Debate About ISIS

One of the contributors to this site disagreed with Sean’s dispatch on ISIS, which kicked off a debate that Sean is requesting be made public. So, here goes…

TW for sexual assault, mansplaining, and discussions of war, colonialism and Freud.

Read Sean’s thoughts here first.

BEN: The ISIS radio essay went up on monday, I posted it, and when looking for a picture, I found one of some arab feminists bleeding and shitting on an ISIS flag, but that seemed counter to your thoughts, so instead I just posted one of Kobani fighters. I can agree that US activities created ISIS, and that the thing to do is to keep fighting the US, but I disagree with some of your views there. All states are oppressive and patriarchal, but some are more oppressive and patriarchal, and conduct themselves in different ways. I think this goes back to our disagreement about socialism and the single spectrum thing you’ve got into it with Crimethinc about. If we agree that there’s a simple single spectrum (which I don’t, but for reasons of argument, I’ll accept it) ISIS is dragging the middle east to the fascist side of the spectrum, they’re emboldened and empowered by US activities (possibly on purpose, cuz the US likes to see Muslims kill each other) the Kurds in Kobani are clearly pulling to the other side- from the interviews I’ve heard, their systems and ideas would be wholly rejected as liberal and ultimately statist if people in western anarchist communities proposed them.

The question for me is: which side is more likely to tip the state over and allow total liberation? Some people think a super authoritarian fascist state provokes angry rebellion, while democracy and socialism foster dependence and acceptance of the state, therefore, let the state get brutal.

I disagree. Brutal states, when confronted, have LOTS to concede in order to appease the angry people. If we can push confrontation of a liberal socialist democratic state, then it’ll run out of things to concede and the false promises it makes will go unfulfilled and it’ll get fundamentally and radically tipped over. The process of revolution is a process of wrenching concessions and appeasements from our rulers until they have nothing left to offer, therefore a democratic state is qualitatively different, and more desirable than a brutal dictatorship. Things like ISIS and the Tea Party are moving the state into more brutal territory, which in addition to giving it more powers to repress and control, is also giving it more things to concede.

If the state rules with the carrot and the stick, then we need to fight and break the sticks so all its got left is carrots, then gorge on carrots until we’re bored with them and demand more. Also, I don’t think it’s good enough or respectful to the women being raped and beheaded by ISIS to say “Yeah, these folks are brutal, oppressive and patriarchal… their only crime is being unimaginative.” We oughta be able to denounce ISIS without promoting US-backed Muslim states, especially since the Kurds and stuff going on in Kobani draws a clear alternative to the false dichotomy.

SEAN: Your response, you wrote, “All states are oppressive and patriarchal but some are more oppressive and patriarchal.” This is true. Then you wrote further down, “Things like ISIS and the Tea Party are moving the state into more brutal territory.”

I agree with the first statement that all states are oppressive, some more than others. Stated another way, all states suck and some suck more than others. That’s why, in the case of the Islamic State, I lament that militants feel the need to “state up,” as it were. They aspire to something oppressive and patriarchal to oppose an outside po chiefly) [sic] that is oppressive and patriarchal. In this way, the Islamic State is giving the people of that region a choice between “suck” and “suck.” That IS militants resort to statism, I have asserted their only crime is being unimaginative. To be more imaginative and to reject statism, including the statism of their enemies, would, I think, serve as a general corrective to much of their other problematic behaviors, i.e., their o patriarchy [sic].

However, I disagree with your analysis of Islamic State militants and the Tea Party moving the state into more brutal territory. The Tea Party certainly does, as it influences an already-existing state and infiltrates that state with its political candidates attaining positions of power. But in the case of the Islamic State, I think we have to keep in mind that, despite its name, it isn’t really a state. Not yet, anyway. It is a collection of aspiring statists without having yet achieved state authority.

