Monday, June 25, 2007

Molly has just finished reading 'Satanic Purse' with the more descriptive subtitle given above. Naylor is a professor of economics at McGill University where he specializes in such matters as money laundering, smuggling, black markets, environmental crime and now terrorist financing. This book concentrates on the myth of a worldwide well financed Islamist conspiracy backed by Bid Laden as a multibillionaire with extensive fingers in every shady pie from drug running, through "halawa banks" and on into stock market manipulation. It begins, however, with a well documented debunking of the myth of Bin Ladin as a sort of terrorist supervillian, a myth that has been deliberately propogated by US officials for the purpose of justifying their policies both domestic and foreign. The author goes into the rather complicated web of Middle Eastern politics, both secular and Islamist to draw out a picture of a rather fractious crew of mutually feuding groups, trends and simple points of view. My favourite is the North African group who think that Bin Ladin should be killed because he isn't "radical enough". The whole point of this can be summarized by the following quote from the book,
"The role of Bin Ladin in recent terrorist outrages is not only grossly exaggerated, in many cases it is completely fictional. This is not to suggest that he is/was a nice guy- he preached a villent and retrograde ideology, exhorted andf encouraged at least some of the crimes imputed to him, and applauded after the fact. There were/are plenty of raps on which to haul him before a genuine court of justice (by definition outside the U.S.). But for a variety of reasons it was/is convenient to give him credit for actions in which he had at best a peripheral role, frequently none at all. Blowing Bid Ladin metaphorically out of all proportion before blowing him physically off the face of the Earth is consistant with a US trdaition of personifying infamy by invesnting supervillians with which superheroes do battle, inevitably to a victory that, if not real, is certainly loudly and publically declared. While this practice may be politically expedient (and profitable for the infotainment industry) in the short run, it obscures understanding and thereby impedes sensible action in the long.
Similarily with al-Qa'idah. The original construct was built on myths about "criminal organmizations" as large scale, transnational, centrally run entities which were extrapolated from the criminal justice to the "national security" fields. Just as crime is almost always the preserve of individuals or of loose ad hoc associations without serious long term staying power, so, too, with "terrorist" groups. to the extent that relationships ever do exist between militant factions beyond the merely rhetorical , they are temporary alliances of convenience among those with essentially local grudges rather than the result of those groups (usually guided by men with huge egos) being departments or subsidiaries of some hierarchically controlled international conspiracy. Under these circumstances to attempt to combat them using measures created to deal with either countries (with a geophysical existence) or organizations (with a supposedly corporate one) is like furiously throwing lethal punches in the air and hoping that there are not too many innocent bystanders, or at least no independent witnesses, in the general vicinity. Even worse, by effectively creating, then advertising, an al-Qa'idah brand name, the US and the West at large give local groups a global significance they otherwise would not likely have had, guaranteeing further sets of imitators in the future." Satanic Purses, pp 336-337
The reality of those who went crusading against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan was that they were a fractious divided lot whose real contribution to the victory over the Soviets was marginal at best. Bib Ladin was merely one amongst many, and his financial contributions were nothing astoonishing. Similarily in the post Soviet age. Terrorist attacks are almost inevitably the result of local groups operating on a shoestring budget with no central direction from Bin Ladin or anyone else. Their perpetrators are not the stuff of James Bond novels, but are often instead bumbling idiots who only occasionally get lucky because law enforcement agencies and the "spook industry" contains more than its own share of similar idiots and, perhaps more importantly, chug along well trod bureaucratic paths that are the very antithesis to "intelligence".
Speaking of James Bond, the book contains more than a few side plots as the author shows how the myths of previous "campaigns" such as the War on Crime (the Mafia as a giant centrally controlled corporate entity), the War on Drugs and even the Cold War (America has had more than its share of phoney wars) were recycled into the new War on Terror. One of the myths that Naylor examines, however, is not American at all. It is the 'Blood Diamonds' tale. The tale was actually concocted by Ian Fleming, the author of the Bond series, on behalf of the South African De Beers corporation when they felt that their control over the international diamond trade was threatened. De Beers spread Fleming's rumour that the "diamond racket" was controlled by the old standby, the 'Evil Empire'- even at exactly the same time that the De Beers company had entered into secret arrangements with the Soviet Union to smuggle diamonds out of the USSR in violation of anti-Soviet sanctions then in force.
There is so much more to discover in this book which concentrates much more of the myth of Islamist terrorism as a generous paymaster requiring the multimillions that it does not have. At times the author may overstate his case, but the general picture he paints has the unmistakeable ring of truth to it. It's an undercurrent that makes a whole lot of sense when you look at the recent history of Islamist terrorism, its perpetrators and how often they are caught. They seem a rather motley crew because that is exactly what they are. The picture painted by US authorities is, of course, wildly different. This is because it is plainly and simply "bullshit". Bullshit can be defined as not simply lying, though there is plenty of that as well. It is talking as if the whole concept of "truth" is an inconvenience that hardly has any real importance. High sounding emotional trigger words replace actually saying anything of substance. Coherance is as little valued by the bullshitter as facts. Academic post-modernist leftists may construct a grandious theory justifying bullshit, but the non-academic world of real governments puts them to shame in that they have constructed a very successful "practice" of bullshit that is much more advanced than anything in the "theories" of the academics. But more on that later.
Molly recommends this book highly. It opens many different doors to many different ways of viewing world events.

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