Live Encounters Magazine April 2021
Dr Greta Sykes is a German/English writer and artist. She is a trained Child Psychologist and has taught at the Institute of Education, now, UCL, London. She has produced two volumes of poetry, the most recent called The Shipping News and other poems, as well as two novels, Under Charred Skies and the Defeat of Gilgamesh, 2020. She is co-chair of the Socialist History Society and contributes to their publications. She is an Associate Researcher at UCL on Antiquity and the Middle Ages with a focus on women’s emancipation. Her essays can be found on academia.edu and liveencounters.net as well as on https://www.gretasykes.com/
The Defeat of Gilgamesh, An ancient epic history of love and power by Greta Sykes is available at her website, Amazon and publisher https://www.austinmacauley.com/book/defeat-gilgamesh
Siren song of make believe –
The Pope’s visit to Iraq at a time of Western confidence wobble.
During early March Pope Francis held a historic meeting with Iraq’s top Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, making a powerful appeal for peace in a country torn by sectarianism and violence. Their meeting in the holy city of Najaf was the first time a Pope has met with such a senior Shia cleric since the 7th century. Pope Francis condemned violent religious extremism during an interfaith prayer service at the site of the ancient city of Ur, where the Prophet Abraham is thought to have been born.
‘We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” he told the congregation, which included members of religious minorities persecuted under the Islamic State group’s three-year rule of much of northern Iraq. The pope urged Iraq’s Muslim and Christian religious leaders to put aside animosities and work together for peace and unity. “This is true religiosity: to worship God and to love our neighbour,” he told the gathering.
Two weeks earlier NATO countries held the ‘Munich Security Conference’ to confer about their present situation and set goals. The context could hardly be more daunting. The Western world is still struggling to cope with Corona virus infection rates. Their under financed health services struggle to track and trace or vaccinate people. Vaccinating the whole world is necessary, but difficult, when private companies are in control of vaccines. While Russia’s cheap Sputnik V is used by fifty different nations around the globe and China is helping to inoculate people far and wide, the West remains stingy, competitive and disorganised, whereas China has almost eliminated the virus and returned to normal. Such viruses are not naturally in nature, but arise out of humans’ polluting our natural environment. Poverty and overcrowding are further causes. The main polluters on earth are the rich countries of the world. The Gini Index, a statistical measure of income inequality, indicates that countries like Germany and the UK have an index of 75% whereby 100% would be total absolute inequality and 1% would be complete equality. Growing food queues are an indication of poverty in the UK. Nevertheless, poverty and inequality were not at the heart of the Munich conference. It is helpful to take a look at what matters are concerning NATO countries.
The Munich security conference report
With an opening reference to Oswald Spengler’s ‘The decline of the West’ the report of the conference outlines the present difficulties which they call ‘Westlessness’ a perceived weakness of the West:
‘Part of the challenge is that we have lost a common understanding of what it means to be part of the West. All this occurs against the backdrop of the relative rise of the non-Western world and a mounting number of global challenges and crises that would require a concerted Western response. This Munich Security Report sets out to make sense of what we refer to as “Westlessness’.
Spengler’s premise was that each culture has a determined course from the beginning towards its decline – apparently like a law of nature. At the recent conference the attendees were reassuring each other in their capacity to master what they saw as the challenges to their model of the world and not follow in the footsteps of the dire predictions by Spengler. The report labels the regions of their concern as follows: Mediterranean – ‘Nightmare Nostrum’, Middle East – ‘Dire Straits’ and South Asia – Seize-Fire Fighters’.
The terminology illustrates poignantly their perspective of the world as one of combatants and in need of corrections. On a small planet that is realistically allowed ten years from now to save it from overheating, viewing parts of the world as in need of political or economical intervention, seems at best irresponsible, at worst downright criminally neglectful. Their reasoning is summed up in the following passage:
‘For the past decades, the answer to the question what it was that kept the West together was straightforward: a commitment to liberal democracy and human rights, to a market-based economy, and to international cooperation in international institutions.’
These postulates are the West’s religiously repeated categorial imperative. In the next paragraph they explain who or what is threatening their postulates:
‘Today, the meaning of the West is increasingly contested again. We are witnessing “the decay of ‘the West’ as a relatively cohesive geopolitical configuration anchoring a normative model of global order in which commitments to human rights, democracy, and the rule of the West is due to the rise of an illiberal and nationalist camp within the Western world.’
Mike Pence warned in his speech that “we cannot ensure the defence of the West if our allies grow dependent on the East…’From this perspective, the most dangerous development for NATO, sometimes understood as the “executive arm” of the West, is neither the rise of other great powers nor instability in its neighbourhood but rather the rise of illiberalism and the instability of the West’s collective identity.’
