sovereign independent behavior. China, Russia, Syria, Iran, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea – to name just a few – might not like what is done to them by the west, but “sanctioning” an autonomous sovereign nation, for example, by cutting off their energy supply is not in the cards for the east.

Is it surprising that the east is increasingly going its own way – a way offering incorporation for those who want a peaceful social and economic development, but no longer a way of dependence and obedience to Washington and western puppets?  Sorry to call the European “puppets” of the Washington empire. They may be the “parents” – the parent empire – of today’s US-empire, but that they follow in their offspring’s criminal footstep is not a feast of honor, or of inspiring respect.

Back to Belarus. Lukashenko has done what he had to do to protect the integrity of his country and government – and viewing ahead with a looking glass – to protect their ally Russia from another NATO step closer to Moscow. And so did President Putin, when he had his arch-enemy and traitor, Alexei Navalny, arrested; Navalny, who claimed the nonsensical, having been poisoned by Russia – when the very Russian authorities let him go to the west, Berlin as it were, to receive medical treatment against his “poison”. A huge western anti-Russia propaganda ensued.

Did Russia sanction Germany, the EU or the US for these abject lies?

There seems to be no limit – on any subject, on any issue – to western lies and manipulation of the truth. At least until now. This may change as more people are waking up, seeing ever clearer through the thinning sham of veil. It also seems that the west doesn’t realize that their very empire is committing suicide by this eternal regime of “sanctioning” whomever doesn’t dance according to their flute. Former or potential allies are driven away into the more peaceful camp of eastern respect for the sovereignty of their allies.

The post The West’s Audacity of Sanctioning: The Latest Case is Belarus first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Long Crusades of Western Imperialism

In late April 2021, US President Joe Biden announced  a withdrawal from Afghanistan. In other words, the US has been trounced in Afghanistan by its very own jihadist Frankenstein, the Taliban. The defeat of USA is covered with the ugly debris of history. The dirty war on Afghanistan was part of a disastrous process of occupying and controlling large swathes of the world. On September 16, 2001, President George W. Bush vowed to “rid the world of evil-doers,” then cautioned: “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.” The word “crusade” comes from the Latin for the cross, crux, and implies the warlike march of Christianity against the infidel, recalling one of the most shameful blots on the medieval maps of Western imperialism. The new Crusade by the American empire was waged in defense of a different professed faith, not Christianity but rather liberal democracy. But this belief also concealed less noble designs.

Like the original Crusaders, the US and its European partners have been concerned with geopolitical advantage in a strategically important area of the world. For the Crusaders, Jerusalem was an important site of pilgrimage but also a vital trade route. Today’s Crusaders have been more concerned about energy sources, whether the oil of Iraq or the natural gas pipelines that pass through Central Asia. To realize these more mundane goals, the West has made certain tactical alliances with actors in the Muslim world – the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, Sunni fighters in Iraq, and the illiberal governments of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Yemen. Hard-headed strategies aimed at gaining imperialist dominance translated into the infliction of calculated barbarity upon the people of Muslim majority countries. Slowly and steadily, the Crusade against terrorism spawned the monstrous machine of Islamophobia as the warmongers of the West deployed racist narratives and tropes against Muslims. This ideological idiom of anti-Muslim hatred is historically rooted in the Crusades of the late 11th and 14th centuries.

Emergence of Islam

Islam emerged in the 7th century in the Hijaz region of Arabia, which includes the cities of Mecca and Medina. The area was a major hub for trade activity, and the Arabs who lived there were in constant contact with their Christian Byzantine and Persian Sassanid neighbors. These economic and cultural linkages formed the context in which Muhammad, a trader by profession, began to devote time to spiritual matters. Muhammad worked for his wife, whose caravans traded with Syria. It is believed that in the year 610, while Muhammad was in the hills near Mecca, the angel Gabriel appeared to him to deliver a message from God. Over the course of the next two decades (610-32 CE), Muhammad had several such revelations, and on that basis he propagated a new religion called Islam. In the beginning there were very few converts to Islam. The people of Mecca greeted Muhammad with hostility. This was partly due to the welfarist message he preached – God expects people to share their wealth with those needier than them.

In 622, Muhammad and his followers left Mecca to travel to Medina, a journey referred to as the Hijra. Here, Muhammad became a spiritual and a political leader, creating a strong and growing community of believers; by the time of his death in 632, Islam had spread beyond the Hijaz and into other parts of Arabia. Within twenty years of Muhammad’s death in 632, his followers had laid the foundations of the first Islamic empire in the Fertile Crescent. Arab armies not only defeated the Sassanid dynasty (which had ruled Persia and the neighboring regions for centuries) but also took over parts of the Byzantine Empire’s territories. These victories were no doubt possible only because the Persian and Byzantine Empires had been engaged for almost a 100 years in a war that had enfeebled both sides, alienated their populations and opened a possibility of new conquests. Syria and Egypt were part of the Byzantine Empire; Iraq was ruled by Sassanid Persia. All three now fell to the force and ardor of a unified tribal force.

Impressed by these successes, entire tribes adopted the new religion. Mosques began to appear in the desolate deserts, and the army was augmented. Islam’s swift triumphs were seen as a sign that Allah was both omnipotent and on the side of the Believers. The expansion of Islam continued under the Umayyad dynasty (661–750 CE) into North Africa, and then into Europe in the early eighth century. Their conquests began in Spain, continued through the entire Iberian Peninsula (Portugal, and parts of southern France), and reached into Italy. Numerical strength and military strategy only partly accounted for these victories. The ability of the Muslim generals to maneuver their camel cavalry and combine it with an effective guerrilla-style infantry confused an enemy used to small-scale nomadic raids. However, much more important was the active sympathy which a significant minority of the local people demonstrated for the Muslims. A majority remained passive, waiting to see which side would triumph, but they were no longer prepared to fight for or help the old empires.

As the rest of Europe endured a period of cultural stagnation known as the Dark Ages, al-Andalus – as the Iberian Peninsula came to be known under Muslim rule – saw the growth and development of human knowledge. The works of various great societies, from the Greeks to the Persians, were translated into Arabic in the many libraries created by Muslim rulers (not only in al-Andalus but also in Baghdad under the Abbasid dynasty). One great site of learning was Córdoba in Spain. Here, as elsewhere, tremendous advances were made in the fields of philosophy, medicine, astronomy, architecture, and even urban development. While Europe was socially paralyzed, the citizens of Córdoba enjoyed streetlights and running water. Europe finally began the process of moving out of the Dark Ages in the early 12th century, and intellectuals visited the diverse libraries of the Muslim empires to regain lost knowledge. This period saw the retranslation of various works from Arabic back into European languages. Through this process, European intellectuals came to absorb the profound contributions made by Eastern thinkers.

