Interview with Arab writer and activist
from Senza Censura
22 March 2007
Q: We'll start with the question of Palestine which is a very complicated issue and the proposed solutions are many and sometimes contradictory. How do you look at this question, and how do you see its solution?
Hisham Bustani: The question of Palestine is not complicated at all, but those who refuse to see the simplicity of judging an incident where a racist colonialist-settler entity functionally-attached to Imperialism is built over the destruction, killing and expulsion of an entire population are the ones who act smart and start taking about how complicated things are.
Just because the decision dividing Palestine between its Arab population and the Zionist invaders happened to be a 1947 UN resolution supported by both superpowers at that time does not make this decision right or legitimate. And just because the Europeans felt responsible for Nazi and Fascist actions against the European Jews does not mean the European colonialists have the right to resolve the Jewish question and clear their conscience on the expense of a third party: the Arabs.
The struggle for Palestine has been subjected to a huge distortion, misinformation and deformation. In the west, a large number of people would think that the problem originates in 1967 when Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza, forgetting that Israel was not really there just 20 years before 1967, and that the roots of the Zionist project in the Arab region dates back to formation of the Zionist movement in the late 19th century.
Also, the people in the west would think that the struggle for Palestine is a conflict between "Palestinians and Israelis", whereas in reality it is an Arab struggle for liberation against Imperialism and Zionism.
Before the Colonialist division of the Arab East in the 1917 Sykes-Picot agreement between the British and French colonialist powers, there was no Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria – the countries we know today. There was a joint space were the people lived together. These states are all colonialist fabrications under the "divide and rule" doctrine.
The solutions that have a certain degree of popularity are the two-state solution, or the unified democratic state solution. Both are very deficient, not objective, and unethical.
The two-state solution simply means that it is OK to occupy land and kill or expel its people, and then return portions of that land to some of its original inhabitants to make some sort of state with some authorities but all is completely controlled and monitored by the occupier whose original project of regional domination is still active and running! The outcome of the Oslo process is very clear, and such an outcome means further strengthening of the illegitimate racist colonialist-settler Zionist entity.
On the other hand, the "one democratic state" solution fails to resolve the contradictions of the occupier who is automatically transforms into a "normal citizen" under this formula. In addition, this presentation addresses the question from a “state” angle, thus failing to specify the basis of the struggle between the Arabs and the Zionists. This struggle is not about geography but rather for liberation from hegemony, it is the struggle of the Arab liberation project against the Imperialist/Zionist project. Such a struggle is impossible to resolve on the level of geography, it is only resolved on the basis of existence. It cannot be resolved from a “state” angle, only from a national liberation perspective or even an internationalist struggle to defeat Imperialism.
The solution in my opinion arises from the facts, and the facts are simple: Israel is an illegitimate entity that should be eliminated; the expelled people should be restored to their original status before the Zionist invasion dating back to as early as the start of the 20th century. This can be achieved in an Arab liberation struggle against Imperialism and Zionism that unifies the Arab masses who are the subjects of oppression and exploitation. Palestine will be dissolved in this unified Arab entity as it was the case before 1917, and all the contradictions will dissolve with it. This step is necessary to achieve sovereignty of people over their land an resources, achieving social justice, and socialism.
It is important for the European left specifically to readdress this question, and come out from under the tremendous distortion and misinformation, and shape a revolutionary approach to the question of Palestine which is the center point of Imperialist re-invention of consciousness to be compatible with its interests. European left should understand the nature of the struggle, and the contradictions that need to be addressed, and the centrality of Palestine for Imperialism today. One cannot be anti-Imperialist and soft on Israel at the same time. Israel is the materialization of the Zionist/Imperialist project in the Arab region; it must be confronted and eliminated.
Unfortunately, contributing to the main problem are the Arabs themselves (activists and organizations). Most of those attending conferences in Europe and the world are either part of the official strata or NGO-connected or financed, and those (for obvious reasons) stay within the limits of the local regimes or the agendas of their sponsors. Another type are those who presume that there is a special way to approach Europeans, that the speech we say internally is not suitable for foreigners, thus they end-up saying what he/she thinks the Europeans want to hear! These attitudes completely destroyed the true nature of the Arab struggle in international forums.
