11 June 2010

Connecting the Dots : Theory and History

Audience members listen to a translation through headphones as President Barack Obama speaks at Cairo University on June 4, 2009. Photo from Radio Free Europe.

Connecting the Dots:
Developing a theoretical worldview

By Harry Targ / The Rag Blog / June 11, 2010

The Bewildering Array of Crises

The magnitude and variety of crises that people face seem at times overwhelming. Our experiences of the world, mostly vicarious, are shaped by 24/7 news, Facebook and twitter messages, stories on the internet about endless climatic and social catastrophes, and images of angry people everywhere.

Progressives who claim to be “political” and who engage in political activity as a vocation or avocation gravitate toward one or another issue or crisis as the latest event demands. We, like those around us who are less active, seem to be reacting to an increasingly befuddling world.

To respond to this political and psychic environment, we need to develop a worldview that includes a theoretical orientation. This orientation must include an explanation of what exists and why, and how the past has become the present and could become a better future.

This worldview must show how the various seemingly diverse, incoherent, and random behaviors, events, and structures are in fact connected. Before we can make sense of the world we need to understand it, figure out how it relates to institutions, behavioral dynamics, and practical political activity. In short, we need to “connect the dots.”

These thoughts come to me from time to time, usually as a result of a bewildering array of crises that increasingly impinge on my television and computer screen. Today the crises include the devastating ecological disaster created by corporate oil; the outrageous assault of Israeli troops on a flotilla of ships bringing material aid to the people of Gaza, the expanding U.S. war in Afghanistan, economic disasters from Greece to urban America, and patterns of electoral and polling data about upcoming prospects for elections in the United States and elsewhere.

Fidel Castro’s historical vision

On June 3, 2010 I read an essay by Fidel Castro, “The Empire and the War” which reminded me of how important it was for my psychic well-being and my political activism to “connect the dots.”

Castro opened by referring to the crisis on the Korean peninsula, China’s behavior in the United Nations, and the United States conflict with Iran.

He then referred to President Obama’s famous speech on United States/Muslim relations at the Islamic University of Al-Azhar in Cairo on June 4, 2009.

Castro approvingly referred to aspects of Obama’s speech including the latter’s recognition that colonialism had denied “rights and opportunities” to many Muslims and how Muslims during the Cold War were “often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.”

Castro declared that it was significant that Obama was an African American who spoke in words that “resonated like the self-evident truths contained in the Declaration of Philadelphia of July 4, 1776.”

Obama then, Castro said, admitted that the United States “played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government.” Obama seemed to be aware that the Iranian hostility to the United States ever since, particularly after the Shah of Iran was ousted from power in January, 1979, was intimately connected to the CIA operations against Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953.

According to Castro this hostility spread throughout the Middle East as the U.S. gravitated toward uncompromising support for Israel and its brutal policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Castro recalled that Mossadegh was overthrown because his parliament had voted to nationalize Iran’s vital natural resource, its oil, in 1951. Most significantly the target of this effort by the Iranians to gain control of the oil under their ground was the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the corporation which had controlled this vital fluid of the industrial revolution since the dawn of the twentieth century. Today, that corporation is called British Petroleum or BP.

For me, Fidel Castro’s essay, in a few paragraphs, “connected the dots” in a variety of ways. For example, by referring to President Obama’s speech in Cairo, Castro was acknowledging that the President was purposefully addressing the peoples of the Global South and that Obama recognized that the United States was connected to colonialism and imperialism.

Castro was suggesting that Obama’s analysis was largely correct and that the President had carefully selected his words because he knew the audience that heard them agreed with the analysis. Obama’s words, Castro suggested, reflected what the President understands to be true and what words were needed diplomatically to mollify a skeptical audience.

Also, Castro was using Obama’s words to articulate the view that the Global South had been historically marginalized and that many peoples, in this case Muslims, had been used as props and victims of the Cold War struggle with the Soviet Union.

Castro, again using Obama’s analysis as a segue, drew connections between imperialism, control of oil, the overthrow of Mossadegh, the intimate ties between the United States and Israel, the sixty year brutality of Israeli regimes against the Palestinian people, the catastrophic environmental disaster caused by the stepchildren of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company , BP, in the Gulf of Mexico, and the Israeli attack on the Freedom Flotilla, bringing material aid to victims of the global system in Gaza.

In other words, Castro was suggesting to us connections between words, consciousness, and deeds; the past and the present; politics, economics, and war; policy toward Israel, Palestine, Iran; international relations, political economy, and the environment; and imperialism, resistance, and the peace movement.

[Harry Tarq is a professor in American Studies who lives in West Lafayette, Indiana. His blog is Diary of a Heartland Radical.]

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