Translated Arabic writings on medicine, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences were for centuries used as textbooks in medieval Europe, while the writings of Muslim philosophers like Ibn Sina (980-1037, known in the West as Avicenna) and Ibn Rushd (1126-98, known as Averroes), and Jewish philosophers who wrote mainly in Arabic like Maimonides (Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204), were eagerly read and discussed and influenced several generations of medieval Christian philosophers and theologians. The period of European intellectual growth in the 11th century was accompanied by growth in commerce and trade. Markets and towns began to spring up. At this point, Muslims were one of the major obstacles to European expansion; the pagan raiders (such as the Normans and Magyars) that had relentlessly invaded Christian Europe in the 9th and 10th centuries had been converted and assimilated. The only enemy that remained was the Muslims.

Christian Offensives

Islam became a convenient “other” to mobilize support for the territorial ambitions of different rulers. In Spain, Christian rulers in the north began a war to retake the Iberian Peninsula from the “Muslim enemy” in what came to be known as the Reconquista (reconquest). In the East, the Christian Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Rome) suffered a series of defeats at the hands of the Muslim Seljuq Turks. The emperor wrote to Pope Urban II to seek Europe’s help against the Turks. His call was heeded. On November 27, 1095, Urban launched a holy war (known as the Crusades) and called upon all Christians in Europe to unite and fight against the “enemies of God.” This charge wasn’t simply about religion. For the Pope, the call to the defense of the faith and Jerusalem provided an ideal opportunity to cement the papal authority’s role in legitimating temporal rulers, and to reunite the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) churches. Religion became the screen behind which social and economic conflicts were played out.

European rulers took up the clarion call of the Holy War for multiple reasons. Christian rulers, knights, and merchants were driven by the political, military, and economic advantages that would result from the establishment of a kingdom in the Middle East. Moreover, Europe consisted of a number of rival feudal regimes that constantly fought each other. The Crusades served as a means to reduce this intra-European conflict and to deflect attention onto an external enemy. Using religion to solidify identity and loyalty, the papacy sought to create a united Christian Europe over which it could hold spiritual authority. Those who responded to Urban’s declaration and joined the Crusader armies, however, were motivated by everything – from religious zeal to the rewards of plunder. A great feudal army entered Syria in 1097, captured Antioch in 1098, and then entered Jerusalem. In 1099, after a 40-day siege, the Crusaders took Jerusalem. The scale of the massacre traumatized the entire region.

The killing lasted two whole days at the end of which most of the Muslim population – men, women and children – had been killed. The Jews had fought side by side with the Muslims to defend the city but the entry of the Crusaders created a sense of panic. In remembrance of past ritual, the elders instructed the entire Jewish population to gather in the synagogue and in its surrounds to offer a collective prayer. The Crusaders surrounded the perimeter of the synagogue, set fire to the building and made sure that every single Jew was burnt to death. To maintain their dominance, the Crusaders needed to consolidate their military capabilities. This was accomplished through intensified accumulation. The result was: a) extreme exploitation of the Arab peasantry; and b) routine plundering of trade-caravans. Crusaders’ successes were primarily a result of internecine warfare within the Arab world. Sectarian schisms, notably a 30-year war between the Sunni and Shia factions, had weakened the Islamic camp.

Key rulers, politicians and military leaders on both sides had died in the years immediately preceding the First Crusade. “This year,” the historian Ibn Taghribirdi wrote in 1094, “is called the year of the death of caliphs and commanders.” The deaths sparked off wars of succession in both Sunni and Shia sects, further debilitating the Arab world. These sectarian divisions were exacerbated by the political disunity of the Islamic world. At first, the vast area the Arabs had conquered remained a single geopolitical entity under the Umayyad caliphs of Damascus. But the geography of the new Arab world contained several natural economic units in which separate ruling classes with interests of their own quickly developed. Distance limited the effectiveness of Umayyad rule. Nor was this the only problem. The Umayyads represented the Arab warrior aristocracy who had carried out the initial Islamic conquests and had settled in the ancient cities of Syria.

Their rule was increasingly resented by other sections of the population. The result was a revolution led by Abbasids – the cosmopolitan Persian faction within Islam. Rebels from Iran led by a descendant of the Prophet raised an army, overthrew the Umayyad caliphate, established a new dynasty, and laid down a wider and more secure base for continued Arab rule. However, the victory of the Abbasids disrupted the political cohesion of the Islamic world. During the 9th and 10th centuries, three centers of power emerged: the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad, the Fatimid caliph in Cairo (belonging to the Shia tradition, which claimed descent from the fourth caliph, Ali, and his wife Fatima, the daughter of the Prophet) and the Umayyad caliph in Cordoba, established by the last remaining prince of the Umayyads, Abdel Rahman, who managed to escape to al-Andalus. Conflicts between and within these entities overstrained state power, drained national treasuries, and further weakened the rulers. During the 11th century the Abbasid caliphate effectively collapsed. The caliph’s Seljuk Turkish mercenaries seized power for themselves.

Islamic Resistance: Resurgence and Decline

As the Crusaders incurred the anger of large swathes of Muslim population, the Islamic states began regrouping. Northern Syria and Northern Iraq were united in 1128. Edessa was recaptured and added to the growing Islamic state in 1144. The Second Crusade of 1146-1148, organized in response to the Islamic resurgence, was an utter failure. Damascus and Southern Syria were added to the new state, and the Crusader Principality of Antioch shrank to a small coastal enclave. In 1183, Egypt was merged with the new Syrian super-state. The fusion of Egypt and Syria under the leadership of Saladin, a Kurdish warrior, greatly invigorated Muslim resistance. Saladin answered the Crusade with a call for popular jihad. On July 4, 1187, at the Battle of Hattin, Saladin, at the head of 30,000 men, destroyed the entire army of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. The recapture of the holy city followed soon after. There was nothing to compare with the wholesale massacres at Antioch and Jerusalem during the First Crusade.

Of the prisoners taken at Hattin, only one was executed (by Saladin himself), along with the Templar and Hospitaller knights, barbaric warriors who had waged a war of bigotry and genocide. Despite further expeditions, the Crusaders never recovered. Though it took a century to complete the process, their castles were reduced one by one, their territory gradually stripped away. Saladin’s victories had temporarily halted the Crusades, but the internal structures of the caliphate were permanently damaged, and new invaders were on the way. A Mongol army from Central Asia led by Hulagu Khan laid siege to Baghdad in 1258, calling on the caliph to surrender and promising that if he did so, the city would be spared. The caliph refused. The Mongol armies carried out their threat, laid waste to the city and executed the last Abbasid caliph. An entire culture perished as libraries were put to the torch.

