Western civilization was built on the intersection of war and commerce. But since the seventies, in the wake of the unwinnable Vietnam War, increasing cold war tensions threatening the planet with nuclear immolation, there began a concerted effort by the trilateral ruling elite of America, Europe, and Japan to distance themselves from their own legacy of war.
Recent decades have seen trilateral transnational corporations moving into the 21st Christian century with a new order still based on commerce but with information replacing war as a defining feature. Of course, as the American destruction of Iraq in 1991 suggests, war is always an option for preserving trilateral interests, but western diplomacy and a western-defined rule of law are becoming the preferred methods for global domination. It is useful to keep this in mind when considering complex international issues, such as the Middle East ‘peace process.’
At Bill Clinton’s white house in 1993, with the infamous handshake seen around the world, Yassir Arafat sealed his Palestinian Authority’s commitment to an Israeli defined, American-brokered peace. The long and illusive, though little understood, peace of which this speaks has concerned transnational business interests for many years. ‘Instability,’ as the political scientists call it, is bad for business; peace of any sort brings stability which in turn allows ‘progress’ on the western economic model. Mopping up the few remaining unstable ‘hot spots’ around the globe has been a major policy goal of the west, especially Washington, since the 1970s.
Clinton summed it up neatly in a press conference on August 6: peace and stability are needed so that ‘tough free trade agreements’ can be imposed to ‘open’ the 95 percent of the world’s consumers currently unavailable to American business interests. On the same day, his secretary of State Madeleine Albright revealed some details of this scheme in a speech at the US Press Club. According to Albright, the zionist State of Israel has a chance to become a regional economic power rivaling the Pacific rim ‘Asian Tigers.’
Of course, Palestinians have their place in Albright’s vision of peace and progress; for them, she contends, peace means a chance to ‘end hostilities’ and begin progress toward making something of themselves (as if Palestinians are to blame for 50 years of colonization under the heels of the western-backed zionists). Giving the plan a vote of support, Israeli government advisor David Bar-Ilan hailed Albright’s proclamations as one of the ‘great speeches’ of the age. But the solution they propose has been around for some time; it is little more than the standard western model for third world ‘progress’ and ‘development,’ with the added novelty of giving the zionists an official seat at the trilateral table.
Clinton, Albright and Bar-Ilan have probably never been to the West Bank, where the trappings of an Israeli/American peace have been increasingly visible since Arafat’s fateful 1993 handshake. Visitors to the West Bank before and after the Arafat/Rabin accords are immediately struck by tangible signs of American-style progress. For instance, Arafat recently opened a branch of the Palestinian International Bank in Ramallah by making a deposit of his own ‘personal funds’ in the amount of US$3 million.
Like the oil-soaked Gulf sheikhs who take a personal cut from all State revenues, Arafat has laid claim to the recent windfall in dollars from American and European banks. This suits the banks quite well, since it has always been western policy to find a head man through whom to operate; the track record of such support for the worst ‘third world’ tyrants and dictators in the name of stability and progress needs no repetition here.
Western-style progress requires prisons and maximum security compounds, which are necessary to incarcerate the ‘enemies of progress’ and to protect headmen from accountability to their people. The Palestinian Authority currently occupies a large military compound in El-Bireh, near Ramallah, which Arafat visits in his two large Egyptian-donated helicopters. After Oslo, the PA took over the compound from the Israelis, who had one of their prisons there. The Israelis, in turn, inherited the compound from the British who built it on land confiscated from Arabs during the Palestinian Mandate. Countless Muslims and other Palestinian patriots have been tortured and murdered in this compound, presumably in the name of peace and progress.
One finds all sorts of chicanery, nepotism and favouritism in the Palestinian Authority, all requirements for progress on the standard western-backed ‘third world’ model. Most of Arafat’s cronies have questionable allegiances, and many also have their greedy mitts in the western aid coffers. For example, Abu Mazen, who is a Baha’i and believed to be in line as successor when Arafat outlives his usefulness, recently purchased a luxurious home in Ramallah, but through some shady wheeling and dealing he still collects rent from the Palestinian Authority on the same piece of property. As a Baha’i, Abu Mazen is entitled to burial in the secretive sect’s World Headquarters in Akka, Israel (that is, in the 1948 part of Occupied Palestine).
In Ramallah, where Arafat’s Legislative Assembly sits, there has been a real estate boom over the last few years, with homes, banks and high rise buildings quickly filling in the district’s increasingly congested, Israeli enclosed borders. Vacant lands that lay unused and which could have been bought for a few hundred Jordanian dinars seven or eight years ago are now trading for hundreds of thousands of US dollars.
One shrewed Palestinian American land speculator bought a piece of real estate for US$5 million and sold it the next day for US$6 million. But a lot of the construction seems haphazard and hasty, and there is little sign of city planning and municipal regulation. Most of the building seems to be funded by two groups of returnees to Palestine: the clique of technocrats feeding off of Arafat, and a wealthy group of repatriates from the west.
Wealthy repatriate Palestinian Americans have brought their money, children, and American values from places like Chicago and New York to settle on the West Bank. Some made their fortunes in grocery stores in poor American inner city neighbourhoods, bilking the ‘abeed (Palestinian slang meaning something like ‘nigger’) with overpriced and outdated food. Others made their wealth in liquor stores, or even some say, by dealing drugs and other contraband. (Indeed, it is hard to believe that folks could make millions on selling groceries alone). Others made their riches on insurance fraud or manufacturer coupon scams; a few even hit it big in the American lottery. The problem is that money from such sources has no barakah, and the infrastructure that these people build with it, is reflective of that sad and troublesome fact.