So, I suggest that we have to be careful when equating IS with the Tea Partiers. The Tea Party is, in the here and now, yanking an existing state (a really big, powerful and dangerous one) to the radical right. Islamic State militants are waving a fist, waggling a finger, and talking smack from a pile of debris that used to be two nation states. Yes, their rhetoric is very right wing, but it only amounts to what they say they want to do if they ever attain the power that people like Tea Partiers in the U.S., for instance, already wield.

The fact is, those spouting the rhetoric for the Islamic State are a small minority and their views are not representative, even of the fighters within their own group. Those who assume the right to call the shots are a fringe within their own organization. The vast majority of their fighters have drifted into IS or aligned with IS while affiliating with groups that are far more moderate. These more moderate affiliates, which comprise the majority of their fighters, join IS simply because it is the only viable game in town.

These more-moderate fighters are rolling along with rightist ideologues so long as they’re aiming their rifles in the same direction; but once state power is established, these same moderates will withdraw support if the radicals don’t govern more moderately. So, despite the radical rhetoric of IS leadership, the realities of maintaining power would force them to moderate their policies or face serious instability.

The point being, of course, that the distinction between the Tea Party and IS is that the Tea Party is a bunch of whack jobs who have broad support of other whack jobs, while IS is a small faction of whack jobs with temporary and conditional support until they consolidate power and then all bets are off.

How oppressive or brutal of a regime IS will end up is unknown. The Tea Party is a known quantity. And not to sound glib, but if the people of a given region tolerate a brutal regime, perhaps it isn’t our place to object to the tyranny they themselves accept.

Consider also, the question of enforcibility. You have tyrannies that can enforce their edicts and decrees across a broad expanse of the population, and those who cannot. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are oppressive and those governments can maintain their rule from border to border. But Egypt and Saudi Arabia have U.S. economic and military aid. At the other end of the spectrum are nation states like Pakistan and Afghanistan, which are oppressive, but government is limited to enforcement in only urban areas and sometimes only in the capital. There are tens of thousands in the outreaches of Pakistan who probably cannot tell you who the president is and they don’t care. Their lives are virtually undisturbed. In the midst of an oppressive country, they are in many ways freer than we are.

Iraq and Syria are failed states. Sadam Hussein could enforce his tyranny only so long as the U.S. funded him, and when U.S. cooperation ended, Hussein had a limited capacity to enforce his authority. His military had to play whack-a-mole to suppress open rebellions from the Sunnis and the Kurds. Asad in Syria cannot put a lid on years of rebellion. It would be a stretch of the imagination to say that a hardline, repressive regime establishing themselves upon the rubble heap of two failed states would have any substantial power to repress a population spread across such a wide area, especially without U.S. bankrolling. And given that the Russians are squarely pro-Asad, there’s no help coming from that direction either.

So, success of an Islamic State, as counter-intuitive as this may sound, could create a kind of autonomous zone virtually government-less for millions who would fly the silly flag of the regime, and smile and nod if a government wonk ever came through the area. But they would live life according to their customs going back several centuries.

It’s not MY ideal solution… But I don’t live there. I live here, in the midst of the occupier-colonizer-empire that fucked the whole world up and I have the luxury of sitting in air conditioning while I type an email talking about what others ought to do to resist this occupier-colonizer-empire that killed their kids, while I do nothing effective to take it down myself. That makes any pontificating I might feel inclined to direct at IS rebels sound a bit hypocritical.

I agree with you when you wrote, “We ought to be able to denounce ISIS without promoting U.S.-backed Muslim states.” That’s true. There’s plenty about IS to denounce. But, they ARE taking on the imperial colonizer with bullets and bombs.

I’m no fan of Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Cong, or Fidel Castro and the socialism of Cuba. But I’m glad the U.S. didn’t exterminate them and insert a U.S. program.

You wrote that your litmus for support is based on “which side is more likely to tip the state over and allow total liberation.” For me, this is problematic because, as I view it, the aspiring local statists are never as big of an obstacle to total liberation as the U.S. is. So my litmus is whether the given group, be it the Viet Cong or Islamic State militants, can kick a dent in empire and take us one step closer to total liberation. I don’t share IS’s ultimate goals and aims, and I don’t share their worldview. But I share their desire to defeat the greatest threat to peace and liberation in the world today.