The inglorious exist of the caliphate segued into the destruction of the Iberian Peninsula. The Christian kingdoms in the north of Spain had already been engaged in a tug-of-war with the southern Moorish states; the religious frenzy of the First Crusade turned this belligerent peace into a full-blown Crusade. In 1085, the city of Toledo in central Spain was taken by the Catholic kings, and by 1250 the Moorish empire was reduced to the emirate of Granada on the coastal strip in the south of Spain. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, took control of Granada, thus completing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims and Jews from the Iberian Peninsula. It is important to note that during the period of Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula, Christians and Jews were tolerated as “people of the book” and were allowed to practice their religion if they paid a fee.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, as Europe began to come out of the Middle Ages and into the modern era, its relationship with Islam changed. There was a slow abatement in the discursive construction of Islam as an acute threat to the existence of the West. This shift was the result of a number of processes. First, the incomplete project of a united Christian Europe started to break down around this time due to the rise of nationalism. The emergence of proto-nationalist currents internally fragmented Europe and prevented any attempts aimed at forging a common front against Islam. Second, the renaissance of European culture further weakened the authority of the Church. The key source of anti-Muslim religious hatred, the Church, was no longer able to drum up holy wars; the Crusades came to an end. Third, the Mongols had now entered the picture and posed a threat to Europe. This recognition of lands beyond Europe, and of threats beyond the Muslims, put an end to the Manichean division of the world into Christianity and Islam.

The Crusader mentality continued in the 21st century as US Presidents used interventionist tactics in pursuit of the American empire’s economic interests. While Bush considered himself a noble Crusader, Osama bin Laden compared himself to Saladin. As Karl Marx noted, “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice…the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.” The dualistic schema of Crusader-Saladin – and the Islamophobia it promotes – will not end soon. America’s morbid fixation with a perpetual 11th-century battle of “us” against “them” is a hideous way of motivating soldiers, ennobling the otherwise bloodthirsty and fattening the pockets of the rich. To put it in other words, the binarizing discourses of the contemporary world are materially engraved in imperial structures; we are witnessing a clash of civilizations not on the ground but only in the violent jihadist visions of warriors in the East and neo-colonial West. As long as the US believes that it has the absolute right to destroy and imperialistically intervene in the affairs of any country, this cycle of hatred and prejudice will go on in an excruciating and endless manner.

The post The Long Crusades of Western Imperialism first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Capitalist Pandemic, The Assault on Consciousness, and America’s Status as Chosen People of the Planet

The new CEO fronting for America Inc. completed his first meeting among our Euro lapdogs – officially known as NATO – and had a more important meeting with Putin in which, according to media servants of market forces, he let him know who’s boss of the universe. Politely, of course, because even this glorified clerk understands the danger of provoking a world war which would spare few of us, if any. An unedited interview of the Russian president, available online if American authorities of freedom and democracy haven’t already removed it, clearly reveals the infantile ignorance of a network assailant posing as objective reporter and the often amused reactions of the Russian statesman and leader of a nation once hanging on the ropes under the abuse of global capital now a world power again and much of that due to his leadership. It, like so many other examples, glaringly highlights the descent of the American empire with little global power remaining but its ability to blow up earth and commit mass murder more effectively than any other nation. But it is also susceptible to almost as much horror as it might inflict on powerless nations by powerful nations now able to retaliate in kind, which we can all be thankful for since it’s the only thing stopping us from attempted greater slaughters than we already conduct which we sell as advancing the cause of peace and democracy.

While the corona virus has created a menace seemingly beyond what was already becoming obvious about the end of private profit domination of earth, it also unleashed the greatest outpouring of high, low and no IQ speculation, charges, countercharges and more surpassing past reactions at times of great crisis with moments of extreme fantasy bordering on dementia being experienced and practiced both by people of supposed expertise and higher education in the sciences to folks who may still dance under a full moon with their bodies covered in slime as a way to avoid cancer. Sadly, so far the slime-covered dancers are making about as much sense as the allegedly more critical gang.

The horrendous death toll inflicted by the virus is thought by many to be the work of a Chinese plot to exterminate everyone on earth but the Chinese and blame it on America, an American plot to exterminate everyone on earth but Americans and blame it on China, and assorted tales of twitness and omni-anti-social media to make those two sound relatively thoughtful. The fact that capitalism has transformed nature and made it far more easy to spread a lethal virus than to feed, clothe and shelter billions of people has escaped many, even some critics of capital who seem shocked that big pharma profits from illness. Hello? As does every and all other business entities and aspects of free market private profit pursuit which has less to do with evil individuals and far more to do with a corrupt debased system controlled by minorities at ever great cost to the majority. Dog food, bombs, broccoli, burgers, health food, high fashion, health care, garbage, death and every other aspect of life are all subject to market forces creating private profit at the mall, school, factory, lab, convenience store and all other venues where goods are exchanged by one and all except for those without enough market force, and they can just drop dead.

And this is only a small part of the dis-mis-cis mind attacks on the population to assure mass confusion that doesn’t notice billions the world over, and hundreds of thousands in America, unable to afford food, clothing, and shelter while a relatively tiny number increase their wealth to become the equal of gods while their subjects cringe at threats to what is called “our” democracy originating from people with little to no political economic power save to vote for candidates mostly bought, rented and leased by the richest of the rich who look down on them lined up at the polls, malls and battlefields from their wealth created mountain-top fortresses and smile at the blessings of capitalist democracy.

What’s a failing empire to do but continue failing, as in rushing to increase aid to Israel when a global majority has reacted in critical anger over its most recent abuse of the indigenous people whose land was taken on behalf of Europeans and the Palestinians were made to pay and are still paying for European atrocities? While the new American CEO leads a struggle to return to a form of social democracy that spreads a few more loans among the barely surviving and more taco-pizza-burgers to the fast food hungry while assuring that the system responsible for creating hunger is maintained and billions of American tax dollars continue to be rewarded to a colonial apartheid nation? And this while decent Americans in great numbers are enraged by the conditions of life of America’s indigenous people robbed of their land, culture and heritage long before Israel or the Middle East occupied any of the consciousness of Americans.

Confusing?

Like the humanitarian decency at the root of all Americans when reaching out to immigrant populations having the usual difficulties of discrimination inflicted first by their cheap labor exploiters and later by the native people whose jobs they take and at whose expense they frequently survive. Not to mention the difficulty of having to step over the bodies of Americans reduced to sleeping in the street while on our way to rescue an animal to save it from, um, having to sleep in the street. Are we confused? Does a snake have wings? Is a bluebird blue?

Of course, all of these systemic curses of inhumanity and often near madness can be written off as Russian and Chinese assault on our sacred democracy, enshrined in the constitution-bible, written by slave owners and others of the 1% who believed the common people should leave the important business of ruling to those with the most money, purchased knowledge and sanctification by those biblical gifts handed down – or up? – by an invisible force called god, or later, high finance.

The financialization of capitalism has cursed the world with worse contradictions than existed in the time of the system’s birth when Marx pointed out most of them. Now, money makes money without the production of anything but more money which may soon lead to much of humanity with indoor toilets eating bitcoins and excreting buttcoins while trying to live with junk filled oceans, overflowing sewers and forests turned to deserts while praying that nobody pushes the nuclear button. On the hopeful side, workers here and all over the world are acting up, unionizing and fighting for democracy in political economic dictatorships worshipped as democracies by Wall Street and its wholly owned subsidiary: the American government.

