Respecting History

Issue section: 
(293)

Review of 'Wars of the 21st Century', Ignacio Ramonet, Ocean £11.99

Ignacio Ramonet is a man armed with facts. It becomes tempting to skim over them, appearing as they do one after another without cease. But then you read this: 'Of the 6 billion inhabitants of the planet, barely half a billion are comfortably off, while 5.5 billion suffer hardship.' Instantly, you share the author's powerful sense of global injustice.

Ignacio Ramonet is the celebrated editor of Le Monde diplomatique, a French monthly newspaper published in several languages with an international circulation of 1 million copies. Wars of the 21st Century possesses a definite journalistic feel - one of the book's greatest assets is its panoramic scope coupled with its concise, editorial-like analyses of thorny political issues.

The book opens by sketching a brief map of the current geopolitical terrain. It ranges from the apostasy of the social democrats, who constitute today's right wing, to the dangers of the privatisation of the human genome. Saturated with facts and figures, it often reads more like a reference work than a political treatise, but the potentially dry prose is littered with poetic gems: 'Once again there is a tangible need for dreamers who think and thinkers who dream.'

Yet, Ramonet's penetrating insight only fully materialises in his analyses of three major issues - 9/11, the Middle East conflict and the Iraq war. His thoughts on 9/11 are refreshing in that they truly acknowledge the complexities of the events. He also introduces fresh observations to a debate which is in danger of turning stale - he assesses the role of a corrupt Pakistan as a Bush ally, and the emergence of 'media messianism', with Osama Bin Laden as the first 'electronic prophet' broadcasting his fiery sermons to every screen in the world.

Ramonet adopts a similar line of attack when discussing the Middle East conflict or, as he terms it, 'The New Hundred Years War'. He begins by outlining the staple ingredients - the birth of Zionism, and the hypocrisy of the US in its respective approaches to Iraq and Israel, bombing the former and indulging the latter despite its illegal occupation of Palestinian territory. But he also proposes that each side must 'come to terms with their own history'. He quotes the late indefatigable Edward Said, who was writing in response to Roger Garaudy's 'negationist friends' who deny the Nazi genocide of European Jews: 'Recognising the history of the Holocaust... makes us credible with regard to our own history.'

Ramonet's account of the Iraq war reads very much like more traditional history. There are powerful, male key players (the Bush 'hawks') who were motivated by several interrelated factors (providing a clear response to the 9/11 attacks, establishing a 'democracy' in Iraq to aid the infiltration of neoliberal globalisation throughout the Middle East, and to protect Israel against an improbable Iraqi attack) but ultimately by one overriding factor-greed (oil). Ramonet crystallises his illustration of abhorrent US corruption by observing that reconstruction contracts in Iraq have been awarded primarily to those companies who made the greatest financial contributions to the Bush election campaign.

Wars of the 21st Century does not inspire compulsive page-turning, but it is a book burgeoning with insight, facts and figures, all of which should provide invaluable intellectual fodder for socialists. The book ends, in Ramonet's true French revolutionary vein, with a call to arms for the international civil society - his invocation rises like a phoenix from the flames of 1968.