Tales of Ordinary Fatuousness

Very Ordinary

“The League of Ordinary Gentlemen is a group blog that hopes to bring a new style and sensibility to blogging.”


In reference to an apparent attempt to blow up an aeroplane in Detroit by a Nigerian-born mentalist, Ordinary Gentleman Chris Dierkes writes (An(archy)-Qaeda, December 28, 2009):

Whatever else comes up in the pseudo-analysis of the (thankfully) failed terrorist attack, we see yet again that the terrorists are largely from middle to upper classes. The ones who are recruited to perform suicide attacks are usually young and increasingly drawn from a self-selecting pool, communicating through the internet.

This lends credence to the notion that al-Qaeda is the anarchist movement of today. It follows in the patterns of the Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigade, and the earlier anarchist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Contrary to the right-wing US motifs of the early 2000s (which thank God are soon about to end), the analogy for an Al-Qaeda is not to Nazism or Communism…

…but to anarchism.

A few points.

…the terrorists are largely from middle to upper classes…

In the case of Al Qaeda, yeah, it seems so. (And their leader, Osama bin Laden, was a member of the Saudi ruling class.) But when applied to the anarchist/terrorists of the late nineteenth century, it’s a false proposition. Most of these ‘propagandists by the deed’ were drawn from the working classes. And while it may be said that Al Qaeda operatives are — and the anarchist/terrorists were — largely drawn from the ranks of yoof, the anarchists were drawn from a rather large pool, were fewer in number, and did not belong to an organised, hierarchical, religious network of the kind Al Qaeda is understood to be. (Nor were they bankrolled by a billionaire.) As for the ah, Internets, unless Dierkes is composing a riff on, say, The Difference Engine, anarchists of the period were incapable of communicating through this highly complex arrangement of soup cans and string.

…[Al Qaeda] follows in the patterns of the Baader-Meinhof, the Red Brigade, and the earlier anarchist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries…

The principal problem with including “Baader-Meinhof” (aka the Red Army Faction) and the Red Brigade among ‘later’ anarchist movements is that they were neither a) anarchist nor b) movements. They were, in fact, Marxist urban(e) guerilla groups, whose relationship to the state was rather more complex than that of the few score anarchists who, by executing its titular Hydra head, tried to topple some of its other, earlier manifestations.

Of the anarchists’ Greatest Hits, one might include President Sadi Carnot (France, 1894); Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas (Spain, 1897); Empress Elizabeth (Austria, 1898); King Humbert (Italy, 1900), and (arguably) President William McKinley (United States, 1901). Note that Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand — whose murder is popularly believed to have been the trigger for WWI — is also often described as an anarchist (for example, by Michael Moore in Stupid White Men) but was in reality a nationalist.

…the earlier anarchist movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries…

Which, it is important to note, were social movements, not terrorist cells.

In any case, the Ordinary Gentleman adds:

“I mean it [Al Qaeda is anarchist] in the sense that their (al Qaeda’s) political goals are totally utopian (and unrealistic) and therefore there are no real actions they can take in this world to get closer to their political goals, so they end up just trying to destroy what currently exists.”

A statement which, as far as I can see, is more or less in accord with the post as a whole: nonsense.

See also :

“Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places”, Al Quds Al Arabi, August, 1996 | Second fatwa, February 1998 | October 7, 2001 statement.

On state involvement in leftist terrorism, see : Gladio, a documentary by Allan Francovich, BBC Timewatch (1992). Episode 1 : The Ring Masters | Episode 2 : The Puppeteers | Episode 3 : The Foot Soldiers.

On the subject of Al Qaeda as a form of resistance to ‘modernisation’, as well as a comparison with the actual political vanguards — from Lenin through to “Baader-Meinhof” and the Red Brigade — upon which it models itself, see Afflicted Powers: Capital and Spectacle in a New Age of War, Retort, Verso, 2005.

On the relationship between Al Qaeda and anarchism, see Anarchism and Terrorism (In the Real World) & Al-Qaeda and Anarchism: A Historian’s Reply to Terrorology by James L. Gelvin, May 6, 2009.

This article situates al-Qaeda and similar jihadi movements within the category of anarchism. In so doing, it challenges the central pillar of the terrorology paradigm: the notion that terrorism is useful as an independent unit of analysis. The article takes a two-fold approach; in the first part, it offers a five-part definition of anarchism, based on the literature in the fields of history, political science, and sociology. Anarchism is distinguished by five characteristics: First, anarchism is an episodic discourse which provides its adherents with a prescription for action and which has been consistently available to, but only sometimes adopted by, political actors in the modern world. Second, anarchism makes for itself the claim of being defensive in nature. Third, anarchism is anti-systemic; i.e., the target of anarchist grievances is the very system (the nation-state system, capitalism) anarchists view as the source of oppression. Fourth, by “othering” the source of oppression, anarchists delineate, either implicitly or explicitly, an ideal counter-community. Finally, unlike the disarticulated domain of, for example, scientific socialism, the discursive field of anarchism draws heavily from the specific cultural milieu from which it springs. The second part of the article examines al-Qaeda and similar movements in terms of these five characteristics, contrasts al-Qaeda with other organizations (Hamas, Hizbullah) which have often been conflated with al-Qaeda under the terrorist rubric, and argues that, based on those characteristics, al-Qaeda does not represent a new or sui generis phenomenon, but rather fits squarely into the anarchist mold.


Bad analogy.

Bringing the Real

Venturing further into The Real World™, in this case the territory stamped on maps as being Serbia, six anarchists — Sanja Dojkić, Tadej Kurepa, Nikola Mitrović, Ivan Savić, Ratibor Trivunac and Ivan Vulovic — were arrested in September 2009 and have been charged with the crime of ‘international terrorism’ by Serbian authorities. Denied bail, the six have now been imprisoned for almost four months, and will not be presented with another opportunity for release until their trial, scheduled to commence next year.

The dreadful crime of which the six have been accused took place on the evening of August 24/25, 2009, when two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the Greek Embassy in Belgrade. One window was damaged by the fire caused by the cocktails, and there was also some minor damage to the building’s façade; the fire did not spread, however, and was quickly extinguished. Further, no person was injured in the incident (the building was empty at the time) and the following morning work at the Embassy resumed as normal.

This is ‘terrorism’, according to Serbian authorities. Further, it is ‘international’ in its scope as the building targeted belonged to the Greek Embassy. As a result, if convicted, the six may be sentenced to up to 15 years in jail. All six deny the charges, and argue that state authorities are more interested in destroying the anarchist movement in Serbia than in defeating terrorism; a claim which depends, of course, on the ability to make a distinction between the two isms schisms — something with which a number of Gentlemen, whether in academia, the blogosphere or the corporate/state media, obviously still struggle.

See : ASI Report to IWA Congress 2009 on the Belgrade 6, December 17, 2009 | Serbian Intellectuals Write New Letter Condemning Charges Against Belgrade Six, libcom.org [December 10, 2009].

Bonus Utopianism!

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2024 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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