Time is growing short for Americans to get beyond symbolic challenges to capitalism that merely offer more profits by “branding” various movements with marketplace stature assuring that Gay Inc., Feminist Inc., Black Lives Matter Inc., and Latino-a-x Inc.  do not, perish the thought, turn into American Democracy Inc. That is still to come and as always, we’d better hurry to join up with much of the world our media mind managers don’t tell us about but which is setting an example for everyone by opting for a system that puts the public good before private profit. So far, as expected, the American regime of warfare, petcare and egomaniacal behavior personified by Trump – which is why they had to get rid of him for exemplifying what the nation really is – has succeeded in keeping division, individual mental illness and group therapy uppermost in consciousness while social reality sinks more deeply into a massive sea of moral sewage.

The “memes” of an all too often me-me-me-me culture need to and will soon become a plural “we “encompassing all of us and leaving no one out. Capitalism cannot be saved but humanity must be, from the social pandemic of private profit first, humanity later, if ever. The viral brain surgery performed on our collective consciousness by our rulers is an aspect of capitalism and could not exist without market forces under minority and anti-democratic control. The sooner “we” understand that, the sooner “we” end pandemics and thought control on our way to real democracy in a collective human environment favoring the best for all and leaving no one out.

You gotta problem with that?

The post The Capitalist Pandemic, The Assault on Consciousness, and America’s Status as Chosen People of the Planet first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Ruling Class Fears of The Day of Reckoning: Historical Causes for the Biases Against Crowds

Image from Imgur @i.imgur.com

Orientation

As I was looking at images to place at the beginning of this article, I was struck by how many images and quotes there were of Le Bon. It is pretty amazing for someone whose first work was published in 1895 and whose last works are still around 100 years old. It is especially strange given how unscientific his methods were and how recent empirical studies of crowds like David Miller’s Introduction to Collective Behavior and Collective Action contradicts virtually everything Le Bon claimed. Why is Le Bon’s work still circulating despite lack of scientific rigor? Why have the last fifty years of research on crowds that have a solid scientific basis been ignored?

Purpose of this article

The purpose of this article is to:

  • Expose the propagandist roots and branches of our biases against crowds while showing some of the scientific evidence that supports the actual behavior of crowds.
  • To outline what historical events occurred that supported the prejudice against crowds.
  • Propose that it is ruling-class fears of crowds that fuels the perpetuation of unscientific theories about crowds.
  • Propose that ruling class fears that working-class people mobilized into crowds will seize their resources, destroy their property and enslave them.

Crowds vs Masses

Crowds are large collections of people who meet at the same place at the same time and are large enough that it is difficult to have a central conversation. A loudspeaker, microphone or some external device is necessary to have a single central discussion.  There are different kinds of crowds. There are casual crowds like those that meet by chance at the scene of an accident or a fire. They may congregate to watch a building go up or be torn down. A second kind of crowd are long lines that form to buy tickets to ball games or musical concerts.

An audience is a more formal crowd with a more deliberate focus. Examples are attending a musical concert or a sporting event. Lasty, there are unconventional crowds which can lead to riots, lynchings, protests and demonstrations. Mass behavior involves large numbers of people who are spatially dispersed but participate in common activities like fads or fashions.  Mass behavior involves the use of radio (Orson Wells, War of the Worlds) television, movies which often lead to rumors or urban legends.

Questionnaire on Crowds

In order to understand the purposes of this article, I ask that you spend about 25 to 30 minutes answering the following true-false questions. For the answer to be true, it simply means most of the time, not all the time.  For the answer to be false, it just means it rarely happens, not never happens. Follow your answer with a one sentence justification. Feel free to draw from your experience as well as what you’ve read. It is important to answer quickly and spontaneously and not dwell on the answers. One purpose of the questionnaire is to see if you think there are any significant differences between how people in crowds behave (collective behavior) as opposed to how small groups or individuals behave.

Here are the True – False questions:

  • Most crowds consist of strangers, rather than family, friends or acquaintances.
  • The percentage of violent behavior is higher in crowds than in small groups such as a musical band or a baseball team.
  • The behavior of crowds is more likely to be unanimous than the behavior of small groups.
  • Crowds of people are more likely to engage in unusual or extraordinary behaviors than either groups or individuals.
  • The behavior of individuals and small groups is more likely to be rational than the behavior of a crowd, which is more likely to be irrational.
  • There are certain kinds of personalities that are drawn to crowds that you could predict would join a crowd if you knew enough about their personalities.
  • There is a disproportionately higher number of working-class people in crowds compared to other social classes.
  • Compared to people without legal convictions, there is a higher percentage of criminals in crowds.
  • Individuals and small groups that are more likely to deliberate and plan their actions are less likely to be spontaneous.
  • You could predict that most individuals are more likely to lose their personal identity in a crowd rather than alone or in small groups.
  • Emotions are more likely to spread by contagions in a crowd rather than in a small group.
  • Groups are easier to disperse than crowds because people in crowds want to linger longer.
  • There has been more research done on crowds than on groups because the behavior in crowds has greater social impact.
  • People conform less to norms in crowds than they do in groups or as individuals.
  • Most violence in crowds is caused by the participants in the crowd rather than the police.
  • There is a higher degree of unpredictability of behavior in crowds than there is in small groups or within an individual.
  • The goals of a crowd are more extreme and unconventional than the goals of groups or individuals.
  • Riots are equally likely to happen regardless of the season of the year.
  • The most typical reaction to a natural disaster or emotional shock is panic – that is, uncontrolled individualistic flight as opposed to a rational, deliberate response.
  • There is a correlation between which people will engage in a protest and their political beliefs before the protests.
  • The most likely group to join a movement is the group who has absolute deprivation of resources as opposed to relative deprivation or no deprivation.

 The last three questions are about mass behavior, not crowd behavior:

  • Fads are less predictable than fashions.
  • Rumors begin mostly because people lose their ability to investigate before coming to a conclusion.
  • Fashions exist in all societies, tribal as well as industrial.

Myths vs Facts About Crowds

In their book, Social Psychology, Delamater Myers and Collett, citing the research of Carl Couch, Clark McPhail, David Schweingruber and Ronald Wohlstein argued that there are seven basic myths about crowds. They are:

  • Irrationality
  • Emotionality
  • Suggestibility – mindless behavior
  • Destructiveness
  • Spontaneity
  • Anonymity
  • Unanimity of purpose

Through these seven myths we are likely to see why all the answers in relation to crowds to the True-False questions are false. The only true answers are the first two questions about masses. Rather than explaining why every single question on crowds is false, I will speak generally and then answer a few questions specifically.

