A war that has killed more than a million Iraqis was a "humanitarian intervention", the US army is a force for liberation, and the main threat to world peace is posed by Islam. These are the arguments of a host of liberal commentators, including such notable names as Christopher Hitchens, Kanan Makiya, Michael Ignatieff, Paul Berman, and Bernard-Henri Lévy.
In this critical intervention, Richard Seymour unearths the history of liberal justifications for empire, showing how savage policies of conquest—including genocide and slavery—have been retailed as charitable missions. From the Cold War to the War on Terror, Seymour argues that colonialist notions of "civilization" and "progress" still shape liberal pro-war discourse, concealing the same bloody realities.
In a new afterword, Seymour revisits the debates on liberal imperialism in the era of Obama and in the light of the Afghan and Iraqi debacles.
This essay is excerpted from Sohail Daulatzai's Fifty Years of The Battle of Algiers: Past as Prologue, published by the University of Minnesota Press. A new 4K restoration of The Battle of Algiers is currently touring theaters across the United States.
Though it is both troubling and telling, the screening of the film by the Pentagon in the aftermath of 9/11 and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan is only the latest chapter in the afterlife of The Battle of Algiers. In many ways, the film is a battleground and a microcosm of the enduring struggles between the West and the Rest, whiteness and its others. But in a post- 9/11 moment, it’s hard to ignore the ways in which the centrality and omnipresence of the figure of the Muslim and the “War on Terror” have not only coded and shaped every aspect of social life but have also sought to undermine the power and politics of The Battle of Algiers.
Donald Trump’s proposal to create a registry of immigrants from Muslim-majority countries, along with previous statements promising to forcefully catalogue all Muslims in the United States, while unnerving, are entirely inherited ventures. While national outrage is sharpened in the direction of Trump and his projected administration, which looks like a macabre cast of arch-villains, mechanisms already in place thanks to previous administrations have long isolated Muslim-Americans — flagging them as hostile targets whose very lives are at the mercy of the state. This capitalist national security apparatus, made up of registries and countless monitoring agencies, has bled through the judicial system while riding on the back of national tragedy. This draconian apparatus is now securely wrapped around the Muslim-American community like a cage.