They Hate Us for Our Freedoms

July 25, 2010

Paul Jackson

On the six-month anniversary of the Haitian earthquake, Nigel Fisher, the Deputy Special Representative, Ad Interim, for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and its Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator, tried to answer a few questions from journalists after his prepared statement on the progress of the recovery effort. So momentous was the tragedy, such huge amounts of money collected, that the real beneficiaries of the catastrophe needed to say something. You can listen to the interview on the United Nations website.

We must put Fisher in his place. That is, we must place him within the events of the decade that led to his press conference.

In September 2001, George W Bush declared universal and never-ending war on those who “hate us for our freedoms.” The truth is buried within the lie. And the truth is simply that he was representing powers that are willing to kill to ensure that no community or population whose profits could accrue to their coffers be allowed the freedom to control their own lives.

We can now easily brush away the debris and see the truth. The debris in this case is not concrete, but words. When noble words and ideas are used to hide the truth, decent people must be vigilant. But honest people know that words have no inherent meaning. Words have meaning only in context. Actions have meaning. A quick survey of the recent histories of Canada, the United States, Afghanistan, and Haiti uncovers noble words and nasty actions.

Canadians are watching a vicious assault on their civil society. The state is withdrawing funding from community organizations that promote justice and equality. Many people are rethinking their relationship to the state. Some Canadians are falling into the same trap as their southern neighbours who had recently framed their agenda as a struggle against George W Bush. The fight is only against Harper insofar as he is currently representing those whose goal is the concentration of power. Canadians and Americans both have been naïve in their understanding of the state and their relationship to it.

The American state is currently the central tool through which global power is exercised. In October of 2001, it led us into war against those who, Bush claimed, “hate our freedoms.” The Empire required a state that could control Afghanistan in its interests. So it imposed one. However, throughout their history, the peoples of Afghanistan have always resisted the authority of the central government. Authority has always been exercised locally.

The media educated the populations of the belligerent NATO nations to ask all the wrong questions. Instead of discussing how it was that Afghanistan had never had a police force, we tracked the Afghan National Police in its progress towards becoming a viable institution. It always fell short for a number of reasons. The Americans took it over and have been using it to fight the insurgency. (Much as the police forces in Canada were unleashed against civil society during the G20 nightmare.) Accepting the terms set by Washington and the media, critics of the war asked the wrong questions about the ‘warlords.’ The word, apparently, doesn’t exist in Pashtu or Dari. There are terms that describe the types of leaders that have historically attracted the allegiance of local populations: the brave warrior and the wise emir are two such examples that have meaning in the Afghan context.

In sum, NATO states were not only ignorant about Afghan culture, politics, and society, but they spread their ignorance to Western populations that entered the debate already conquered by the interests of the powerful. The new Afghanistan was planned at the World Bank to be a ‘liberal open-market democracy.’ That is the standard against which all populations are measured. All NATO countries have plans for the integration of ‘failed states’ into the American-led Empire. Something called the United States Fund for Peace measures states to determine when they have ‘failed.’ The standard is a liberal democracy allied to the United States; however, dictatorships and feudal states are not judged to have failed unless America wants to invade them. The very term ‘failed state’ forces you to acknowledge the necessity and desirability of the state. However, the alternative to a failed state is not understood to be ‘no state,’ but rather a state that has the monopoly over the exercise of violence. Again, Canada proved that it is indeed a successful state during the G20 nadir.

NATO countries applied what they term the ‘whole of government’ approach to the remaking of Afghanistan. So, defence, diplomacy, and development were required to work together, with the military getting by far the largest percentage of the budget. The process insulted many personnel from NGOs who wanted to appear to be distinct from belligerent governments. The Afghan population came to see that the NGOs were an integral part of the occupation and so targeted them along with the military. Some, like Doctors Without Borders, withdrew, protesting that their work had been compromised and their personnel put at risk. Others remained and worked within the system. Some, like UNICEF Canada under Nigel Fisher, never denounced the invasion or occupation. Invade, occupy, and then educate the children. What moral authority could ever ground such an educational system?

Afghans have once again defeated the invaders, showing along the way why the tribal cultures value martial competence so highly. But what is clear is that ‘we’ – all of those who entered the terms of the debate as structured by the World Bank, NATO, the White House, and Pentagon – hated the freedoms exercised by Afghans. We didn’t hate any freedoms in particular, but rather their freedom from the control of our economy and our highly dysfunctional imaginations. While Afghans were fighting for their real freedom, Canadians and Americans who presumed, without evidence, that they were in control of their own states were being stripped of their basic rights. The Afghans have taught us a lesson in freedom. In fact, George W Bush and the people he represented hated Afghans for their freedoms, their independence of action. But now, even the slowest learners in North America are seeing that powerful interests control our states and they are bleeding us in a figurative sense just as Afghans shed real blood.

Meanwhile, the earthquake brought the same players down on Haiti. Same model. Same World Bank. Same Washington. Same Ottawa. This time, it was a humanitarian mission.

Two days after the earthquake, Nigel Fisher warned people to make sure they donated to the legitimate charities and humanitarian organizations like his UNICEF Canada. Clinton also reminded people that his Foundation was especially trustworthy. Now, they are working together to assure that Haiti not fail. Surely, you would have to be a terrorist or an Afghan warlord to want a state to fail. The problem is that, once again, the state doesn’t exist. For different reasons than Afghanistan, the Haitian state has no support among the population. Like the Afghan state that was imposed upon Afghans after the invasion, the part of the Haitian state that exercises power is a creation of Washington. Like Afghans, Haitians know they have a puppet government. However, what is obvious to everyone on the ground is unmentionable in the halls of power.