Are crowds wholes that are less than the sum of their parts?

One of the great underlying beliefs about crowds is that terrible things happen in a crowd that somehow would not happen in a small group and especially at an individual level.  Individuals are seen as rational, non-violent and prudent, but once the individual is surrounded by enough other individuals, things turn sour. The belief is that while individuals and groups may have differences with each other, those differences melt away in a crowd as individual members turn into a group hive. In fact, differences between individuals and small groups are maintained in crowds. To cite one example, in riots, crowds rarely act in unison. Some throw rocks and break windows. Others climb telephone poles and smash statues. Others disapprove and try to talk the others out of armed conflict. Still others are altruistic and help protesters who have been injured by cops.

Who is orderly and disorderly in crowds?

Speaking of cops, research on mass psychology has shown that most of the time, contrary to Le Bon, riots are started by the police, not the crowd. Furthermore, crowds assemble and disassemble at ballgames and concerts without any police necessary. Once gathered crowds do not stick together like honey. They easily disperse and really do not need the police to do so. I have been to many a Yankee and Knicks game in which the crowd, anywhere from 15 thousand to 30 thousand people leave the game, peacefully get on the train and talk about the ballgame. There is no need for police because nothing controversial happens. For conservatives like Le Bon, they cannot imagine that crowds regulate themselves. For them crowds are filled with animalistic, hedonistic barbarians who need the police to whip them into order.

Are working-class people more likely to be disorderly?

There is some truth to the fact that a higher percentage of working-class people will be in crowds. This has more to do with the reality that middle-class or upper-middle class people can afford to take a taxi to a ball game or a concert instead of taking the train. But this has little to do with the behavior of working-class crowds. Furthermore, plenty of protests are filled with upper-middle class anarchists who torch police cars and topple monuments. There is no clear relationship between social class and crowd violence.

How unpredictable are crowds?

Another one of Le Bon’s mistaken generalizations about crowds is that people in crowds act without rhyme or reason. This demonstrates, as an upper middle-class doctor, Le Bon has no understanding of all the deliberation and planning that goes into protests on the part of the organizers. This planning goes on weeks before the event. It is true that unpredictable things happen in protects, but they are exceptions to the rule. Furthermore, individuals act in unpredictable ways, as in the case of mass shootings. Individuals get caught up in cults and act in unpredictable and astonishing ways. Cults are large groups, not crowds.

Are emotions in crowds contagious?

People are every bit as emotional in small groups as they are in crowds. There is nothing contagious about emotions in crowds. People maintain emotional judgement while in the crowd. In fact, the leaders of protests harangue people to sing and chant as a way to unify the group. Just being in a crowd does not automatically unify the individuals. It takes work to do so. When faced with members of a crowd who become hysterical, rather than mindlessly joining in, other members of the crowd will distance themselves and exercise the same prudence that individuals or people in small groups will.

Is the crowd to social life what Freud’s id is to individual life?

Le Bon, Freud, Bion and the rest of the crowd psychologists we will soon meet think that at the social level the crowd is like the id, lurking on the margins of society waiting for a chance to jump out and wreak havoc. This is exemplified in the movie Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. In natural disasters these crowd psychologists imagine that the socialized ego is swarmed by the individualistic dictum, “every person for himself”. They imagine the results are pillaging and raping. The trouble is that research on behavior in natural disasters shows that people are consistently heroic and cooperative.

One hundred years of neglect of scientific research on crowds

Lastly, unlike individual psychology and group psychology the scientific study of crowds and masses lags way behind. It wasn’t until the late 1960s that the first research was done. Why is this? On the one hand, studying crowds is far more difficult because crowds are so large and their life-times short. But something else was going on. Why were Le Bon’s, Tarde’s and Sighele’s, speculations allowed to stand unchallenged and repeated mindlessly in social psychology textbooks for almost 100 years? In large part it was because their theories served the interests of the ruling class.

Historical Reasons for the Biases Against Crowds

Growth of cities

One of major changes in European history and geography was the gradual reversal of numbers of people living in cities compared to those of people living on farms.  People move to cities in part because there is more work, but also, as the saying goes, “city air makes you free”.  Some people felt trapped by the nosiness and stifling customs of rural life. Non-conformists to religious traditions, artists and hustlers with big dreams were drawn to cities for a chance to start fresh. Living on a farm, the general expectations was that you would engage in the same occupation as your parents. Moving to the city broke that tradition and it raised expectations. Especially those living in coastal cities who were exposed not only to people coming from different cities within Yankeedom, but people from other countries were also looking for work. Different languages, different religions, and different political traditions converged.

There are rarely, if ever, crowds in rural areas. While farmers may get together on holidays, everyone knows everyone else and rarely are strangers invited.  Even when farmers would go to town to get supplies, the overwhelming number of people knew each other and greeted each other. There were no stadiums or concert halls in which large numbers of people could congregate to watch professional sports or music. Long before the Industrial Revolution, crowds in cities would gather to hear political speeches. So, what we have in pre-industrial cities are relatively rootless people with raised expectations, surrounded by strangers from different cultures for whom being in a crowd is becoming normal.

The Great French revolutions

As most of you know, the French Revolution of 1789 overthrew both the king and the aristocrats as the merchants rose to power on the backs of artisans and peasants. The revolution was also anti-clerical. Churches and chateaux were burned to the ground. The aristocrats never forgot this. As if your memory needed any jogging, there were more revolutions in Paris in 1830 and 1848. In all these revolutions, crowds are violent and know where the upper classes live. Doesn’t it start to make sense that the study of crowds would never be objective so long as the upper classes were threatened by them and therefore controlled the research on crowds? In this case they made sure no research was done.

Industrialization

At the end of the 18th century and throughout the 19th century, cities became industrialized.  People were forced off the middle of streets to make way for wheeled vehicles accompanied by horses and later, trolley cars. Grid systems of streets were built which sped up transportation and the circulation of goods. Industrial capitalists built factories in cities as opposed to artisan shops in the countryside (the putting out system). The emergence of factories had enormous revolutionary potential because it brought large numbers of people working under horrible conditions together. For 12-15 hours a day, at least six days a week, people have a common experience while all in the same place and the same time.

Formation of unions

It is no accident that unions first formed in factories. When common experience is concentrated at the same place and same time, people are likely to compare experiences and accumulate grievances. Some workers begin to recognize that they have collective power if they can organize themselves. They can strike for better working conditions and better wages. Unions made crowds more dangerous because crowds can, in an extremely chilling way, stop and start the work process itself. This is like cutting off the blood supply for vampiric capitalists.

Emergence of socialism

The first socialists were theoretical. William Godwin was the first theoretical anarchist, writing Enquiry Concerning Political Justice. In the early 19th century, there were utopian communities set up by Robert Owen, Charles Fourier and others but none of these communities were connected to unions or workers movements. It wasn’t until the writings of Marx and Engels that socialism was really connected to worker’s struggles. The socialism of Marx and Engels or the anarchism of Bakunin both said to workers, “it is not enough to have tiny little pieces of pie. You create all the wealth; you deserve the whole pie.”