Q: The official Arab regimes were defeated by Israel while the resistance was not. How do you explain this?
Hisham Bustani: In general, the official Arab regimes throughout their short history, are the secretion of the Colonialist era, and the Arab ruling classes are connected and subordinate to Imperialism and are dependent even in their political existence.
The Arab regimes do not want to go into battles with Israel, on the contrary, they want to support Israel's existence and promote US projects in the region for many reasons:
1. The connection of interests and existence through the mechanism of “dominator and dominated”.
2. The existence of Israel is a functional reason for the existence of the Arab regimes because the regimes are important in the dilution of the popular contradiction with Israel, and are a guarantee against the explosion of people its face.
3. The abnormal and illegitimate existence of Israel is a reflection of the abnormality and illegitimacy of the Arab regimes themselves, thus giving it some sort of “normality” and “legitimacy”.
4. Israel's function as a barrier against the realization of the Arab liberation project and the unification of the exploited Arab masses is a reflection of the Arab regimes' same function as they consider the current states resulting from Colonialist division an ultimate political horizon.
5. The Arab regimes have no Arab project, nor do they have projects on the level of the current states, and they are one and part of the US/Zionist project in the region.
The regimes are the partners of Israel, and that is why they never defeated it.
The resistances in Palestine and Lebanon have proven that the Israeli society which comprised of a wide array of nationalities, ethnicities, and races, is a fragile fabricated society that can easily break. All that it takes is a real will to resist, and the Israeli society will collapse under the bombardment of short-range missiles and martyr bombers. That is particularly why Israel and the Arab regimes engage in a never-ending “peace” process, the principle aim of this process is to protect Israel and buy it time to strengthen its weak internal structure and accomplish more homogenous state between its constituents.
Following the Hezbollah defeat of Israel twice (in 2000 and 2006), it has become clear that the 50-year-old management of the Israeli file by the Arab regimes was an organized set of deceptions aiming only at buying time for Israel to strengthen itself internally and externally.
Q: What did the USA accomplish in its “war on terrorism”, and how successful was its endeavor to “make” a new Middle East?
Hisham Bustani: The war on “terrorism” does not aim at fighting “terrorism” even in the American definition of this term. The war on “terrorism” aims at many other goals:
1. Controlling strategic oil and gas reserves located in the Arab region and mid Asia, this will hinder other rising economies in the world (Europe, China, and Japan) and render it vulnerable to American embezzlement.
2. Planting more US military bases in regions that were “forbidden” before like the Arab Peninsula, Eastern Europe and former Soviet republics, thus surrounding the entire world with a belt of military bases with the capability of military intervention anywhere in the world.
3. Terminating the last pockets of military resistance concentrated in the Arab region (Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine), Central and South America (Mexico, Colombia, Peru), and South East Asia (Nepal, Philippines).
In short, what the USA calls “war on terrorism” is simply an effort for geopolitical rearrangement of the world under a single dominant power after the previous international formula (the balance of the victorious powers in WWII) ended by the end of the cold war.
The USA might succeed in controlling energy reserves and implanting military bases as a result of its war on “terrorism”, but it will surely fail in suppressing and “domesticating” the people and defeating resistance movements. This will deprive the US its security and increase its spending especially on the military, so the advantages reaped by control are lost by the high cost of maintaining this control (look at the examples of Vietnam and now Iraq). “Creative chaos”, one of the most prominent accomplishments of US war on “terrorism”, will come back to slap the US itself in the face, and maybe deliver a knock-out.
This takes us to the second part of your question. The American success in creating a “New Middle East” is partial. The US succeeded in many important aspects: implanting the Arab East with military bases, Controlling oil reserves, neutralizing the “rouge” regimes by elimination (Saddam Hussein) or isolation (Bashar el-Asad), and throwing back Arab social formations hundreds of years to the past by promoting pre-national and pre-state social structures (sectarian, religious, ethnic, clan).