The passage suggests that at the heart of their concern is Western Europe’s economic ties with Russia and possibly China. Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline from Russia to Germany which is currently being built to link Germany directly with Russia, has been in the eye of the storm for months. Sanctions are placed on companies who take part in building it. The US wants Germany to buy their fracked gas, an extremely expensive alternative.
‘The best example of this is Germany’s participation in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project – a joint effort between Russia and Germany to expand the flow of hydrocarbons directly into Western Europe – bypassing potential regions of instability in Eastern Europe targeted by the US specifically to impede Russian-European cooperation (Russia Today).’
In Summary their argument goes as follows. The world has regions of trouble that they need to intervene in. The close relationship of Germany and Russia is dangerous and needs to be undermined. NATO is the executive arm of the West and needs to be ready to intervene. The illiberal and nationalist tendencies in the West undermine the hegemony of the West. The unspoken dimension is the demand for globalisation to achieve an ever cheaper labour force to maintain the unipolar world dominated by the US.
Siren songs of make-believe
The terms liberal, democratic, market-led, ‘working with international institutions, human rights, are friendly and seductive notions which sound well in our ears and feature as desirable in our minds. Yet they are but siren songs of make believe. Behind the façade of niceties lies a cruel world of wars, genocide, exploitation and slander. A recent figure from research done by CODEPINK tells the dreadful truth of wars the West conducts on our behalf: Since 2001 the US and its Allies have dropped at least 326,000 bombs and missiles on the Middle East and Africa. Their language tells us via mainstream media that these bombs have served the causes of democracy, liberalism and human rights. One may ask how can dropping bombs do that? Western media are eloquent in hiding the truth by referring to the siren song of Western postulates. The powerful and catastrophic difference between ‘Schein und Sein’ or appearance and essence can be deconstructed as follows:
‘Liberal’ – means all behaviours that don’t interfere with the dominant credo of the globalised business model. People and businesses are encouraged to engage in any colourful variation of individual liberty, including trans, woke and cancel culture and expect the support of the media. This is achieved through the set up of numerous NGOs who can quickly broadcast an individual’s issue seen as furthering such causes. The aim of such strategies is to pervert any cohesion among the bourgeoisie and working people leading to forms of unity and thus maintain distracting number of issues which hinder an awareness of the class struggle we are all part of.
Democratic – an economy dominated by global business interests which permit elections once in four years between parties so similar that one wonders how to tell the difference; as well as a mass media that is fully tuned into supporting global business and speaking out against viewpoints that could endanger globalisation. Anyone speaking out against their postulates will be silenced, lose their job or even their freedom (Julian Assange). This so-called democracy is held up as an ikon of the West in order to be able to argue that other states are run by dictators, such as North Korea or are deemed undemocratic, such as Russia and China.
Market-led and working with international organisations – means subjection to globalisation, in particular the tech giants Facebook, Google and Microsoft, the arms trade and the pharma business. Globalisation always means labour and trade union rights, gained through hard struggles by workers, are got rid off and workers are given less pay for their work, reduced rights, holiday or sickness pay.
Human rights – means finely tuned application of rights for some individuals that fit in with the globalised business model, while thousands of other individuals and groups are silenced and forgotten. The so-called ‘White Helmets’ are celebrated, turned into heroes, a film with Oscars, to perpetrate the West’s lies about Syria, and the people of Yemen are murdered with bombs supplied by the UK and US to Saudi Arabia, and sanctions on medicines and food increase the death and starvation toll of women, children and men. A person who does not fit in with their model of human rights, such as Julian Assange, is kept in prison without having committed a crime.
The media are subservient and in a sense totalitarian in their uniform presentation of the siren songs of make-believe. Philosophically minded journalists comment eloquently on cultural phenomena, like ‘woke culture’, freedom of expression, democracy, or human rights in terms of ‘our values’ without situating them within the parameters of ‘whose freedoms and culture’ are being talked about or what the material reality is behind such phenomena, like the ownership of the means of production. As Marx pointed out, philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point, however, is to change it. The West is experiencing their own frailty but are unable and unwilling to address their internal contradictions which is causing their weakness, basically, because they insist on maintaining capitalism/globalised business and finance with all its evil, vindictive and destructive aspects. The thought of socialism remains like a red rag to a bull since 1917.
The two culprits
As per the Munich security conference report the two culprits that are posing an internal danger to the model ‘West’ is illiberals and nationalists. Illiberals are people that quarrel with the dominant credo discussed above. In Germany they are above all members of the AFD, now termed a rightwing extremist party, although it is the second largest party in Germany and the only one that offers alternative views. Therefore to have alternative views is illiberal and a danger. These views include a criticism of Merkel’s migration policies. As a necessary part of the West’s wars in the Middle East and Africa, as mentioned above, migration will result. Indeed, it is willed, as cheap labour continues to be easily available to the rich nations due to migration – exactly a reason why parties like the AFD are against it.
