Saturday, August 20, 2005

Anarchism is NOT Comparable to Al-Qa`idah: I still consider the Economist the best magazine there is. Nothing comes close, not even US weekly. I wait for my issue with the same anticipation that I reserved for the arrival of Superman issues when I was a child. But while the Economist succeeds better than any US publication in keeping the opinions separate from the articles, sometimes "mistakes are made" as guilty US presidents always say. I just read the special report titled "For Jihadist, read anarchist" in the new issue. It was such a weak and failed argument, and the author(s) knew it, I felt. I cannot see how one can even compare the Bin Laden kooks with the Anarchist movement of the late 19th and early 20th century. First and foremost, Anarchism was notably an intellectual-philosophical movement, known more for its ideas (and later reputation). There is no intellectual movement behind the Bin Laden movement. You cannot name one intellectual guru for Al-Qa`idah--except Ibn Taymiyyah of course, and the writings of Dhawahiri are either tedious memoirs or rehashing of past Muslim writings. Anarchism was able to appeal to workers and intellectuals from around the world, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or nationality. Al-Qa`idah is a very narrow movement that appeals to a narrow segment of the fringe of the fringes of the Muslim fundamentalist movement. To be sure, there were acts of violence committed by Anarchist individuals (and not by some Anarchist Higher Power), just as there were acts of violence committed by individual adherents of every conceivable idea, religion, and movement. To strain the argument, given the difficulty of the task, the author of the article had to provide an anthology of Anarchist assassinations. But these were assassinations of public officials, and that should not be compared to the aimless and indiscriminate violence by Al-Qa`idah. Realizing that the argument was getting sillier and sillier, the author of the article then had to invoke the name of one Emile Henry who "had left a bomb in the cafe at the Gare ST.-Lazare." I never heard of Mr. Henry. That cannot pass as evidence. This was not the pattern of anarchist violence, as irregular but discriminate as it was. And instead of Mr. Henry, why not evaluate the works and career of the philosophical founders of the Anarchist thought. In that regard, I refer to the best source to date on that: Woodcock's classic Anarchism. He says on (on William Godwin): "Godwin stands with Tolstoy, and to an extent with Proudhon, among those who place more persuasion and passive resistance above violent and active resistance. He does not actually deny active resistance. But he counsels extreme caution in its use. Force is no substitute for reason, and its use by people who seek to establish justice does not make it any better. It should never be used without the prospect of success, and even then only "where time can by no means be gained, and the consequences instantly to ensue are unquestionably fatal." Violence, then, is the last, desperate resort of just men." (p. 79). And you think that these opinions are comparable to those of Bin Laden? And when the Economist talks about Bakunin they descend to the level of street and police stereotypes about Anarchists and Anarchism. They, of course, had to cite Bakunin's "the passion for destruction is also a creative urge." Bakunin was certainly not talking about destroying buildings. He wrote that line early in his anarchist career when he fell under the influence of the Young Hegelian Arnold Ruge. Bakunin, after Ruge, was standing Hegel's dialectics on its head, and demonstrating that this dialectics can show that Revolution is real, and that radical change is continuous. In that very important essay where that line is found he also describes his utopia as: "There will be a qualitative transformation, a new living, life-giving revelation, a new heaven and a new earth, a young and mighty world in which all our present dissonances will be resolved into a harmonious whole." And you wish to compare that to Al-Qa`idhah's threatening and fanatically dogmatic brochures and manuals? Can the author of that article argue that Anarchism, or even anarchists because movements do not act by themselves they need men and women to carry them over, was responsible for more violence than say Western democracies or Socialist Soviet-style governments? If anything, it can be argued that as we enter a new century, we can look back and see how prophetic (don't like that word) anarchists were because they were the early voice of critique and dissent against Soviet-Marxism-Leninism (and even orthodox Marxism prior to that, real Paul Thomas on that), and yet they never wavered in their critique of capitalism. If anything, the world owes a debt to Anarchism because of its principled opposition to the main sources of injustice in the 20th century, in the state and in society. Anarchism did not have false prophets or gods, and they never struck lousy alliances. They never bet on the wrong horse, because they do not bet on horses, and don't bet at all. I think that you can say that Al-Qa`idah is comparable to any fanatical movement or regime that absolutely disregards civilian lives, and in that the comparison to Anarchism was fallacious and simply sensational. I think that we can compare the specter of Anarchism that haunted Western governments in the 19th century and early 20th century, with the current specter of Islamist fanatical violence haunting Western governments. But that does not prove that Anarchism and Al-Qa`idah are thus comparable, unless one has no exposure to the introductory basics of logic. But I can compare the movement of Al-Qa`idah with the nihilism of Sergei Nechaev. That analogy I accept, and Nechaev was no Anarchist.