The failure is manifested in two main issues that will result in the complete failure of the New Middle East project as a whole:
1. Israel's complete incapability of integrating itself in the region and becoming the main regional economic axis because of the people's confrontation to this integration.
2. Incapability of the USA and its allies to strangle the resistances in the Arab region, moreover, the Iraqi and the Lebanese resistances have accomplished huge blows to the US and Israel, and were successful in hindering their projects and transforming the Arab East into a swamp where the Americans cannot win, and cannot leave.
Now is the precise moment to direct a crippling blow to Imperialism here in the Arab East. It is a historic moment that does not come very often. Revolutionary and progressive forces around the world should become aware of this fact and their historic role in materializing the success of the resistances. This requires a global alliance of all anti-Imperialist forces, and this is not easy when taking into consideration the pacifist trends prevalent among the Left in Europe and the USA.
Q: In the Arab World, the term “resisting normalization” with Israel has a special meaning which is not well-known to those outside. What can you tell us about it?
Hisham Bustani: Normalization is a diplomatic term used when the ties between two hostile states are back to normal and a process of "mutual recognition" starts. This term took on a more politically-loaded meaning in the aftermath of the signing of a "peace" agreement between Egypt and Israel in the late 1970s. The term was then used to refer to the "acceptance of the Zionist state" by the Egyptian regime and the economic, political and cultural ties which were to take place accordingly. Confronting normalization and refusing relations with the Zionists became the dominant position of Arab people, in Egypt and elsewhere. This became intensified in the early 1990s after the signing of the "peace" agreements between Israel and the authorities in Jordan, on the one hand, and the Palestine Liberation Organization, on the other, and the collapse of the official Arab boycott of Israel.
The Arab masses felt betrayed. Resisting acknowledging Israel as a "neighbor" and a normal entity was a way to show their commitment to the historic struggle for liberation. A political movement emerged from this popular feeling, named The Movement against Normalization.
The biggest danger of normalization lies in its intellectual and philosophical dimensions. Normalization means accepting the abnormal, unjust, and contradictory to the interest of the people as a fact to be dealt with as an acceptable status quo. Normalization is promoting a fake edition of history that people are prompted to believe and act accordingly, and it come to supplement other huge lies (or lets say other normalizations) like the “international legitimacy” which actually represent the political will of Imperialist powers; or the “democratic projects” of the US in the region which is in reality a hegemony project.
The aim from the start was to integrate the Zionist entity in the Arab region as a normal state, paving the way for its becoming an axis of economic and political control over its weak and fragmented surrounding. To pass Israel along with its lies and projects, it was necessary to pass more preliminary lies on top of which come the colonialist-made states (the Arab states we know today) and its subdivisions (sects, religions, clans, ethnicities). Accepting the colonialist division of the Arab region, and accepting the resulting state as the end of history, means the end of the Arab liberation struggle and its actual death. This will transform the people into isolated social structures with no depth, each having its individual interests to be sought regardless of the collective interest of the people, meaning materially acknowledging the Zionist entity and organically integrating within its project as the only alternative for survival.
I must refer to an important and often disregarded act of normalization that is being calmly passed all over the world, and that is normalizing the political process going on in Iraq under the full control of the US occupation. This process with all its branches (government, parliament, presidency, elections…) is an illegitimate and abnormal process conducted under the full control and supervision of the occupation and serves its interests. Therefore, dealing with the outcome and representatives of this process is a frank act of normalization, a forgery of comprehension and consciousness, and deeply harms the interests of Iraqis and the Arab liberation struggle in general. This reception of officials representing the political process in Iraq should be confronted as they are clients of the occupation and dealing with them on the official or popular level is an act of support to the occupation and its tools.
Q: Why do the western NGOs concentrate on supporting “civil society institutions” in the Arab World, and what is your opinion about their role?
