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Re: question re anti-systemic movements
by wwagar
20 January 2002 20:35 UTC
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        Is al-Qaeda an anti-systemic movement?

        Chris Chase-Dunn was asked this question after his talk at the
Braudel Conference last fall, although the term he used for anti-systemic
was "counter-hegemonic," which is perhaps not quite the same thing.  His
answer was "yes."

        My answer would also be "yes."  If the "system" is the
contemporary world-system with its plurality of states and cultures, with
its overarching capitalist world-economy, and with the United States as
its current hegemon (albeit in possible decline), then al-Qaeda is
anti-systemic.  Or at least it appears to be, from what we know of
the theology of its ruling circle, grounded in Wahhabism.  There have been
many comparable movements of neo-traditionalist resistance to the modern
world-system throughout its history.

        Most references to anti-systemic movements in world-systems
literature, however, have been, Gert says, to "leftist movements."  Well,
I would change "leftist movements" to "movements that leftists label
politically correct."  In the 1950s and 1960s, for example, a vast
literature of Marxoid apologetics emerged to applaud any and all movements
for national "liberation" that employed leftish rhetoric.  Once such
movements attained power, it was fondly imagined, they would punch their
former colonial masters in the nose and build de-linked socialist
polities.  Although a few actually came close to doing just that (notably
Cuba, not so notably the Khmer Rouge), the performance of "liberated"
nations by and large has only confirmed a fundamental premise of
world-systems theory:  many states, one world-economy.  The elites of the
"liberated" nations, no matter what their rhetoric, have scrambled to
enrich themselves, in collaboration with the megacorporate vampires of the  
West and the Pacific Rim.

        Nevertheless, world-systems folks still tend to classify movements
of national liberation as anti-systemic.  The same goes for movements for
the liberation of gays, women, racial and ethnic minorities, and anybody
else who has experienced and may still experience automatic exclusion from
the banquet halls of the mighty.  Somehow, even environmentalists have
become "anti-systemic."

        Now make no mistake.  Corporations should not plunder Mother
Earth.  Countries should not rule other countries.  Minorities have a
right to self-determination.  Discrimination against anyone on the basis
of race or ethnicity or sex or sexuality or lots of other things is
criminal.  The Left has an obligation to work for a society that is
universally democratic, safeguarding the liberties of all.

        But movements that try to improve the fortunes of one segment of
humankind or even movements that work to make things better for all of
us in one or two specific ways are not necessarily anti-systemic.  To be
anti-systemic, for me, means to oppose the whole bloody system.  It is one
monolithic global organism.  Countries that get rich do so by helping to
impoverish others.  People who get rich--whatever their nationality, race,
sex, or whatever--do so by helping to impoverish others.  In past
centuries, the core nations and hegemons grew fat by enslaving Africans,
murdering indigenous peoples, and ultimately by conquering most of the
world.  They also increased humankind's total wealth with the help of
technological breakthroughs and managerial innovations.  They used some of
this wealth to buy off part of the working class in their own societies,
but most of it went straight into the vaults of the rich or was invested
in further exploits that now threaten civilization with ecocide.

        If world-system theory is correct, and I believe it is, this
modern world-system cannot be reformed.  Movements that seek to reform it
may deserve our support, but in the final analysis, the goal must be to
replace it.  So, yes, al-Qaeda is an anti-systemic movement, hoping to
take us all back to the Seventh Century.  I would much prefer to go
forward to a new era in human history, as distant from the Seventh Century
as it, in turn, was distant from our Paleolithic beginnings.


W. Warren Wagar
Department of History
Binghamton University, SUNY  

On Sat, 19 Jan 2002, g kohler wrote:

> I am wondering whether el Qaeda is an anti-systemic movement, in the
> sense of world(-)system(s) research.
> If not, why not?
> In a very general sense, it might be considered as anti-systemic.
> However, it is not clear to me whether it is anti-systemic in a WS
> sense. (Is the adjective "anti-systemic" within world(-)system(s)
> research reserved for leftist movements?)
> Gert
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