So, I don’t want them to last. I just want them to outlast the United States.

BEN: Collapsing the choice ISIS is presenting to people in the region into “suck” and “suck” is an inaccurate simplification for two reasons. First, a woman living under one of these sucky states is far less likely to live safe and happy, let alone free. Second, one of these states is more vulnerable to some potential future emergent  liberation.  I think our debate centers around determining which is which.

Let’s take the second point first. You think ISIS is more likely to fall because most of the fighters are “more moderate affiliates… [who] join IS simply because it is the only viable game in town.” This is a question of fact that remains unclear. Can you back it up? My very limited understanding is that many ISIS fighters are actually from other parts of the world. Tom Nomad, in his interview with The Final Straw talked about a video where ISIS took a town. The video was shot by a Chilean grad student and involved men cheering in German, English and Spanish. So, ISIS is Islamic fascist fuckers from around the world going to the hot spot to tip the scales of the global geopolitical situation to the right. Just like the US invasion of Iraq was fascist fuckers in the Bush administration using the pretext of 9/11 to go to a hot spot and tip the world to the right. Maybe Iraq is just a huge proxy war between The Notorious GWB and his frenemies in the Bin Laden family. God, I wish rich people would fight their own wars, at least half of them might end up dead, instead of hundreds of thousands of poor people.

When presented with disputed facts, I’ll just assume you’re right, so we can keep talking. But, then we can assume the same thing about another case study: Israel. Most Jews and Palestinians are probably moderate decent human beings who “temporarily and conditionally” lined up with whack jobs who have the power to make shit happen in a crisis situation.  Thing is, the Zionist Israeli whack jobs have managed to entrench themselves in a perpetual state of crisis for half a goddamn century. You can say that’s because Israel is backed by US money. But first, so is Egypt, and second, at least some of the Palestinian leaders are playing a similar game, enjoying power while sending martyrs to die. Meanwhile, Israel is developing some of the most sophisticated technologies of control and urban warfare that humanity has ever known, technologies that the US envies and adopts to use against our friends and neighbors.

Fascists—whether  Jewish, Islamic or Christian—breed more fascism and control for everyone in the world, which is why the US wants everyone at war. So this is a question of framing. You see ISIS as the only people who “can kick a dent in empire and take us one step closer to total liberation” and it’s just too bad they’re also “unimaginative” statists. I disagree. I see them as a symptom of an increasingly right wing world. I think ISIS is the product of a successful US Empire policy.

The US got hit on 9/11 and the Bush administration invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. They did this despite the provable fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So, why? Because of oil and Halliburton? For sure. Because Saddamn hurt Dubya’s daddy’s feelings? Probably. That explains the motives for Bush and Cheney (oedipal and vampiric) but it doesn’t explain the motives for the old school military brass. The national security establishment might by psychotic weirdos, but they probably aren’t going to put their reputations and their boys’ lives on the line for Bush and Cheney’s personal misadventures. It also doesn’t explain why Obama kept these wars up, and in some ways, escalated them.

From a geopolitical perspective, the invasion of Iraq succeeded. It did prevent another 9/11. It just marketed itself as something more appealing. How the policy succeeded was to move the shooting war to a proxy state. It created a situation where instead of White US citizens dying, most of the death and destruction was shouldered by people of various ethnicities in the middle east. This is how the US likes to fight wars: sending working class White people to a distant land where they risk their lives killing brown people, leaving the US society and infrastructure mostly intact. This has been the over-arching game plan since the US got super rich following WWII. Most US policy since 1950 can be explained as desperately trying to re-inflate the economic balloon caused by the war. We’re living in a society built on the nostalgia of aging White men who call themselves the greatest generation. Gross.