Hisham Bustani: The term “civil society institutions” is so vague. I don't feel comfortable with it as it is deemed to replace the concept of popular organizations that are militantly involved in the act of change. In addition, the so-called “civil society” is not a unified body, and it does not represent a contradiction, an alternative, or even a parallel phenomenon to the regimes; it is rather a foggy name that designates a number of formations that move with different, and many times conflicting, interests. They also move with different degrees of independence from (or dependence on) local governments or Imperialist powers that finances a lot of organizations that fit under this term.
It is important to point to a certain sector of individual-run institutions that are registered as non-profit companies (which is a frank lie because they make lots of profits!) who are now specialized in what is known as NGO-business. These companies have huge names dealing with human rights, democracy, freedom of press, women rights, children rights and others, and are presented in international meetings are representatives of the “civil society”, even though they are owned by individuals, have no general assemblies or elected leadership, and are mainly financed from foreign embassies!
Institutions receiving such funds, will bend to the demands, agendas, and terms of those paying the money, and will eventually become their local tools. If we knew that the biggest fund-suppliers in the Arab region are USAID (a US governmental agency), the embassies of the US and the UK, Ford Foundation (with its proven CIA connections), German foundations connected with the German mainstream political parties (Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Conrad Adenaur Foundation), we can easily conclude that the money paid are not your usual charity give-away.
Such institutions play dangerous roles: they conduct research and surveys providing important intelligence information, promote terminology that serves hegemony like “the middle east”, “international legitimacy”, “non-violence”, “conflict resolution”, “two-state solution”, “coexistence with Israel” and so on. They also deal with the issues fragmented and isolated from the general context, for example: taking about democracy without referring to the occupation, this destroys the general context itself and transforms it into isolated non-relevant bits and pieces. Finally, many of such organizations help and support the occupation under the cover of humanitarian work. Let me elaborate on this point: It is well-known that the aim of any resistance is maximize the costs of occupation to a degree exceeding its benefits. It is also known that the occupation force id fully-responsible for the land and people that falls under their occupation regarding security, services, administration and others. NGOs and so-called “civil society organizations” comes in with the occupation to implement health, water, sewage and other programs, thus removing a huge load and a huge cost off the occupation force, which will ultimately lead to elongation of the occupation period and comprises a huge help to the occupiers. Such organizations have mushroomed in Palestine and Iraq under the consent of the occupiers.
Q: We'll finish with the issue of Globalization. What does Globalization represent in your opinion, and what are its effects on the Arab World?
Hisham Bustani: To start we must specify a clear definition for the term “Globalization” which has become so trendy in the Arab World that everyone talks about it through reflecting their personal definitions and visions of the term, thus removing it from its objective nature to reflect an array of subjective opinions: the overwhelming proliferation of technology (especially communication and media technologies like mobile phones, internet and satellite TV stations), or the global nature of thoughts and ideas, or the transformation of the world into a “global village” where its inhabitants can easily interact, get to know each other and talk. Giving Globalizations the former meanings (as an example to the subjective opinions being marketed on that issue) comes in the context of trying to prove that resisting Globalization is useless, and to portray those who call for its resistance as retarded and against progress and development.
The subjective meanings above have no relation to the objective reality of Globalization which is one of the evolutionary phases of Capitalism, where Capital endeavors to remove all laws, regulations, and obstacles that hinders its movement from one place to another for speculation in financial and capital markets, and maximizing profits through “investing” in countries that provide cheap labor, have weak trade unions, have no legal protection of man and nature, and where infrastructure, water, electricity and land are provided in “advantageous prices” to “attract” this Capital.
Globalization did not come by itself a “natural” development. It was enforced by the powerful countries through organizations claimed to be “international” that in reality represents the interests of these powerful countries such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organizations and others. This enforcement came through political conditions made by these organizations on loan plans to the poor countries through the following scenario:
The North colonized and occupied the South, ripped off its wealth and resources (and still does until now). As a result, the South became poor, and when its countries wanted to implement development plans, it needed huge loans, so the ex-colonizers loaned them the money from the rip-off proceeds (i.e. loaned them their own money!).
