Archive for February 2007
My children have a Dreamworks animated film called AntZ. I suppose it’s better than the average American children’s film, but still, once you’ve watched 15 minutes you can predict both the conclusion and the moral message that will be rammed violently past your gullet for the next hour and a bit. As in very many Disney films for children or in the Hollywood versions for adults, the message is BE YOURSELF. BE AN INDIVIDUAL. STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD.
It seems contradictory that the country which feeds its children unto obesity with this message is also the country with the most conformist of populations. Americans are more likely than any other people to confuse their national identity with their state machinery, to identify themselves with their leaders and their flag, to believe that their country has a divinely-ordained manifest destiny. The ability of Americans to contemplate alternative perspectives on the world, or even to understand that people in different countries may not want to speak English or eat hamburgers, is severely limited. The declared ideology is individualism, but the reality is rigid conformism.
Many people will have seen the excerpt from an al-Jazeera discussion programme in which Iraqi MP Mish’an al-Jabouri and Iraqi journalist Sadeq Musawi threaten and scream at each other. The occasion is Saddam Hussain’s execution, and the cleavage is sectarian (al-Jabouri is Sunni and Musawi is Shia). Al-Jabouri calls on the audience to read the fatiha for the soul of the ‘martyred president.’ When Musawi objects and points out that Saddam killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, al-Jabouri says he will do ‘unimaginable things’ to Musawi, and calls him an Iranian, a Persian, and a Persian shoe. After Musawi has walked off, al-Jabouri demonstrates what looks to me like mental illness. He tells us that his own brother and brother-in-law were killed by Saddam, but that he nevertheless considers the martyr president to be the master of Iraq, and specifically the master of Musawi and Musawi’s parents. He regrets that Saddam was killed by “the same people who killed our master Umar and our master Abu Bakr.” Then he seems to remember that Abu Bakr wasn’t killed, and says “Sorry. The people who hate Abu Bakr and all the companions of the Prophet.”
I found al-Jabouri’s ranting tragic to watch. For people like him, sectarian hatred supercedes even family loyalty. And as far as he is concerned, anyone who disagrees with Baathist tyranny or Sunni dominance of Iraq is not Iraqi and not Arab, but Persian.
The end times are everywhere. The country where millenarian fundamentalists have the most sway over foreign policy is probably the United States. That means the Empire is partially run by people for whom ‘Bring it on!’ has cosmic connotations. For America’s Christian Zionists, the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was a clear sign that the end is near. Many have it carefully mapped out, from Rapture to Armageddon. And these days the apocalypse is almost as popular amongst Muslims. Many Sunnis like to point to the Signs of the Hour which they believe are already in place; my favourite, and one which is hard to argue with if you’ve visited Dubai or Riyadh, is ‘Beduin will compete in building high towers.’ The one-eyed dajjal or antichrist who will rule before the Mahdi, or guided-one, and the final return of Christ, is seen variously in the single eye of the dollar’s masonic pyramid or in the one-eyed television screen. I’ve even met someone who claims that their cousin saw the Mahdi in Mecca. Shia Muslims identify the Mahdi with the last, and hidden, Imam. Moqtada as-Sadr has frequently explained the build-up of US forces in the region over the past decade and a half as preparation of a rapid-reaction force to take on Imam al-Mahdi. The explosion in the shrine at Samara, the place where the final Imam was last seen, and chaos throughout Iraq – the holy land of Shiism – has naturally encouraged apocalypticism among Shia Muslims. But apocalypticism goes beyond the monotheisms. For some Hindus, we are reaching the end of Kali Yag, the age of darkness, which means this cycle of history is approaching a full stop. Doomsday cults thrive in Japan and Russia. Mayan prophecies locate the end in 2012. And, of course, environmentalists describe a hotter near future in which what we call civilisation could totally collapse, billions of us could die, and most of the world could become uninhabitable.