The crisis the American Empire faced at the end of the 21st century was a crisis of not enough enemies. The power vacuum created when the USSR collapsed was a total mind fuck for everyone in power. These people literally thought history was ending. Their brains were melting. I was in school studying Political Science at the time, there were articles. Weird shit.

Following the toppling of Saddam, the US faced two options, either enforce the pre-existing borders and make Kurds, Sunnis and Shiites get along under one flag, or create a three state solution, giving the north to the Kurds, the south to the Shiites and the middle to nice moderate Sunnis who you say are now fighting alongside ISIS. They chose the first option and enforced the pre-existing borders. Thing is, those borders were drawn by the British colonizers, with the emphatic and explicit purpose of destabilizing the region by cutting up ethnic groups. That’s how colonialism worked back when empires didn’t have moral dilemmas about being empires. Modern empires work the same way, but with better marketing. In short, the US chose to create ISIS because they didn’t want a unified Kurdistan to threaten Turkey, they didn’t want a unified Shiite state in southern Iraq who might decide to keep the oil, or hook up with Shiites in Iran, and they didn’t want a secular Sunni state in central Iraq because that’s what Saddam had, and Saddam hurt Dubya’s daddy.

Like Ho Chi Mihn and Castro, these might look like wars of liberation on the ground—and many of the fighters see them that way—but from a geopolitical perspective, they’re proxy wars, and proxy wars entrench and deepen empire, they don’t kick a dent in it. It seems like Ho Chi Mihn and maybe Castro truly wanted liberation for their people (or at least self-determination) but they made the pragmatic choice of aligning with communist superpowers out of self preservation, and it stifled the liberation. People “stating up” with ISIS seem to be making the same choice. I think that choice is moving the world as a whole toward fascism, not liberation.

But, I don’t really know. Neither do you. We don’t have enough facts, we aren’t psychic, and perhaps most importantly, your glib comment is half right. You said “if the people of a given region tolerate a brutal regime, perhaps it isn’t our place to object to the tyranny they themselves accept.” The half you got wrong is, people aren’t accepting the tyranny of ISIS anymore than you and I accept the US government. Judging by the videos where hundreds of people are being lined up and shot, folks are putting a lot more on the line to fight ISIS than anyone I know (and y’know, I know some amazing inspiring people who’re fighting back from torturous conditions inside US prisons.) There may be as many “more moderate” humans joining the US backed regime to avoid ISIS as there are joining ISIS to fuck up the US backed regime. So, you’re right, it probably isn’t our place to speculate on or endorse either side.

Speaking of things it probably isn’t our place to talk about (but we’re going to anyway cuz we’re White dudes and that’s what White dudes do. Sorry friends, I normally avoid doing so much public mansplaining, not sure what’s come over me. It’s a slow day at work. I think I could extend this parenthetical to refute Sean’s claim that “to reject statism…  would… serve as a general corrective to much of their other problematic behaviors.” But maybe that’s self-evident to any anarchist who is not living in a gender segregated environment.) let’s return to point one: “a woman living under one of these states is far less likely to live safe and happy, let alone free.” At first, I thought I had this one in the bag. ISIS’s propensity for raping and mutilating women seems to indicate they’re a more repressive patriarchal regime, but your point about enforceability weighs in here. Is a woman living in extremely violently misogynist, but very weak state more or less likely to be raped than a woman on say, a US college campus? That’s a valid question.  I honestly don’t really know. I just know that we hate em both and oughta fight the one that’s closer to us. Again, we’re in agreement that the advised action for a righteous anarchist, regardless of who wins this debate is to do what we can to fuck up the American Empire.

Which sorta begs the question: why are you and I talking about ISIS at all? If democracy is a system of carrots and distractions, then isn’t having opinions on news items about things that may or may not be happening on the other side of the world a carrot? It’s not even a very tasty or fulfilling carrot. Fuck it, let’s go burn down some frats.

Oh, wait, you’re in prison, and I’m a coward. Hurns.