Short Note on the Synonymity of ‘Militant’ and Activist’ and its Conceptual and Practical Implications

The term “militant vegan” is used by many as a derogatory term, implying those who refuse to consume animal products are participating in a sort of violence. I actually have no issue with the term itself, but this usage is deeply problematic. If veganism is associated with militancy, or violence in any way, this violence is secondary to the primary violence of the food animal-agriculture industrial complex. Furthermore, the vast majority of struggle carried out by vegans is strictly non-violent, in part because of the strength of ideological “nonviolentism”, which tends to equivocate between primary and secondary violence, and in part because ‘non-violent’ struggle tends to be the most effective kind (because any secondary violence that is not willing to go all the way can easily be used to justify an increase in primary violence, with mass support).

Still, even with all the “military” connotations to the term “militant”, I think it is worth re-appropriating, and I’ll give a few reasons. First, the term “militant” includes the connotations of discipline, organization, and collective focus, shared tactics and strategies, singular common goals held in common. These are qualities that activist struggles sorely need. Second, the term “militant” in French actually just means “activist”, and the verb “militer” means “to do activist work”. Canada is a bilingual country, and we would do well to build bridges, including linguistic bridges, across the Anglophone/Francophone barrier, which today largely remains a gap between solitudes. Third, using the term “militant” encourages us to speak and think more precisely about “violence” – it does not benefit struggles to fail to distinguish between violence that preserves unjust structures, and violence that challenges and breaks those structures. The fact that the second kind of violence may take a “non violent” form does not make it any less violent, and thinking as such creates a conceptual gap between violent and non violent struggle as a principle, when it ought to remain purely a question of tactics and efficacy.

Proud to be a militant vegan. Proud to be a militant of many causes. Proud to refuse to perpetuate the conceptual and linguistic boundary between “activist” and “militant”. Militants and Activists unite, for you are one people struggling for the liberation of humanity!

Zizek’s Pseudo-Analysis of the Syrian Revolution

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A year on, Zizek’s article on the Syrian Revolution as a “Pseudo struggle” probably deserves more critical consideration than it got. Not because it wasn’t widely read, but because I think it was largely read by folks who reactively absorbed it, or who found it so distasteful it was difficult to read without fuming in anger. And to be clear, I’m suggesting reconsideration now not because it was actually good, but because we can perhaps learn more from the interpretive failures and failures of solidarity than from seemingly “good examples”. It’s true that as a whole, the article amounts to an interpretive war against revolting Syrians. Worse, it’s deeply orientalist in the sense that everything “revolutionary” about the Arab spring is expected to centre around Zizek’s own perceptive subject position. It does however, have a good interpretive point about what constitutes revolutionary processes:

“[In the Egyptian Revolution] the explosion of heterogeneous organisations (of students, women and workers) in which civil society began to articulate its interests outside the scope of state and religious institutions. This vast network of new social units, much more than the overthrow of Mubarak, is the principal gain of the Arab spring; it is an ongoing process, independent of big political changes like the coup; it goes deeper than the religious/liberal divide.”

This is basically a good idea – a key part of revolutionary processes is the creation of new social units, new interpretive and relational ways that society can articulate its own interests to itself. What’s wrong with Zizek’s article is that just because he can’t easily perceive these processes going on in Syria, doesn’t mean they aren’t happening there.

“The only thing to keep in mind is that this pseudo-struggle thrives because of the absent third, a strong radical-emancipatory opposition whose elements were clearly perceptible in Egypt. ”

Worse, Zizek doesn’t even actually say that these processes are not happening in Syria, only that these processes are not “clearly perceptible”. But clearly perceptible to who? If Zizek had bothered to speak with activists who organized in the first years of the Syrian revolution, such as Razan Ghazawi, before Assad’s violent repression of protests militarized the struggle, then he would know that these processes were taking place in Syria. Moreover, if he listened to Syrian activists like Yasser Munif, he would learn about the important role of “local coordinating committees”, revolutionary democratic local and accountable committees set up to operate liberated areas.

Another argument in the article which I didn’t recognize when it first came out, or perhaps it just looks prophetic in retrospect, is this commentary on the Taliban and the future of Syria. Zizek disputes the standard reading of the Taliban as just another “fundamentalist Islamist group” enforcing its rule by terror, pointing to a “class revolt” they engineered, exploiting fissures between “a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants”. In relation to Syria then, Zizek claims that even if Assad “somehow wins and stabilises the situation, his victory will probably breed an explosion similar to the Taliban revolution which will sweep over Syria in a couple of years.”

ISIS did not come out of Assad’s victory, although perhaps it is related to the stagnation and failure of the revolution to topple Assad (and perhaps the revolution’s failure to articulate itself in radical emancipatory frameworks that extend beyond religious/liberal divides). It’s worth asking, also, about what class fissures (although tribal and sectarian fissures seem more relevant here) has ISIS exploited?

Perhaps the way to end is with a surprising implication of Zizek’s position on Syria. While he dismisses what he perceived about Syria as “Pseudo struggle”, he also argues that there is no alternative to Revolution for Syrians. The only alternative to the “Taliban” scenario, according to Zizek, is the “radicalisation of the struggle for freedom and democracy into a struggle for social and economic justice.”