The second culprit are nationalists. We note that they are not called patriots, but nationalists so that they can easily be portrayed as Nazis. Nazis is in Germany the most extreme accusation, but due to the media it has become almost commonplace to accuse someone of being a Nazi, similar to accusing someone of being an anti-semite. Patriots are people who love their country and its culture. It is not something one can accuse them of. But nationalist is an accusation and it is used to denigrate, berate and isolate someone. Once labelled, as it happened with Jeremy Corbyn in relation to anti-semitism, someone’s public life comes to an end. In this manner countless people have been removed from public life, writers like Ruediger Safranski in Germany and politicians like Thilo Sarrazin.
Most people when asked would agree that it is worthwhile and essential that a nation’s cultural achievements should be celebrated and maintained in the best possible way. We celebrate Shakespeare and Dickens in Britain. People don’t know how to prevent globalised business and finance destroying local particularities of a town and stop them from turning them into the dull sameness of our inner cities with the same shops in every town in Europe. Most people want their own language, literature and spirituality celebrated and not turned into a multicultural no-man’s-land that lacks in history, roots and local stories. As a famous writer said ‘if I go to Italy I want to see Italian culture, eat Italian food and hear Italian language.’ Such demands are natural and worldwide fulfil the wishes of people when they have a choice. People in the West, under the scourge of globalised finance and business don’t have that choice. Their choice, however, expresses itself in what are called illiberal and nationalist views, wrongly labelled thus. A culture that wishes to survive must defend its language, literature and spirituality, otherwise they will be obliterated. The German case is notorious. The Nazi guilt is purposefully instrumentalised in order to ease migration into the country and silence any opposition by being outraged at so called illiberal or nationalist views. Die Nazi Keule, the Nazi axe is used to silence anyone objecting. This opens the path for big business and finance to graze freely in Germany, a rich country with many resources. In order to provide the right atmosphere, diversity posters and reprimands are everywhere and other cultures are prioritised. The German language is bathed in English words, the Christian churches have been silenced into obedience, Christmas is just one festival among many.
Germany is no different in that respect from other Western countries. Literature’s role in public life, reading the classics is deemed unfashionable. A culture destroys itself. The Christian culture itself has become suspect. Christians in the rest of the world who suffered greatly from persecution in the Middle East, such as the Yazidis, were blanked by the West’s mainstream media. The Christian world has turned a blind eye to their needs and to the important heritage they represent in relation to the Christian culture, history and tradition.
A globalised capitalist system requires no borders of any kind, be they physical, language, literature or spiritual ones. A globalised world should look the same all over the planet, with glossy high rises to show off and hovels and barracks for the labouring classes. ‘Capitalism produces free economic subjects, not bound by nation, language, literature or spirituality. They are just customers, not citizens, owners and buyers of products and politically freed from meaningful political involvement.’ (Thomas Degering)’. This is exactly the situation the Munich Security conference is keen to maintain, based on the assumption that it will lead to a continuation of their unipolar world. Externally, they will use economic and military pressure to continue the US hegemony to dominate. The main challengers to this situation are considered to be Russia and China. Therefore maximum pressure is put on Germany to stop working with Russia on Nord Stream 2 and the US fleet is positioned in the Pacific close to China.
The Pope in Iraq
The West’s media kept a low profile about the Pope’s visit to Iraq. Iraq is a painful reminder of lies that had to be used to give the order to attack and remove Saddam Hussain from power and destroy the country’s infrastructure. This makes the visit of the Pope this month poignant.
The visit was largely absent from Western mainstream media and, where discussed, they tried to gaslight, sabotage or sectarianize the meeting, usually under barely disguised layers of “Shi-ite threat” propaganda. Basically, Francis and Sistani were delivering an anti-war, anti-genocide, anti-sectarian, and anti-occupation message. Such a message does not fit with the West’s model of the world as one of combatants who need to be corrected, punished or reprimanded, a position that the vengeful God ‘West’ sees as their duty, but couched for the media in the siren song of make-believe democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
Bepe Escobar adds, ‘The statement from Sistani’s office explicitly refers to “displacement, wars, acts of violence, economic blockades, and the absence of social justice to which the Palestinian people are exposed, especially the Palestinian people in the occupied territories. Similarly, Pope Francis in his pilgrimage condemned those who instrumentalize religion to engineer wars – to the benefit of Israel, the Saudi oily hacienda, the empire, and all of the above. He prayed at a church destroyed by ISIS/Daesh.’
The terrible suffering of the people of Yemen, the slave markets and refugee crisis in Libya, the continued Western interference in Syria and the many other scenarios of war and destruction around the globe paint a devastating reality that people in rich Western countries fail to face up to by occupying themselves with tittle tattle of woke or cancel issues, or scandal stories about the Royal family. Meanwhile, the actions decided at the Munich Security Conference continue to speak louder than words.
© Greta Sykes