Sunday, June 21, 2009

Anti-terror and racial balance

So presumably, people have heard the hilarious news that police are stopping and searching white people under anti-terror laws so as to 'balance' racial statistics. Now, I have to say that this does confirm some of the anecdotal evidence I have heard from various people. What I find very interesting is Lord Carlile's response to this. Whilst he is obviously right to say that this is frivolous, bad etc., I find his particular reponse to be very telling:
"I have evidence of cases where the person stopped is so obviously far from any known terrorism profile that, realistically, there is not the slightest possibility of him/her being a terrorist, and no other feature to justify the stop."
And what does he mean by 'any known terrorism' profile? Well, of course it is Islamic extremism, thus Carlile opines:
If, for example, 50 blonde women are stopped who fall nowhere near any intelligence-led terrorism profile, it's a gross invasion of the civil liberties of those 50 blonde women.
(So interestingly this is another bit of evidence as to how much the war on terror stuff is massively racialised - since one need not be brown to be a Muslim). But, for those of us not priveleged with being white being stopped and searched is perfectly fine and indeed does not seem to 'invade' our 'civil liberties' at all:

"The police are perfectly entitled to stop people who fall within a terrorism profile even if it creates a racial imbalance, as long as it is not racist."

What else could be racist in this context? In terms of institutions there can be no other definition of racism. And in terms of individual stops and searches, what possible way is there to judge whether a specific search is racist or not, given that all such searches are apparently prima facie valid? Indeed, the reports abound with such ridiculous ideas, perhaps most amusing is:

Former British diplomat Sir Edward Clay told BBC Radio 4's The World Tonight programme he was subjected to a stop and search five weeks ago while on his way to work at the National School of Government, near Victoria Station in central London.

He said he had found the experience "sinister" and "intimidating". He told the programme: "I'm 63, I'm a grey-to-brown-haired white male, I'm 5ft 10 ins tall, looking extremely conventional."

Or, to translate 'but I'm white!'.

I seem to have gone off on a bit of an unstructured rant here. But I think this links quite interestingly to something I said a while ago about liberty, security, Marx and race. Essentially, I noted that in human rights rhetoric (and often its delpoyment) there is a dialectic between liberty and security. Liberty is the ultimate goal, but some people use this liberty to undermine liberty, so this means that we have to bring in 'security', which means:
This amounts to saying: the right to liberty ceases to be a right as soon as it comes into conflict with political life, whereas in theory political life is no more than the guarantee of the rights of man – the rights of the individual man – and should, therefore, be suspended as soon as it comes into contradiction with its end, these rights of man.
But I noted that in practice this isn't some kind of irresolvable dilemma. The deprivation of liberty is always focused on some particular - often racial, often political - group. The above illustrates this really rather well. The fact that a blonde woman being searched must be a violation of her civil liberties, whereas a black man being searched just because he is black (and so fits the profile) apparently can't have his civil liberties violated shows us the way in which this dialectic plays out.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Multilateralism as Terror

Courtesy of Birkbeck's e-print service I'm pleased to finally be able to link to China Mieville's most excellent article 'Mulitlateralism as Terror: International Law, Haiti and Imperialism'. I'd suggest that everyone read this as it provides a neat and elegant summation of China's view on the intimate (indeed structural) relationship between law, imperialism and power; the legal character of the war on terror etc. and the consequent uselessness of opposing these actions with war. All of this is beautifully illustrated through a (fascinating in its own right) exploration of the UN intervention in Haiti.

All of this is very salutary and even if one doesn't agree with Mieville (as people may have gathered, I largely do, though we have our differences) his perspective has to be taken seriously. Indeed I think this article is probably the most advanced example of a recent trend with a few critical international legal scholars who insist on examining the ways in which imperial power structures and is structured by law and legal argument.

As if that wasn't enough, from page 43 onwards Mieville develops his understanding of imperialism and international law. Thus:
‘American interests and power’, however, are of course not abstract (though they often appear so in the realpolitikal discourses of both the right and of liberalism): in the modern epoch they, and the imperialism of which they are another way of speaking, are functions of competitive accumulation in a framework of capitalist states. It is not only a belief in the efficacy of this imperial methodology that motives the widespread, untheorised, often unspoken, and unproblematised mainstream support for the Haitian coup: it is also its specific fruits and the sectors of capital that benefit from it.
Mieville proceeds to show us how this perspective can be deployed in the Haitian situation. Moving to the general level he unearths an extraordinary quote from Carla Del Ponte where - speaking to Goldman Sachs - she argued that capital should back international criminal justice because 'I can offer you high dividends for a low investment':
Del Ponte is quite right to point out IL’s role in capital accumulation. Contrary, however, to her line that it is solely as a maintainer of ‘good governance’ and peace that IL performs this function, Haiti illustrates that IL can also do the job efficiently through the propagation of instability and the unleashing and legitimation of murderous violence.
Theorising international law in terms of enabling capital accumulation is a brilliant theoretical move, which can fruitfully be combined with Harvey's concept of accumulation by dispossession and Klein's work on the Shock Doctrine. Indeed, I think this might also provide us with a useful corridor into the work of Third World scholars. Historically, we can see that international law - in interpellating certain territories as non-civilised (or semi-civilised) - enabled primitive accumulation (and Marx can be usefully brought in here). But the Third World scholars have shown us that this relationship is reproduced in contemporary international law, understanding this we can map this onto the core-periphery distinction and capital accumulation more generally helps us theorise this process in a way that TWAIL scholars avoid. We can also examine different articulations of legal arguments (and their predominant forms) in terms of strategies of accumulation, which are structured by specific imperial relations.

I really can't do the article justice, and I suggest you read it forthwith, not least for its skewering of the Obama dream in international law.

Friday, June 19, 2009


Hola comrades.

Sorry for the extended silence, but things have been afoot. Although I largely don't talk personal stuff on the blog, I thought I'd give some updates on what I've been doing etc.
  • I have an article forthcoming in the September issue of the Leiden Journal of International Law entitled 'Marxism, International Law and Political Strategy', which is largely an engagement with China Mieville's work and some (very familiar to readers of this blog) reflections on the role of law in revolutionary strategy.
  • I'm currently doing a temporary job which has sucked up quite a lot of my time (which is one of the main reasons why I haven't posted that much)
  • Thankfully the above will come to an end soon because I can confirm that next year I will be doing a PhD at LSE, and so will hopefully have a chunk of free time to write stuff.
There's other stuff too, obviously, but these are some of the more significant (and less revealing things). Fear not though, I'll try and do some posts on an ad hoc basis. These are likely to be pretty short reflections etc., which no one will read but hey - it will keep me vaguely entertained.