The Apologists for Imperialism:

“Intellectuals” and Their Post-September 11 Positions

RECENTLY, SALMAN Rushdie opted to pose for the cover of a French magazine draped in stars and stripes. This fashion statement does not come as a surprise from a long time bourgeois intellectual, who recently wrote “America did, in Afghanistan, what had to be done, and did it well”1. Are these “noble” aspirations a la Naipaul? Or, maybe, Rushdie is merely confirming his position as a foot soldier in the intellectual army of his imperialist masters. “Great power and great wealth are perhaps never popular, yet, more than ever, we need the United States to exercise its power and economic might responsibly.”2 Thank you, Mr. Rushdie, for this gem of an advice about “responsible” use of power. Now that Rushdie, yet another of their self-appointed spokespersons, has given such an advice everybody can rest assured that power will be used responsibly. Similarly, other apologists for imperialism have enthusiastically written books, articles, and statements rewording the propaganda.

Now, from bourgeois liberals to left wing turncoats:

Richard Falk has written a cover story in The Nation, a pseudo leftist magazine, legitimising war using ‘just-war thinking’, which “… makes two important contributions to our understanding of the military side of the September 11 response: it provides a provisional and limited endorsement of the Afghanistan war; and it reinforces the prudential arguments against military extension of the war on global terror to other settings, most relevantly Iraq. Such clarity allows us to think more clearly about what should be done post-Afghanistan… there is a consensus among just-war thinkers that the only acceptable purpose of war is to restore peace on a more durable basis.”3 The legitimisation of current and future imperialist wars in these pseudo left-wing magazines has become the (pre-) occupation of these intellectuals. They are misleading the readers by not analysing the situation from an imperialist standpoint.

Another intellectual, a former Trotskyist, Christopher Hitchens, got converted into a critic of the progressive movement. He has accused several notable intellectuals like Zinn, Chomsky and Finkelstein, who are staunchly against the current imperialist wars, of following a beaten path and not thinking in a ‘new’ way after the ‘new’ situation. Hitchens is showing his true colours after September 11. He wrote after the fall of major Afghan cities, “The United States of America has just succeeded in bombing a country back out of the Stone Age. This deserves to be recognized as an achievement…”4 Tariq Ali wittily remarked on Hitchens’ recent TV appearance, especially since the media eulogises him as the alternative voice, that he “sounded more like a saloon-bar bore.”5

Now the King of all left-wing renegade intellectuals is a former Marxist, Fred Halliday, who started drifting rightwards since the late 80s and has not stopped since. In his book published post-September 11, he writes “For all its faults, the USA is, to date, the most prosperous country in human history, the one to which many people, possibly half the world, would like to emigrate and work, whose vitality in many fields, from music to medicine, outstrips all others. It must be doing something right.”6 It has done something right as it has succeeded in converting Halliday into a complete turncoat. What a bankrupt way to present one’s point, without any consideration for reasons why people emigrate around the world. It is important to point out that the highest migration of people takes place amongst developing countries as people are forced to flee the political, socio-economic and military terror of imperialists and their local agents.

Just in case this was not good enough to convince some people, Halliday has continued to better himself. A few weeks ago he eloquently expressed himself, “The second challenge was that of international co-operation, of putting politics, not only force, at the centre of world affairs: we have a system of international governance, inadequate and fractious as it may be, but one that could serve to address the range of issues, from global inequality, to management of world trade and migration, that confront all societies. Denouncing it from the Right, in the name of ‘hard-headed’ power politics, or from the Left, in terms of a fatuous ‘anti-globalisation’ campaign, are both recipes for disaster.”7 Halliday has given a clarion call to the left that the time has come to abandon the anti-globalisation struggles in favour of cooperation with the powers that be so that we can solve the world inequities. This is complete abandonment of progressive ideas. His rightward drift continues and one wonders when it will stop, if at all.

Betrayal by a section of intellectuals has had a long history. During the cold war period several intellectuals were cajoled, coerced and bribed by the Congress for Cultural Freedom, an arm of the CIA. The aim of the mission was to “nudge the intelligentsia of western Europe away from its lingering fascination with Marxism and Communism, towards a view more accommodating of ‘the American way’.”8 The covert and overt nudging and coercing continues in various hues and colours. However, it is completely irrelevant whether these intellectuals are in any way connected to the cold war-style institutionalised betrayal. The fact of the matter is that they are still dedicatedly serving the war-propaganda machine.

Amidst all this intellectual betrayal, the activists in the west are still being inspired by words from the old guard. Chomsky said in Chennai, “So the “New War on Terrorism” is, in fact, led by the only state in the world that has been condemned by the International Court of Justice for international terrorism and has vetoed a resolution calling on states to observe international law, which is perhaps appropriate”9 Elizabeth “Betina” Martinez, a old time civil rights leader, has also condemned the recent war on terrorism in strong terms. The real encouragement comes from the new forces that are taking up the cause. Thousands of protesters have demonstrated in anti-war, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist protests around the world. Even in the USA, the anti-globalisation, anti-war, and pro-civil liberties movement, is joining the struggle with the Palestinian and Latin American solidarity movement in the protests in Washington on April 20th. The struggle continues to rage around the world, taking the momentum of Seattle to Genoa to Porto Alegre to Patna, encircling the globe, in various forms of resistance but with the same underlying theme of eliminating the exploitation of wo/man by wo/man.

– Pratyush Bharti and Padma Balasubramaniam


1 Salman Rushdie, Americans and Anti-Americans, The New York Times, February 4, 2002.

2 Salman Rushdie, Americans and Anti-Americans, The New York Times, February 4, 2002.

3 Richard Falk, In Defence of ‘Just War’ Thinking, The Nation, December 24, 2001.

4 Christopher Hitchens, The Ends of War, The Nation, December 17, 2001.

5 Tariq Ali, The New Empire Loyalists, Couterpunch, March 17, 2002.

6 Fred Halliday, Two Hours Which Shook the World: September 11, Causes and Consequences, Saqi Books, pg. 49, London, 2002.

7 Fred Halliday, New World, but the Same Old Disorder, Observer, March 10, 2002.

8 Frances Stonor Saunders, The Cultural Cold War, The New Press, New York, 2000.

9 Noam Chomsky, Public Lecture at the Music Academy, Chennai, November 10, 2001.