Fisher, like Clinton, has made himself useful to those who are trying to control the flow of goods, money, and information in the world. (They don’t go in the same direction.) Fisher has demonstrated extraordinary contempt for the poor he claims to be saving. He is the perfect appointment. “We are working with the Haitian government” is the mantra of all NGOs who want any part of Haiti. Only Haitians want nothing to do with ‘their’ government.

Like Afghanistan, there is an alternative: civil society, the same source of power that is ruthlessly under attack at the moment in Canada by the Harper government. The same promise of freedom that people in Afghanistan are wrenching from imperial hands. The same hope that burst with the Obama bubble. In Haiti, however, civil society is well developed and cannot be squashed by the state because it doesn’t rely on the state.

But Haitian civil society is under attack. Fisher claimed at the news conference that he had spoken with all of the major NGOs and they had agreed to follow government standards in their development work. For those who accept ‘the state’ without question, this is perhaps not a controversial statement. But the Haitian state cannot claim any legitimacy as long as popular parties are forbidden to participate in elections. Meanwhile, for those with marching orders from the neoliberal planners of the global economy, the process, seen in Afghanistan most recently, is to place a government in office and then guarantee it the monopoly over violence to protect itself from the people it is intended to control. That North Americans call that ‘democracy’ reveals how little meaning they attach to words.  In the emerging world order, Canada is increasingly accepting the role of training the police forces for states that have no popular support. It is likely that that explains why Prime Minister Harper spent one billion dollars at the G20 to show Canada’s partners its competence in policing its population.

Fisher says that the most important factor for Haiti to find a path towards sustainable development is to ensure “that every Haitian child receives a quality education. This will have ripple effects throughout Haitian society. The educated population will: be thoughtful and analytical; challenge political leaders to act in the best interests of all Haitians; transform the economy; build an equitable society; and educate and protect its own children. It’s a ‘virtuous cycle’ that will continue.”

This is a fabulous claim that ensures, instead, that UNICEF remains untouched by the politics of the world in which it operates, that it is helping to bring into existence. In his time in Afghanistan, Fisher made the same claim, formulated to appeal to an uncritical Western audience. It allows NGOs to never be accountable, for by the time the children are educated and jobless, UNICEF will be elsewhere, making the same claims in relation to other victimized populations. The question is what form education takes. Haitians already learn through apprenticeships the only trades that they have any hope of practising in Haiti. At the press conference, Fisher offered full support to the Interim Committee’s development plan. How much education does he want to offer children who will be working in assembly plants?

In fact, the real education must take place in the other direction. I invite Nigel Fisher to immerse himself in Cite Soleil society for a year. He will find that his analytical skills have been very weak indeed for they have overlooked the actual human beings in whose interests he claims to be acting. He says that a formal education will allow Haitians to challenge their political leaders. Only in ignorance of the recent history of Haiti available to all educated people could he make such claims.

It seems that Fisher learned somewhere that the only legitimate authority comes from up the socio-economic ladder. In his support for the plan tabled by the Interim Committee, he said: “We (international community, whether that’s donor governments, UN, major NGOs) we’re now working with those sectoral ministries to define hard targets – operational targets – which will allow that plan then to be measurable. I think in all the discussion of how progress has been achieved, we’re not going to be able to say anything unless we have hard targets. That’s what’s been done now. And the Prime Minister says he wants targets by the end of this year and by the end of next year so that we can really measure progress.”

That is precisely the thinking that has caused such a nightmare for the peoples of Afghanistan. Planners at the White House, Pentagon, World Bank, and NATO imagine that anything they can dream up in one world can then be implemented in another. Once the goals are in place, then all that’s left is to see whether we are achieving them. If not, change the game plan, the tactics. The goalposts cannot move, however, once the game is underway. Never mind what suffering. 

So, what does Fisher think about the people whose lives will be affected by those plans?  “The nutritional status of children and vulnerable groups, especially women, has not worsened in the months since the earthquake and in fact in comparison with some of the areas where people lived in greatest poverty, for example Cite de Soleil, [sic] we’ve seen in the camps around Cite de Soleil [sic] in fact an improvement in the nutritional status of children. ” Representatives of complicit NGOs always have a fact at hand, baiting the listeners to debate a detail.

In 2008, Fisher visited Cite Soleil. He claimed that, “The people here are condemned by internal neglect and international indifference.” At the time, that claim could only have made sense if he was speaking to the world populations, chastising them for allowing the American Empire to crush Cite Soleil’s civil society. Now, we see that his judgment that international indifference was responsible for Cite Soleil’s plight was based on an incredible ignorance of history. Indifference would have been a blessing!

Whether Fisher is actually very poorly educated or is blind to facts that don’t promote his career is not knowable from my position. However, the people assembling on any street in Cite Soleil can allow themselves the luxury of incisive analysis about Haitian and global affairs. That is a freedom that even the most downtrodden and dispossessed retain. People like Fisher and the representatives of NGOs that have decided to uncritically throw in their lot with the government controlled by foreign interests against Haitian civil society could easily analyze themselves right out of a job.

Best to not be too lucid about the past. Keep your eyes on the future. The future can be debated with no reference to the real world. It hasn’t arrived for verification. Perhaps that explains Fisher’s hodgepodge of facts contested by the journalists who tried to make him accountable as he claimed to be. There is a plan in the works, the details of which are sketchy. After its realization, as long as donors keep the funds flowing, Haiti will finally overcome its history of which not one of the planners seems to be even remotely aware.

The same interests are trying to gut Afghan, Haitian, Canadian, and American civil society. They hate us for our freedoms.

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