Across the Bay

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Michael Hudson Aflaq

After reciting the Party credo to a small crowd of journalists in Damascus (an event that was disproportionately covered by Syrian media) and meeting at length with Bashar Asad, Michael Hudson traveled to Beirut where he gave a talk organized by the Center for Arab Unity Studies.

At the talk Hudson came out and proudly affirmed his steadfast adherence to Arab nationalism despite all the persecution (!): "to be an Arabist in the US these days, especially if you hold that to be more than just a research specialty, is a very difficult thing, one that's met with hostility." (Emphasis mine.)

He then went on to talk about "Political Reform in the Arab World: What Role for the US?" He started by saying that he's no spokesman for the US government, nor does he work for it (um, thanks, Mike, we already knew that part). Then he offered the following disclaimer: " what I'm about to say about the US and political reform in the ME is not a justification of US policies in the region." Then, reciting the basic dogmas, and proving he's a bona fide halal comrade, he added that he has long been a supporter of the Palestinian cause and that he had opposed the occupation of Iraq. And finally, the last line of the credo, he stressed that while the call for reform is good, reform should come from within and not from the outside.

After that, he dove straight into the usual anti-colonial talk. An-Nahar's Lynn Rahme summarized his main points regarding changes in the region. "The US hegemony over the world and the region after the decline of European and Soviet influence after WWII: He then began to talk about the 'New American Empire,' and the future of nationalist ambitions animated by the anti-colonialist and anti-occupation movement with the aim of asserting national identities." Then came "The transformation of identities which were constructed then deconstructed then reconstructed due to the fact that the distribution of power after WWII led to the birth of new states whose boundaries were drawn arbitrarily, so nationalist movements grew and local societies went into constant flux." He gave an example of the latter point: "what Lebanon has witnessed lately in terms of the rise of the Lebanese identity after years of absence, could be a good example of that idea." He added that sectarianism wasn't a well-known concept in Syria as it was in Lebanon, but now it has started to dominate political talk. He concluded: "identities collapse and are born again."

Then, channeling the ghost of his namesake (Aflaq) he predicted the rebirth -- a ba'th, if you will! -- of Arab nationalism: "Ideologies like identities are constructed then they collapse. After Arabism which in the past was the dominant concept, Political Islam appeared and caused Arabism to lose its place and importance. However, I believe that we will witness a return to Arabism for two reasons: the first is the role of the information revolution and globalization in transmitting Arab thought and culture. The second is the role of the growing US presence all over the world in fortifying the nationalist sentiment and the need to fight occupation."

Finally, Hudson recited yet another fixed doctrine regarding the US role, incoherently mixing together all the following cliches: The US should beware what it wishes for in spreading democracy in the ME. The US involvement in this process is a "kiss of death." And, of course, casting doubt on the sincerity of the US and its intentions in the regions, and validating "the Arabs' suspicions."

And there you have it. There's nothing more pathetic than an "anachronistic" Third-Worldist romantic nationalist holding onto deadly failed ideologies of the past. Welcome to ME studies, where Nasser and Aflaq live on.

Update: The Lebanese blogger who authors the "Lebanese Political Journal" attended Hudson's talk at AUB and wrote about it here.