Because the regimes that inherited power from the colonizers in the countries of the South were corrupt and in many instances, puppets to the ex-colonizers, the biggest parts of these loans ended up in the pockets of these ruling regimes and the classes connected to it, which meant more loans and so in, until the South countries (now called the Third World!) became up to its chin in debt that it is no longer able to pay even the interests on these loans.
Through this open door, the powerful countries of the North came in under the excuse of “helping the poor countries settle their huge debts” through “economic restructuring”, which is the nice name for a fully-blown hegemony project. “Restructuring” means three main things:
1. Withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities in the social sector like health, education and others for the benefit of the private sector that cares for nothing but profit.
2. Privatization of industries, services and other state-owned sectors that was originally built by the money of the people themselves (through taxes and other forms of contribution and funding) in order to finance paying back some of the loan interests, that were originally the result of corruption and failure of development plans.
3. Amending all economy-related laws so as any regulations, obstructions and protections against outside capital are removed; and introducing new laws such as “Investment Encouragement Laws” that in fact give Capital huge tax exemptions and advantageous prices on infrastructure facilities and services, thus the people finance infrastructure projects for the benefit of the Capitalist project that pay no tax, abuse the environment, and exploit the same people who financed the infrastructure of these projects in the first place.
As might be expected under such settings, local industries cannot compete with trans-national corporations that have huge budgets and tremendous capabilities and experiences supported by powerful armies and political wills that only considers what accomplishes its interests with no regard to ethics or rights. This way, the trans-national corporations will prevail on the economic scene of the poor countries without direct colonialism in most of the cases. The following mechanism is often observed:
Trans-nationals will take over mining and exploration industries, in addition to high-profit service sectors (like communications). It makes large savings by using unprotected, cheap third-world labor, and then by exporting and re-exporting, it will sell the same products in these same countries at very high prices after the local competitors are eliminated through dumping, reducing prices below cost for a limited time, taking over competitors among other mechanisms.
In this way, a trans-national sports corporation that manufactures its footballs in Pakistan with child labor paid around one dollar a day, will re-export these same footballs to Pakistan and the rest of the world to be sold at eighty dollars per piece to be bought by the same child who was exploited in it manufacturing!
What is so ironic is that these powerful countries preaching deregulation, removing protections on local industries, and promoting removal of state support to farming, industry and other economic activities under the slogans of “openness”, “increasing competition”, and “supporting free trade”; practice themselves economic protection and support policies!! Well known examples are: the problems between Europe and the USA on the latter's protection of its steel industry rendering EU steel uncompetitive; the North's demand that countries of the South should abolish all forms of support to farming (which is the main economic activity in the South) in order to overwhelm it with the farming products from the north which is completely state-supported (EU governments as an example spend two euros per day on each EU cow!).
More examples: In France, the government intervened “with all its weight” to prevent the Italian company Enel from taking over the French electricity and water company Suez, and gave instruction for a merge between Suez and the governmentally-owned Gaz de France. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin stated that this step is important because “of the strategic importance of energy to France”, whereas Italy considered this action as extreme as “an act of war”, while Enel's CEO Fulvio Conti regarded this action as an act of “nationalizing” Suez. Another event in Spain, where the government there is trying to obstruct a take over of a local energy company (Endesa) by the German E.ON Energie. In addition, the Spanish government stated that it will expand its authorities to prevent foreign corporations from owning Spanish energy firms. In another example, the US administration obstructed the taking over of a corporation from Dubai of a US port-management deal.
In conclusion, Globalization is a mechanism to facilitate the hegemony of the Capitalist trans-national corporations, and to increase their profits by ripping off the world and exploiting the people via transforming them into consuming slaves. Globalization is not the enemy to be confronted, simply because it is a mechanism, a tool, and it is useless to fight a tool, you have to fight the one using the tool, and in this instance, it is Capitalist Imperialism. Therefore, I think that the slogans “anti-globalization” or “confronting globalization” are illusive, because as I said, globalization is a tool of Imperialism, so the thing to do is to confront Imperialism itself not its tools.