In order to gain the whole pie, workers in crowds had to move in a mass, take over factories and run them for themselves, while confiscating the private property of the upper classes. For the upper classes, socialism and the prospects of crowds burning down their houses, and peasants taking over their land was their worst nightmare. The Paris Commune of 1871 was the first revolutionary situation that was inspired by socialism as a movement.

Stock Market instabilities

Crowd instabilities also came from the capitalist side, between 1873 to 1896 when the stock market was very unstable creating panics and depressions. This meant stock market traders were wheeling and dealing on the floor of the stock market at the same time that people who had money in banks were worried about their savings and, in some cases, making runs on the bank.

Crowd Psychologists

Origins of Crowd Theory

Crowd theorists were social Darwinists whose ideas of a liberal society were of individuals who took care of only themselves. Beginning about 1870, crowd psychologists claimed that Darwinian evolution demonstrated that progress was a slow process, and any sudden changes based on violence were throwbacks to premodern times. Crowds were looked upon as akin to Herbert Spencer’s undifferentiated matter.

According to H. Stuart Hughes, (Consciousness and Society), beginning in the 1890s intellectuals became obsessed with the prospect that unconscious, primitive, and emotional forces were driving things. Crowd psychologists were united in rejecting sociological theorists such as Durkheim and Marx because they ignored emotions and unconscious motivation. What was really driving crowds, they thought, was below the level of consciousness. For crowd psychologists, individuals were both more than and less than the sum of their parts. The four major crowd theorists were Hippolyte Taine, Scipio Sighele, Gabriel Tarde, and Gustave Le Bon.

Crowd Theorists

Taine

Taine’s Origins of Contemporary France (written between 1876 and 1894) was a conservative attack on the Enlightenment. Taine blamed the Enlightenment ideas, including Rousseau’s, for what he considered the bloodbath of the French Revolution. Taine believed that the line between normal cognition and hallucinations, dreams and delusions, was closer than we might suspect. He cited evidence from research on organic lesions of the brain, hypnotism, and split personalities. He determined that the dramatic transformation of humans into savages is caused by what he called “the laws of mental contagion.” With the exception of the hypnosis model, Taine’s book embodies all the rudiments of French crowd psychology. For Taine, all leaders were the crazed dregs of society.

According to Taine, the Enlightenment failed to factor in the amount of time it took for humans to develop from barbarity to civility. Enlighteners weren’t interested in how people really were, but only as they could be measured by an abstract, ideal humanity. Taine thought the French Revolution was a relapse into primitive barbarism. Like Hume, Taine thought that reason was the passive servant of the passions. Bodily needs, animal instinct, prejudices which Taine thought were hereditary, were really driving people.

Criminalization of crowds (Sighele) 

Theories of hypnosis were split in two directions. Followers of Charcot claimed that being suggestible was a sign of psychopathology and only certain types of people could be hypnotized. The Nancy school of Bergheim argued that anyone could be hypnotized. The criminal school of Sighele sided with Charcot, arguing that crowds were composed of criminal individuals who were naturally suggestible. He followed the work of Lombroso who was a medical scholar of deviants in the military. Lombroso measured the skulls and anatomical characteristics of 3,000 soldiers.

According to Serge Moscovici (The Age of the Crowd), mass psychology was treated simply as part of criminal anthropology. Crowds were seen as mobs, scum, and made up of men who were out of control and would destroy anything in their path. Sighele claimed that hypnotism can explain the process by which individual minds become susceptible to outside forces, leading to actions that are carried out automatically, unconsciously, and then spread to others by contagion. The conservative hand Sighele played was transparent in his labeling of social revolutionaries such as socialists, anarchists, or even striking workers as part of the criminal crowd. The hysteria of stock market traders was never seen as criminal.

Tarde

More than Taine or Sighele, Gabriel Tarde placed the crowd on a broader social spectrum. All social life, according to Tarde, is based on imitation, and the process of crowd formation and reproduction simply comes from the laws of imitation sped up. He described the crowd as the first stage of association—rudimentary, fleeting, and undifferentiated. From this foundation, more stable and ongoing groups form, including corporations, political parties, and religious bodies such as churches or monasteries. Unlike other crowd psychologists, Tarde thought that literacy, newspapers, and mass communication would replace the crowd with what he called “the public.”

Tarde also thought that the extremes of behavior demonstrated in crowds are unique to cities. Unlike his right-wing crowd theorists, Tarde thought the madness of crowds is a product of civilization. He argued that crowd madness was uncommon in rural areas and among pre-state societies. Both Tarde and Le Bon supported the Nancy school, which suggested that there were social-psychological processes that any individual could fall prey to, if exposed to them. They believed that the solitary individual was superior to the group in all ways.

Le Bon

Le Bon concocted a mix of anthropological, social Darwinist, and psychological theories, which were in the same family as Taine and the racist Joseph Gobineau. He thought that cranial size could be used as an accurate measure of intelligence and he believed that people in primitive societies had small skulls. Le Bon thought the European race was superior, and only Caucasian males could transcend the constraints of biology.

Like Sighele and Tarde, Le Bon thought that what happens to an individual when in a crowd was analogous to what happens in hypnosis. All crowd theorists up to Le Bon agreed that the crowd was no more than what was already inside the psychology of individuals. They also believed that whatever destructive behavior transpired in a crowd was due to the lower-class origins of its members. Le Bon was the first to say that all personalities, regardless of class and intelligence, are susceptible to the pull of the crowd.

According to Serge Moscovici, Le Bon directly challenged Locke’s theory of the mind. As was par for the course in the Enlightenment, Locke believed that as the mind of humanity was gradually ridding itself of religious terrors, there would be fewer and fewer secrets. Le Bon, in contrast, said that revolutions shake the mind from its perch, sending it tumbling and howling into the abyss of the primitive world, which is driven by heredity, instinct, custom, and race. For Locke, visions and dreams were overridden by simple and complex reasoning. For Le Bon, crowds could not follow reason but instead learned by association, just as individuals do in dreams.

Furthermore, crowd theorists claimed that people in crowds do not deliberate, but are mesmerized by leaders through the power of hypnotic suggestion. When Locke argued that the truth can be seen with open eyes, he neglected to note that crowds are driven by unconscious primitive animalism, which takes over and spreads by what Le Bon called “contagion.” This contagion does not lead to prudent, rational judgment but instead can lead to cruelty or heroism. These extreme reactions are amplified by the feeling of anonymity that grips individuals, allowing a sense of individual responsibility to evaporate.

