Volume 21, Number 7
Fannie Lou Hamer
Winter Soldier II
Behind the Scenes
Center for constitutional rights -- Ccr
CÃ©sar cuauhtÃ©moc GarcÃÂa hernÃ¡ndez
Pentagon's Toxic Legacy
Jeffrey st. Clair
Vietnam to Dude...
Body of War
Soldiers of Reason
Zinn's American Empire
Vision - Cooling Planet
Chomsky, Pappé Interview
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Invading the Middle East: Napolean to Bush
An interview with Juan Cole
BARSAMIAN: Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness writes, "They were conquerors and for that you want only brute force. They grabbed what they could for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a grand scale, and men going at it blind." Talk about Conrad's observations about conquest and the notion of an idea and Napoleon's
Many high-minded things are said in such situations, but, typically, if you look closely at what's actually happening, there are attacks on villagers, there is theft of livestock to pay taxes. For example, in
What memory did the Crusades play in terms of the Arab
Literate Egyptians, clerics, and historians remembered the Crusades and were writing about them at that time. Bonaparte was afraid that the general Egyptian public might interpret his invasion as a renewal of the Crusades so he was careful to disassociate himself from Christianity. He boasted that he had attacked the Pope in
Instruments of state propaganda were rather modest then compared to today. How did Napoleon sell his project?
Bonaparte brought a printing press with him. It wasn't the first time Egyptians had ever had experience of a printing press because there was printing in
And then he claimed to be a Muslim of some sort or about to convert. His argument was that French deism of the time—it was associated with the French Revolution—didn't reject the existence of God, but rejected Christian theology, the divinity of Christ, the Trinity, the church hierarchy, and so on. Bonaparte's argument was, if you take all those emphases of deism, the idea of God as a clockmaker, it's basically like Islam. He understood that the illegitimacy of a Christian European ruling a Muslim country would stand in the way of the success of his enterprise so he tried to finesse things.
In the 18th century
You describe Napoleon as speaking flawed French with a Corsican accent. Nevertheless, he had a charismatic hold on his troops and, presumably, on large numbers of the French people. You quote a French officer at the time, who said, "I was seduced by the renown of the commander in chief and the glory of our arms. It was a delirium."
This great expedition to
You compare Napoleon's France with the North Atlantic states who later invaded the
I talk about the persistent pathologies of the enlightenment republic. Famously, Aristotle talked about the three major forms of government: monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. He thought each of them could deteriorate so a monarchy eventually becomes a tyranny and an aristocracy eventually becomes a junta. What can happen to democracies is that they can be seduced by a charismatic leader, they can turn somewhat fascist.
I think it's implicit in enlightenment ideology and in the French and American Revolutions that each nation would have sovereignty, that people would be free to rule themselves. But both the
It's possible for a republic to betray its belief in popular sovereignty. This seems to be the direction in which democracies decay. Sometimes they decay altogether and you get the Weimar Republic turning into Nazi Germany, but sometimes they keep the semblance at home of democratic institutions, but they engage in activities abroad that are entirely incompatible with their founding principles.
Muslim societies, as some Americans are discovering—in
This is something that the French discovered in
The tendency for modern Western armies is to search and destroy. When you have an enemy, you find the troublemakers and there are arms caches and then you kill them and get rid of the arms. Then everything will be quiet. That's the assumption, anyway. But if you're dealing with a kinship society, there is this sense of honor and revenge. If you track an insurgent down and kill him, you may be incurring a big feud against 25 cousins. Search and destroy tactics can actually start a spiral of violence.
The people that planned the
Bush, just weeks before the attack on Iraq, did not know that there were Sunnis and Shi'as in the country.
That's what Ambassador Peter Galbraith reports, that there were Sunnis and Shi'ites and there might be some reprisals. Galbraith reports Bush as saying, "I thought they were all Muslims." So he doesn't seem to have had a clear idea of what a Sunni and a Shi'ite is.
You cite Edward Said about orientalism. One of Said's points is that there is a cadre of scholars who put themselves at the service of power.
