In the middle of the west

Since I returned to Belgium last September, my blogging activity has sort of moved to my facebook account – somehow, I never really succeeded to make a satisfactory link in my mind between blogging about Lebanon and blogging about Belgium/Europe. I have also been very busy professionally and with our new family. And yet all the time – at least from the birth of our daughter on the very  first day of the Tunisian uprising on December 18th last year, the connexion has been staring me in the face. As Juan Cole puts it very eloquently on Tomdispatch:

‘If we focus on economic trends, then the neoliberal state looks eerily similar, whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship, whether the government is nominally right of center or left of center.  As a package, deregulation, the privatization of public resources and firms, corruption and forms of insider trading, and interference in the ability of workers to organize or engage in collective bargaining have allowed the top 1% in Israel, just as in Tunisia or the United States, to capture the lion’s share of profits from the growth of the last decades.

Observers were puzzled by the huge crowds that turned out in both Tunis and Tel Aviv in 2011, especially given that economic growth in those countries had been running at a seemingly healthy 5% per annum. “Growth,” defined generally and without regard to its distribution, is the answer to a neoliberal question.  The question of the 99% percent, however, is: Who is getting the increased wealth?  In both of those countries, as in the United States and other neoliberal lands, the answer is: disproportionately the 1%.

If you were wondering why outraged young people around the globe are chanting such similar slogans and using such similar tactics (including Facebook “flash mobs”), it is because they have seen more clearly than their elders through the neoliberal shell game.’

As Cole puts it: the focus of our corporate mass media in the ‘west’ on the emergence of islamist parties in ‘democratized’ Middle East is a conscious orientalisation intended to divert attention from the obvious similarities between the elites and their imposed economic system in east and west alike. The Muslim Brotherhood coming to (some) power is in no way different from the christian parties who have dominated or participated in European governments for over a hundred years. And Ben Ali’s family dominating the banking system and economy of Tunisia is not different from, say, Dehaene, Schouppe, Daems and all these neoliberal corrupt Belgian politicians selling public assets to their cronies for ridiculously cheap prices, then going on to sit on the boards of the corporations who benefited. The point is that our financial and political elites share all the wealth between them that was created by generations of tax payers, and then leaving those tax payers to pay for the resulting loss of income and debts incurred by ‘their’ state. Odious debts here as in Egypt, Greece or the US.

And the same protest movements are springing up here as there. The 99% are finally opening their eyes and this will have a serious effect globally in the next few years. Even if capitalism succeeds in plunging the world into another world war – which is what happens after every serious ‘crisis’, and is fully part of the cycle of the capitalist system – people might still succeed in toppling the oppressive government systems. Both the revolutions of 1789 and 1917 happened as a result of disastrous wars. It is time to get on with the unfinished business of 1789 in particular. Separating the executive, legislative and judicial powers was a step in the right direction, but neglecting to also separate and strictly regulate the economic and information powers (i.e. education and media) has rendered this separation practically meaningless, as wealthy individuals still have the power to buy the officials – whether elected or appointed – manning our  legislative, executive and judicial institutions.

The power – and subservience to the 1% – of the media becomes obvious just by observing how the only country that has managed to resolve its financial problems in a truly democratic way – i.e. Iceland – is totally blacked out from the news, while the mere proposal of Greek prime minister Papandreou of submitting the ‘solution’ of austerity measures to the people was enough to get him dismissed, while all of our ‘democratic’ European leaders were shouting and screaming about such a ‘disastrous’ proposal. While the new government of Iceland has issued international arrest warrants for its own banksters, our own governments continue to sacrifice their sovereignty and our democracy to unelected and privately owned ratings agencies and banksters.

How long until the guillotine makes its glorious return to decapitate the nouveau ancien regime?


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