Another mix of concepts is made by those who divide Globalization into many “globalizations”: economic globalization, cultural globalization, military globalization and so on. This is also an illusive division to portray that “not all aspects of globalization are bad, only some are”. Globalization is an economic phenomenon as I clarified above, but to support it you need additional tools like culture, military and others.
For example: For the beauty industry to sell thousands of billions of dollars worth of commodities, it must market a certain trend of clothing, a certain set of beauty “values”, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable, and for that it mobilizes huge armies of models, singers, performers, magazines, video clips, satellite stations, creating by this its own “culture”, which in reality is not a culture but a consumerist propaganda that drives people to spend money for the benefit of the manufacturers and promoters of this propaganda who earn their profits from nothing! Same applies on food trends (McDonalds, Burger King, Coca Cola, Pepsi[…]etc all create and promote certain life-styles and habits to maximize their sales, and thus their profits), Mobile phones, and other commodities that are transformed into buy-or-die items.
Military intervention comes to settle issues were political and economic intervention failed. The example of Iraq is very illustrative, where corporations like Bechtel and Halliburton followed the soldiers to the oil wells and infrastructure projects.
I will now approach another aspect of the question: the effect of Globalization on the Arab World.
The ruling regimes in the Arab Homeland are similar to those prevalent in the third world: they are a continuation of the colonialist era, and integrated in the interests of the Imperialist powers. Due to their political and economic subordination with Imperialism, these regimes do not represent the interests of their people, but rather the interests of the powerful states and the trans-national corporations. These interests develop and change, which means that these regimes are discussable and changeable when maintaining Imperialist interests needs different approaches. This makes these regimes subjects for continuous embezzlement from the outside and continuous fear from the inside. This results in a complete subordination to the outside and a tight security fist for the inside. This is first effect of globalization (=Imperialism) on the Arab Homeland.
The second effect is the complete and final discarding of independent local development programs, opening local markets, removing protection on local industries and services, in addition to selling out the public-owned establishments. This automatically led to the loss of state control over the economy resulting in a huge increase in prices, inflation accompanied by stability or even a decrease in salaries, laying off large numbers of workers, and the absence of real work possibilities resulting in the state-led propaganda of "overcoming the culture of shame" that calls on university graduates to become 100$/month slaves at the Zionist and trans-national industries in Jordan's Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZs).
The third effect is that the state discovered that it has no sources of income after privatization and selling-out the public sector (one of the most income-generating sectors for the state), canceling taxes and customs barriers due to its commitment to free-trade agreements (another source of income), removing taxes on foreign capital to "attract" investment (a third source of income). The only source of income left is taxes collected from the people, and traffic tickets! So the regimes stopped subsidizing essential commodities, introduced a "sales tax" and increased it many times (now in Jordan it is 16% on any purchased item), became very strict on income tax, and the entire government sector became a money-collection frame that provides no services.
So under globalization, the state:
1. Transformed into a facilitator for Capitalism and its exploitation of workers, people and resources through changing legal frameworks and removing protections and controls while taking commissions in return in the form of aid or benefits or others.
2. Provides no services since it abandoned its social tasks to the private sector.
3. Collects money from the people in order to implement these points!!
It is the smartest work of deception in history: the people financing their own destruction, exploitation and transformation into consumerist slaves!!
The Arab people and the people of the world in general have no interest in such a system. What is needed is not to follow Imperialism and its globalization, but rather going for independent development and detachment from dependence. Anyone claiming this to be impossible should refer to the experiences of Venezuela, Bolivia and Cuba who still hold in the face of US embargo that maybe the longest in history.
What is impossible in the Arab region is that such independent development be accomplished on the individual state level, that is why the Arab regimes work hard to promote the current Arab states as an ultimate horizon and a final status, meaning in reality eternalizing dependence and subordination and as a result, maintaining the interests of the ruling classes. What we need is to throw the "Arab states horizon" in the trash can and going back to a pan-Arab approach. My opinion as a Marxist is that to confront Imperialism, Zionism and their tools in the Arab region (the Arab regimes), the exploited people should unite to form the propeller for revolution.
2005 Arab-European League – Standing for the Rights of the Arab and Moslem communities in Europe.