Another sign of ‘progress’ is the growing number of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) backed by western government, foundation, or corporate interests. One such NGO, the Palestine Center for Peace and Democracy (PCPD), is supported by the American embassy and some European church groups, and it is run by ‘progressive’ (i.e. communists) who are working with like-minded Israelis to bring American style electoral politics to Palestine. If it seems ironic that the American government and western churches are working with ‘godless commies’ in Palestine, it is important to keep in mind that to be a communist here requires little more than a hatred of Muslims. The PCPD has no room for Hamas and other Palestinian Islamic groups on its agenda, which does not bode well for any democracy, since the Islamic groups garner considerable support in the territories, some even say a majority. By pushing western style secular politics the PCPD is in effect excluding Muslims, laying the foundation for a repeat of the Algeria fiasco.
The PCPD is also woking on a ‘civic education’ curriculum for indoctrinating Palestinian youth into accepting the Israeli defined, American brokered peace, along with a host of western social, political, and economic accretions; it is a little more than a facile hodgepodge of ‘politically correct’ Americanisms. Whether they know it or not, these folks are doing the bidding of the zionist lobby in the US, whose think tank, the Institute for Near East Policy, recommended just such a brain washing campaign almost immediately after Oslo. Indeed, the reformed communists, who call themselves the Palestinian intelligentia, are also (perhaps) unwittingly doing the bidding of western intelligence agencies who have always used the left to counter Islamic movements, and vice versa. Of course, this is all for the benefit of progress, one must suppose.
There are still other signs of progress in Palestine that Clinton and company have evidently missed. The American style consumer culture is progressing remarkably well in the territories, especially for a region still for the most part under military occupation. Over the last few years, there has been a noticeable increase in fast food joints. Various American junk food chains and their clones are doing brisk business in Ramallah and Jerusalem.
American tobacco companies, increasingly under fire for poisoning and killing Americans, are finding new markets for their cancer sticks in the territories. Huge billboards sporting tobacco logos with rugged American cowboys urge Palestinians to partake of the addictive fumes; many grocery stores are given ‘free’ store displays and awnings emblazened with tobacco logos.
Junk food and drink merchants use a similar tactic to entice children with their wares. Some children, especially of repatriate families, are becoming regular consumers of American junk foods, such as the extruded potato gruel snacks advertised on Israeli TV with seductive images of youthful rebellion and abandon. Finally, another sure sign of progress is the growing number of bars and nightclubs in large urban areas like Ramallah, most of which serve alcohol. This was unheard of untill a few years ago.
Of course, the question remains: why people choose to abandon their culture for trite Americanism? One reason is that Arab and Islamic culture has been systematically chortled, cheapened, and chided for centuries by the west. This has no doubt had an impact on the youth, especially those who grew up in America where degrading Islam is a national pastime.
The zionists are already seeing some solid benefits from their Faustian bargain with the Palestine Authority. Israeli products, virtually non-existent during the intifada, now fill the shelves of Palestinian stores. The Israeli cell phone industries have made a fortune selling their services to people who have no other way to get hooked into phone networks. The Israelis also still hire Palestinian day labourers at cheap non-union wages, even during blockades such as the one imposed after last July’s bomb attack.
Another more insidious benefit is when Jewish colonists in the territories buy old stone masonry from Palestinians who are tearing down old buildings to make way for progress in the form of poured concrete; the zionist invaders from Brooklyn build with these in the hopes of appearing to have been on their stolen lands since time immemorial. Other aspects of traditional Palestinian culture, such as food, clothes and music, have already been claimed by the zionists as part of their fabricated ‘Israeli cultural heritage.’
With a discussion of western style progress on the standard ‘third world’ model as a backdrop, one can appreciate the international hoopla over the recent bomb attack in Jerusalem: bombs take all the fun out of consumer culture. With security lockdowns and blockades people do not seem much interested in vegetating in front of mindless TV programmes, or swilling sugary gaseous soft drinks, or shoveling in fatty fast foods or dishing out big bucks for faddish western clothing; such activities require peace, or so it seems to the transnational cabal of junk food, fashion, entertainment, and electronics giants gaining a foothold here. To them, bombs don’t sell burgers; consumer culture needs a giddy, superficial and carefree climate in which to thrive.
However, there are still some hindrances to American style progress in Palestine. Many people still operate within collective allegiances, some religious, other tribal. This tempers western style possessive individualism and the egocentrism necessary for consumerism to progress. One finds relatively few of the pervasive intrusions of ‘the system,’ such as monthly bills, income taxes, or advertising and telemarketing, which are so much a part of life in the west.
Although there are credit cards, their use is minimal and generally limited to a westernized elite; even cheques are only slowly taking hold because most people still prefer cash in hand. People buy European products that are generally built to last, and even reuse things like plastic soda bottles for anything from water jugs to food storage containers, or even in construction as filler. The call to prayer still segments the work day, leaving time for long lunches, afternoon naps, and early evening visits. None of this is conductive to the work and consumer lifestyle of so many western societies, especially America.
Other than burgers and soft drinks, Americans have few traditional foods - even Clinton is known to gorge on burgers and fries - but people here still enjoy their rich and traditional cuisine of Arab and Islamic foods. In short, despite clear signs of incursion, American style consumer culture has not progressed nearly as far as it has in the west.
The kind of peace that Clinton and Albright demand for the world is that upon which their own consumer culture is built; it is arguably not applicable to the rest of the world. Though it is gaining ground among the more colonized segments of the population, consumer culture may not take hold in Palestine any time in the near future. It will likely take some time for the complete American style system to take root here, and on that count the transnational business interests still have their work cut out for them. For the most part, only they and their most colonized cohorts are embracing progress without question. In a sense then, perhaps ordinary people living their traditional Islamic lifestyles are the true ‘enemies of peace.’
Muslimedia: September 1-15, 1997