Said's idea is more wide-ranging. I think he's taking over from a French philosopher, Michel Foucault, the premise that all knowledge is entangled with networks of power, that knowledge and power are inseparable from one another. A lot of the ways in which the Middle East is talked about, even by people who are on the ground and know it fairly well, reflect ways of talking about it that go back to the 19th century. Even just calling these "clan leaders" and Ramadi "tribal chieftains," that's a Victorian phrase for them.
There is a kind of excuse given for the brutal and vicious French invasion and occupation of
But Said would say they measured
You think about what is the
It's actually quite ironic. Napoleon had to escape from
One of the explanations for the centrality of political Islam to contemporary Middle Eastern developments is that it's a reaction against colonial impositions. One of the things political Islam asks is, Why should we have British, Anglo-Saxon, common law as the basis for our legal procedure? Why wouldn't it be Islamic law, which is what we had before the British showed up? Then, of course, they romanticize the history of Islamic law.
Many of the disputes are really about authenticity and one's relationship to the former metropole and so forth. The Algerian civil war of the 1990s and early 2000s is, in a way, a fight between lower-middle-class Arabic speakers who don't have much of the French heritage and the Algerian upper and middle classes—people in the oil industry and people in the army, many of whom went to school in France. So that cultural divide and the dispute over the colonial heritage are important for the destiny of the country.
One of the major issues in Islam, particularly in the
The first thing to say is that the Sunni-Shi'ite divide, although it is long standing and has characterized the conflict in places like Iran and elsewhere in history, doesn't have to be the basis for political identity. In 20th century
It was Saddam Hussein who tried to make the Sunni areas in
It was the U.S. destruction of the secular Ba'ath regime that then caused Iraqis to reorganize themselves and to rethink their position and often to make an appeal, as political entrepreneurs emerged, to religious identity as a way of winning elections and getting ahead. And then you had the Sunni Arab guerilla movement, some of it Ba'athist, some of it fundamentalist Sunnis or Salafis, who deliberately attempted to foment sectarian violence as a way of making the country ungovernable and forcing the Americans out.
The things that have happened since 2003 are now often talked about by observers, politicians, and journalists in the
Weren't there also particular political decisions made by
Yes. The American conception of how to rule
That's part of what went on, but I think the bigger source of these problems was that the Americans more or less conducted a social revolution when they conquered
It would be as though a foreign country conquered the
In your book you write that Napoleon was "pioneering a form of imperialism that deployed liberal rhetoric and institutions for the extraction of resources and geopolitical advantage." Can one perhaps insert the name of George Bush or some other contemporary leader and read the same sentence?
That was one of the things that I was talking about when I was discussing the pathologies of Enlightenment republics. It is possible to mobilize that rhetoric of liberty and popular sovereignty for essentially imperial purposes. It's an odd combination because you can understand how an empire, like the Spanish Empire, might get involved in having colonies because from the point of view of an empire, what would it matter to the emperor whether they're ruling Catalans or Mexicans. The nature of empire is to be polyglot and to incorporate as much territory as possible, without regard to what language people speak or what religion they are or whatever. So many empires have been quite mixed in their populations. The
But what the French were really doing in the course of the late 18th century was developing sister republics or daughter republics. So the French re-formed
So this republican empire looks a little bit different, but it is ultimately empire and it is ultimately hierarchical and it's extractive and it's oppressive in various ways.
You used the word "mess" to describe
It's counterfactual and historians are uncomfortable with counterfactuals: could things have been done differently, could things have been done better, and so forth. If the question is, was it ever likely that the
What lessons can you draw based on the research you did for Napoleon's
My argument is that Bonaparte's
Over time, in the 19th century, the gap grew so the Europeans tended to have much better guns. Range and accuracy in a gun really means quite a lot. If I can pick somebody off at 100 yards and they can't pick me off unless I get closer, then I win every time. So there was this long period in the 19th century and the early 20th century when European powers really could rule over
One of the problems with the American enterprise in
What I'm saying is that it was predictable. For the same reason that the British couldn't remain in
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