(My latest column for the print version of CounterPunch.) O dark dark dark, they all go into the dark, the vacuous, vacuumous void of the imperial penumbra: the rock-ribbed dissidents, fiery oppositionists, staunch anti-imperialists, eminent afflicters of the unjustly comfortable; the lifelong exposers of ideological bullshittery, distinguished voices decrying repression and hate, chairmen of many activist committees, generous denouncers of profiteering, brave and battered souls who put their bodies upon the gears of the odious Machine again and again — all go into the dark. They bow their heads and say to the Machine, at last: protect us.
This year has seen depressing recurrences of a syndrome first exhibited — in typically brazen form — by Christopher Hitchens in the first days after 9/11: stalwart figures of political dissent submitting reluctantly (or in Hitchens’ case, gleefully) to the power of the militarist American state as the only force capable of mounting a last-ditch defense of humanist values against the imminent, overwhelming existential threat of Islam.
Some of these coat-turning figures are the usual “reformists” and careerists whose “dissent” was always epidermis-deep; their submission to the state rates nothing more than bemused scorn. But what of someone like Bill Blum, who has informed and inspired so many of us for decades with his uncompromising insights into the true nature of the odious Machine as it has chewed its way around the world, killing millions, spouting lies, fomenting extremism, repressing freedom at home and abroad? If Blum too could succumb to Hitchenitis, would such a blot not seem “like a second fall of man”?
And yet it has come to pass. The terrorist atrocity in Nice was apparently the last straw for Blum. After that horrific attack — by a mentally troubled, wife-beating, doped-up wretch who, it seems, might have been preyed upon by Islamic extremists in the same way the FBI picks troubled souls to foment terror plots it can then ‘foil’ (or not) — Blum declared that it was time to drop “political correctness” and “support Western military and economic power to crush the unspeakable evil of ISIS.”
Well, I suppose if the wielders of “Western military and economic power” were not actively pursuing — with copious amounts of energy, arms and money — strategies which they know exacerbate the “radical Islamic terrorism” that Blum apparently believes everyone but he and Pam Geller are too scared to mention, there might be the sliver of an argument in this position. A specious argument, to be sure — “the problems caused by violent Western intervention can be solved by more violent Western intervention “– but an argument nonetheless.
But as Blum himself has detailed with devastating accuracy over the years, the United States and its allies have enabled such forces for decades. And it has been evident for years that their main objective in Syria is regime change, not the defeat of ISIS. It’s also been evident — as Blum has documented — that they don’t give a rat’s ass about “radical Islamic terrorism” except as a means to advance their foreign and domestic agendas: supporting it here, opposing it there, ignoring the monstrous consequences and laughing all the way to the bank.
But Blum doesn’t stop with supporting military action against ISIS. He wants a full-bore campaign of domestic repression launched against all Muslims within reach of those ever-benevolent Western powers. Blum says Muslim culture “must be severely curtailed. The West must oversee the classes in Islamic schools in France, the UK, the US, et al … Even if it means sending spies into the classes, outfitted with recording devices. The teachers of these classes, if they have any connection at all to anything smacking of radical Islam … should be fired.”
(Maybe these new civilization-saving spies can pass along the names of suspect teachers to the White House for consideration on those “Terror Tuesdays” when the president decides who will be arbitrarily murdered that week by the protectors of humanist values.)
And even if, as in many cases, “the perpetrator of some horrible terrorist act was not even religious or never attended a mosque,” it doesn’t matter, says Blum. The mere fact that they might have been “raised in the atmosphere” of “Muslim culture or environment” is enough to justify subjecting every Muslim to repression, surveillance or even “purging.” (This despite the fact that Muslims are, overwhelmingly, the chief victims of radical Islamic terrorism – and of “Western military and economic power” as well.)
Blum says he knows all about Western atrocities — Iraq, Vietnam, Hiroshima — but ISIS is worse than all of this, presumably because of that irredeemable “Muslim culture or environment.” So we must now support the Machine — the “culture or environment” of American militarism — that perpetrated those atrocities in order to destroy a group that would not exist without the interventions of “Western military and economic power.” We must take it on trust that after decades of the brutal, inhuman, murderous operations documented by Blum, this Machine, this murderous system, will now save our “values” from destruction.
I’ll continue to read (and re-read) Blum’s work with respect and attention, as always. But it’s sad to see him enter this shadowland, where the shade of Hitchens is sitting by the wraith of Whittaker Chambers and chuckling, “What took you so long, Bill?”