The only pseudo in here is Zizek’s pseudo-analysis of Syria. One word that does not appear in Zizek’s article is ‘dignity’.

An Open Letter to Folks Re-Posting George Monbiot’s Article on the US bombing of ISIS

This article you have posted by the George Monbiot engages in reductive equivocation across a whole list of conflicts and tensions. It’s by a white English guy who has written about the middle east only sporadically (I can’t find anything else by him that’s recent on Syria, Iraq, or ISIS). Since you are probably well aware of identity related issues in relation to the ongoing normalization of oppression, can I suggest that you try to read Syrian and Iraqi intellectuals as well before developing an opinion on what’s happening there?

The major fallacy in Monbiot’s article is the fact he focuses only on a very specific form of military intervention, while remaining quiet on the much more normal form of military intervention: the supply of arms. America funds the Israeli army something like 3 billion a year, the Egyptians 1 billion. The Iraqi army is built out of US debt (although the most recent planes they are flying are Russian), and in fact the entire history of the colonial and neo-colonial processes in the middle east have been of supplying various states with various kinds of security apparatuses, whether those are security guarantees, or arms.

Simply opposing the act of bombing, without a more radical critique of the history of European and American involvement int he middle east, leaves much to be desired. Should middle eastern countries not be allowed to sign treaties which include security guarantees from Western nations? If a middle eastern country does sign such a treaty, it is a treaty obligation for that western state to intervene in favour of the attacked nation. Iraq today is under attack – much of it’s territory is under occupation by an insurrectionary group.

The lack of analysis concerning the American bombing of ISIS is summed up in the use of the phrase “Second War on Iraq”. Not to mention the fact that the 2003 war was a “second war on Iraq”, unless the Gulf war is forgotten, this war – unlike the first two – is not a war against the Iraqi state, but an intervention in something like a civil war on the side of the Iraqi state. And, crucially, these attacks of not only been agreed to by the Iraqi state; the Iraqi state was actively requesting them.

I have devoted much of the past two years to organizing in relation to the Syrian revolution, and I was very active for the past three years with organizing with various Palestine solidarity student groups and IAW’s. Since I became involved, but especially since the uprising in Syria began, I have been very upset at the lack of engagement I’ve seen on the Canadian left with the politics of the Arab/Muslim region – it’s very low especially in relation to the volume of leftist voices against the various things are government does there. It’s better with respect to Palestine, but only after more than 50 years of organizing by Palestinians have western activists adopted a progressive and non reactionary anti-apartheid discourse. Compare this with western leftists discourse on Iraq and Syria, which despite a lot of “anti war rallies”, has remained extremely thin.

In my view, reactive pro nor anti intervention discourse helps Syrians fighting both the fascist Assad regime and the also fascist Daesh (“ISIS”). Neither does it help Iraqis, either those who are allied to the Iraqi state, or those who are to varying degrees supporting ISIS (although the majority of the anti-state forces in Iraq are Iraqi nationalist forces (including Iraqi Ba’athists) who are in a tactical alliance with ISIS).

Both the discourses which are being widely promoted in relation to intervention against ISIS – the “this intervention costs a lot” discourse, and the “there are so many people trying to kill each other in the middle east why would we possibly get involved” discourse, are deeply orientalist because they reduce the people of Iraq and Syria to a footnote in a conversation about America. Therefore I’m not surprised that, in actuality, the point Monbiot is making in this article is pretty much the same as Sarah Palin’s position (“Let allah sort it out”).

I am extremely opposed to the US bombings in Syria. Not because I oppose intervention in advance, in all cases (that perspective is unaccountable to the many Syrians who have called for intervention against Assad who has been carrying out genocidal processes against Syrians which has killed more than 250k and displaced many millions), but because of the particular character of those bombings. For example in Manbij, a town that was liberated from the regime without the use of arms, neither the regime nor ISIS dared to attack the grain silos because the fighters could not avoid accountability to the local population. The unaccountable US bombers however did target the silos, and have seriously reduced that town’s capacity to feed itself and maintain food sovereignty, which is one of the reasons it has been strong in the face of the regime and in the face of ISIS. The targeting of these silos shows the extent to which the USA wants the Syrian revolution to fail.

Here are some links interviews with Syrian intellectuals, which I think are far better analysis than either what is being promoted by the mainstream news fear mongers, or the leftist knee jerk “anti war” folk. And yes, these are all anti-intervention positions. I apologize that I can not link to any Iraqi intellectuals – and I fully acknowledge the insufficiency of my own intellectual engagement, manifested in the fact I don’t have off hand links of Iraqi intellectuals that I can cite to explain the political discourse inside Iraq regarding the Iraqi state’s requisitioning of these air strikes against Daesh.  

Yassin Haj Saleh:

https://www.opendemocracy.net/…/conscience-of-syria…

Yasser Munif:

http://afscwm.org/2013/09/05/syrianrevolution/

Leila Shrooms:

http://tahriricn.wordpress.com/…/syria-the-life-and…/

Rania Khalek:

http://america.aljazeera.com/…/syria-s…