Le Bon belonged to a liberal middle-class tradition that argued against both revolution and the weakness of liberal parliamentary systems. Despite his argument’s mediocre quality, rhetorically flattering the reader and lacking depth, Le Bon must have struck a nerve. According to Moscovici, no French thinker other than Georges Sorel and Alexander de Tocqueville has had an influence as great as Le Bon. Le Bon published The Crowd in 1890 and it was a best seller. Why was this? He mixed the disciplines of politics and psychology in an age of growing disciplinary specialization. Le Bon probably tapped into the fears that the middle and upper class and upper classes had about what would happen eventually if the new “democracy” was to expand.

Distorting the work of Alfred Espinas

It is worth noting that crowd psychologists distorted the work of Alfred Espinas on wasps and hornets to create an analogy between human crowds and insect societies. Espinas argued that societies were more than an aggregate of individuals and pointed out that alarm and danger were transmitted by visual contagion. Far from viewing this intensely social life of insects as a liability, he saw it as a strength in building bonds through cooperation.

Crowd psychologists seized on his discussion of the invisible communication of wasps and hornets when confronted with an enemy to draw an analogy to crowds. Just as insects communicate collectively when faced with danger, so crowd behavior becomes contagious among spectators in a theater or when aroused by a great orator. Unlike Espinas, they saw very little, if anything, constructive in this. Crowd psychologists thought the communicability of emotions beyond the individual was proof of the primitive mentality of the crowd.

Crowd Psychologist Distortions

Here are Susanna Barrows’ (Distorting Mirrors) damning conclusions about crowd-psychologist theories:

  • Taine, Sighele and Le Bon did not do any empirical research (Tarde was a possible exception).
  • Taine’s work contains grave errors in the scientific method. The idea of empirical investigation was wholly alien to him.
  • What evidence they collected was extremely selective to support their case (again, with the possible exception of Tarde).
  • Statistics indicate that women committed many fewer crimes than men, yet women were blamed for a disproportionate amount of the violence that occurred.
  • Le Bon indiscriminately lumped together socialists and anarchists with common criminals.
  • Crowd psychologists distorted the work of Espinas on wasps and hornets to make an analogy between human crowds and insect societies.

The Legacy of the 20th Century

The events of the 20th century hardly provided a break for poor conservatives hoping for a return to religion, God, kings and aristocrats. The Russian revolution, the stock market crash in 1929, Fascism in Germany and Italy and Spain, the Spanish revolution, the Chinese Revolution and the Cuban Revolution vanquished those hopes. This does not even count the Zoot Suit race riots in 1943, Watts in 1967 or the Rodney King riots in 1992.

Mass Media Propaganda Towards Crowds and Riots Carries Forward Obsolete Crowd Psychology

Check any newspaper or TV news program in Yankeedom and watch how the crowd and the rioters are treated when they describe a protest or a natural disaster. If it is a riot, does the paper ever show the variety of responses that go on during the riot? No, they focus only on the rioters and assume everyone in the crowd was complicit. When they describe the origin of the riot, do they consider the research which says the police are usually the perpetuators of the riot? Not on your life! The police are depicted as restoring order rather than as being the perpetuators of disorder. Lastly, in a natural disaster do the newscasters show the overwhelming instances of cooperation, compared to natural disaster participants helping themselves in supermarkets and sporting goods stores? No, they don’t. Rather the echo chamber of capitalist media blares out “looting, looting, looting” just like they declared “weapons of mass destruction” in the lead-up to the attack on Iraq twenty years ago.

Conclusion

I began this article with a questionnaire designed to expose your prejudices against crowds. I contrasted these biases against what research on mass psychology actually shows about crowd behavior. The heart of my article is to show why these biases continue in spite of scientific research to the contrary. I identified the growth of cities, the revolutions in France in the 19th century, the process of industrialization, the formation of unions, the rise of socialism and stock market instabilities in the 19th century. What do these events have to do with biases against crowds?

The answer can be found in the theories of mostly right-wing crowd theorists who wrote in the 2nd half of the 19th century. These theorists and their ruling class masters were terrified that crowds of working-class people would take their land, confiscate their resources and burn their chateaux to the ground. There was a great deal at stake for them. To call the people in crowds enraged, childish, criminal, beastly, stampeding, savage, irrational, impulsive, uncivilized, primitive, bloodthirsty, cruel and fickle is to dismiss, embarrass and mock anyone who participates. It is also a warning to future workers to stay away from crowds.

We socialists have been the victims of a 150-year propaganda campaign that was started by crowd psychologists in the 1860s and has been perpetuated by all sources of media throughout the 20th century. Amazingly, social psychologists who pride themselves on filling their textbooks with empirical evidence, have given this discredited crowd theory a pass. There is so much money for research on what sells products and little or no money is available to study what moves crowds and masses. It is vitally important for the ruling classes to forestall the great day of reckoning by scaring people away from joining crowds that will be one of many vehicles for overthrowing them.

• First published at Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

The post Ruling Class Fears of The Day of Reckoning: Historical Causes for the Biases Against Crowds first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment

Inside the Israeli parliament and out on the streets of Jerusalem, the forces of unapologetic Jewish supremacism are stirring, as a growing section of Israel’s youth tire of the two-faced Jewish nationalism that has held sway in Israel for decades.

Last week, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, a vital partner if caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands any hope of forming a new government, issued a barely veiled threat to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

Expulsion, he suggested, was looming for these 1.8 million Palestinians, a fifth of the Israeli population who enjoy very degraded citizenship. “Arabs are citizens of Israel – for now at least,” he told his party. “And they have representatives at the Knesset [Israeli parliament] – for now at least.” For good measure, he referred to Palestinian legislators – the elected representatives of Israel’s Palestinian minority – as “our enemies sitting in the Knesset”.

Smotrich’s brand of brazen Jewish racism is on the rise, after his faction won six mandates in the 120-member parliament in March. One of those seats is for Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the neo-fascist Jewish Power party.

Ben Gvir’s supporters are now in a bullish mood. Last month, they took to the streets around the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs” and making good on promises in WhatsApp chats to attack Palestinians and “break their faces”.

For days, these Jewish gangs of mostly youngsters have brought the lawless violence that has long reigned largely out of sight in the hills of the occupied West Bank into central Jerusalem. This time, their attacks haven’t been captured in shaky, out-of-focus YouTube videos. They have been shown on prime-time Israeli TV.

Equally significant, these Jewish mobs have carried out their rampages during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Arson attacks

The visibility and premeditation of this gang violence has discomfited many Israelis. But in the process, they have been given a close-up view of how appealing the violent, anti-Arab doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – the ideological inspiration behind Jewish Power – are proving with a significant section of young Jews in Israel.

One, sporting a “Kahane was right” badge, spoke for her peers as she was questioned on Israeli TV about the noisy chants of “May your village burn down” – a reference to so-called “price-tag” arson attacks committed by the Israeli far-right against Palestinian communities in the occupied territories and inside Israel.

