War has always made people rich: from high-tech weaponry to construction and catering, war is a commercial bonanza. But as Solomon Hughes shows in this wide-ranging chronicle, the many incarnations of the War on Terror have dramatically extended the role of private enterprise, bringing market forces and market thinking to bear on areas of public policy that were once the sole preserve and responsibility of politicians and the state.
There will always be a private company willing to pitch for this fabulously lucrative business, whether supplying the additional soldiery which made the invasion of Iraq seem possible, or creating databases of people deemed to be a threat to national security. Surveying the activities of private contractors in the provision of frontline mercenaries, security services guarding key installations and VIPs, prisons and law enforcement, media management, and intelligence-gathering at home and abroad, Hughes demonstrated that the private sector and its army of lobbyists and salesmen are continuously lowering the practical and moral barriers to interventions of every kind, from torture and imprisonment without trial, to blanket surveillance of the civilian population, and to outright war. Meanwhile the state is evermore evasive when it comes to taking responsibility for the practices it authorizes via agreements drawn up under a veil of 'commercial privacy,' and remains as inept as it has ever been at procuring efficiency and value for money from its contracts.
Who is behind companies that reap the dividend of the War on Terror, eagerly plugging the gap between what politicians would like to do – and frequently claim they can and must do – and what is actually possible? How close are they to our political decision-makers? Do they actually deliver what they are contracted to deliver? And at what moral and financial price? Hughes catalogs the appalling record of private contractors doing our governments’ dirtiest work, and asks how we can possibly justify delivering into commercial hands those area of public life which, above all others, demand the very highest standards of scrupulousness and integrity.
It has become popular today to say that we live in an era of what Benjamin Barber has labelled "Jihad vs. McWorld." The globalising powers of capitalism ("McWorld") are confronted with or resisted by the forces that Barber labels "Jihad" — the variety of tribal particularisms and "narrowly conceived faiths" opposed to the homogenising force of capital. Even those with a critical view of the growth of American empire and the expansion of what is erroneously termed the global market usually subscribe to this interpretation. In fact it is the critics who often argue that we need a better understanding of these local forms of resistance against the "universal" force of the market.
The terms of this debate are quite misleading. We live in an age, to adapt Barber’s nomenclature, of "McJihad." It is an age in which the mechanisms of what we call capitalism appear to operate, in certain critical instances, only by adopting the social force and moral authority of conservative Islamic movements. It may be true that we need a better understanding of the local forces that oppose the globalisation of capital; but, more than this, we need a better understanding of the so-called global forces of capital.
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.