Olive groves, mosques, cars and homes are regularly torched by these Jewish extremists, who claim Palestinian lands as their exclusive biblical birthright.

The woman responded in terms she obviously thought conciliatory: “I don’t say that it [a Palestinian village] should burn down, but that you should leave the village and we’ll go live in it.”

She and others now sound impatient to bring forward the day when Palestinians must “leave”.

Machinery of oppression

These sentiments – in the parliament and out on the streets – have not emerged out of nowhere. They are as old as Zionism itself, when Israel’s first leaders oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from most of their homeland in 1948, in an act of mass dispossession Palestinians called their Nakba (catastrophe).

Violence to remove Palestinians has continued to be at the core of the Jewish state-building project ever since. The rationale for the gangs beating up Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are the actions pursued more bureaucratically by the Israeli state: its security forces, occupation administrators and courts.

Last week, that machinery of oppression came under detailed scrutiny in a 213-page report from Human Rights Watch. The leading international human rights group declared that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, as set out in international law.

It argued that Israel had met the three conditions of apartheid in the Rome Statute: the domination of one racial group over another, systematic oppression of the marginalised group, and inhumane acts. Those acts include forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, denial of the right to leave and return to their country, and denial of the right to a nationality.

Only one such act is needed to qualify as the crime of apartheid but, as Human Rights Watch makes clear, Israel is guilty of them all.

Dragged out of bed

What Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been documenting is equally visible to the gangs roaming Jerusalem. Israel’s official actions share a common purpose, one that sends a clear message to these youngsters about what the state – and Israel’s national ideology of Zionism – aims to achieve.

They see Palestinian land reclassified as Jewish “state land” and the constant expansion of settlements that violate international law. They see Palestinians denied permits to build homes in their own villages. They see orders issued to demolish Palestinian homes, or even entire communities. And they see Palestinian families torn apart as couples, or their children, are refused the right to live together.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians with impunity, and drag Palestinian children out of bed in the middle of the night. They man checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank, restricting the movement of Palestinians. They fire on, or “arrest”, Palestinians trying to seek work outside the closed-off ghettos Israel has imposed on them. And soldiers stand guard, or assist, as settlers run amok, attacking Palestinians in their homes and fields.

All of this is invariably rubber-stamped as “legal” by the Israeli courts. Is it any surprise, then, that growing numbers of Israeli teenagers question why all these military, legal and administrative formalities are really necessary? Why not just beat up Palestinians and “break their faces” until they get the message that they must leave?

Uppity natives

The battlefront in Jerusalem in recent days – characterised misleadingly in most media as the site of “clashes” – has been the sunken plaza in front of Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the walled Old City and the Muslim and Christian holy places that lie within.

The gate is possibly the last prominent public space Palestinians can still claim as theirs in central Jerusalem, after decades in which Israeli occupation authorities have gradually encircled and besieged their neighbourhoods, severing them from the Old City. During Ramadan, Damascus Gate serves as a popular communal site for Palestinians to congregate in the evenings after the daytime fast.

It was Israeli police who triggered the current explosive mood in Jerusalem by erecting barriers at Damascus Gate to seal the area off at the start of Ramadan. The pretext was to prevent overcrowding, but – given their long experience of occupation – Palestinians understood the barriers as another “temporary” measure that quickly becomes permanent, making it ever harder for them to access the Old City and their holy sites. Other major gates to the occupied Old City have already been effectively “Judaised”.

The decision of Israeli police to erect barriers cannot be divorced from a bigger context for Palestinians: the continuing efforts by Israeli authorities to evict them from areas around the Old City. In recent weeks, fresh waves of armed Jewish settlers have been moving into Silwan, a Palestinian community in the shadow of al-Aqsa Mosque. They have done so as Israel prepares to raze an entire Palestinian neighbourhood there, using its absolute control over planning issues.

Similarly, the Israeli courts have approved the eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, another neighbourhood under belligerent occupation close to the Old City that has been subjected to a long-running, state-backed campaign by Jewish settlers to take it over. Last month, Jerusalem officials added insult to injury by approving a plan to build a memorial to fallen Israeli soldiers in the midst of the Palestinian community.

The decision to close off the Damascus Gate area was therefore bound to provoke resistance from Palestinians, who fought police to take down the barriers. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

Those scenes – of uppity natives refusing to be disappeared back into their homes – were part of the trigger that brought the Jewish gangs out onto the streets in a show of force. Police largely let the mob rampage, as youths threw stones and bottles and attacked Palestinians.

Tired of half measures

The sight of Jewish gangs roaming central Jerusalem to hurt Palestinians has been described as a “pogrom” by some progressive US Jewish groups. But the difference between the far-right and the Israeli state in implementing their respective violent agendas is more apparent than real.

Smotrich, Ben Gvir and these street gangs are tired of the half-measures, procrastination and moral posturing by Israeli elites who have hampered efforts to “finish the job”: clearing the native Palestinian population off their lands once and for all.

Whereas Israeli politicians on the left and right have rationalised their ugly, racist actions on the pretext of catch-all “security” measures, the far-right has no need for the international community’s approval. They are impatient for a conclusion to more than seven decades of ethnic cleansing.

And the ranks of the far-right are likely to swell further as it attracts ever-larger numbers of a new generation of the ultra-Orthodox community, the fastest-growing section of Israel’s Jewish population. For the first time, nationalist youths from the Haredi community are turning their backs on a more cautious rabbinical leadership.

And while the violence in Jerusalem has subsided for the moment, the worst is unlikely to be over. The final days of Ramadan coincide this year with the notorious Jerusalem Day parade, an annual ritual in which Jewish ultra-nationalists march through the besieged Palestinian streets of the Old City chanting threats to Palestinians and attacking any who dare to venture out.

Turning a blind eye

Human Rights Watch’s detailed report concludes that western states, by turning a blind eye to Israel’s long-standing abuses of Palestinians and focusing instead on a non-existent peace process, have allowed “apartheid to metastasize and consolidate”.

Its findings echo those of B’Tselem, Israel’s most respected human rights organisation. In January, it too declared Israel to be an apartheid regime in the occupied territories and inside Israel, towards its own Palestinian citizens.

Despite the reluctance of US and European politicians and media to talk about Israel in these terms, a new survey by B’Tselem shows that one in four Israeli Jews accept “apartheid” as an accurate description of Israel’s rule over Palestinians. What is far less clear is how many of them believe apartheid, in the Israeli context, is a good thing.

Another finding in the survey offers a clue. When asked about recent talk from Israeli leaders about annexing the West Bank, two-thirds of Israeli Jews reject the idea that Jews and Palestinians should have equal rights in those circumstances.

The mob in Jerusalem is happy to enforce Israel’s apartheid now, in hopes of speeding up the process of expulsion. Other Israelis are still in denial. They prefer to pretend that apartheid has not yet arrived, in hopes of easing their consciences a little longer.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment first appeared on Dissident Voice.