You can view 2 more articles. Unlock unlimited articles with TANK Digital Subscription. Subscribe here.
×

A WORLD OF WORLDS

 

Ed'sletter

His excellency the ambassador of the United Confederacy of Sprites and Jinns to the court of St James

Is Everything Everywhere All at Once now the operating system of our 2024 reality? Our world seems to have permanently splintered. Trying to understand what is unfolding in Gaza, you might well be forgiven for thinking that you have access to alternative universes with alternative facts and values. BBC and Al Jazeera are certainly reporting on two different wars. In the fictional multiverse, the magnificent Michelle Yeoh plays a Chinese-American laundrette operator who discovers that she must connect with parallel universe versions of herself to prevent the destruction of the multiverse as a whole. Since October 7 many of us feel we have been dipping in and out of a multiverse. Everything Everywhere All at Once may be the most award-winning film of all time, but are we OK living it?

In late October at Anfield, Liverpool’s football ground, a supporter was filmed being stopped from unfurling a towel-size Palestinian flag by a steward. The gesture, the steward explained, is an unacceptably political statement. In the video, widely circulated on social media, the fan asks, “It was OK when it was Ukraine though, wasn’t it?” The steward responds, “I absolutely agree, and that is the argument we’ve had. But we’ve been asked to bring these flags down”.

Officially the British Government’s state policy is advocating for a two-state solution but falling short of recognising Palestinian nationhood. The conflicted steward at Anfield was tasked with putting this policy ambiguity into practice. In early January at a dinner in South London, I met Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian Ambassador to the UK. If the British Government accepts ambassadors from a nation whose existence they are unsure of, perhaps they might consider accepting a high representative of the Confederate Union of Sprites and Jinns?

I am not breaking any confidence to say that on the topic of Sir Keir Starmer, our next prime minister, Mr Zomlot was clear – he should put an end to this ambiguity by formally recognising Palestine as a nation, joining the 165 other countries that already do so. The Labour Party has had the “immediate recognition” of Palestinian statehood in its recent manifestos the platform on which Sir Keir stood as a Labour candidate and served as a senior shadow cabinet member in both 2017 and 2019. Indeed in the run up to the 2015 election, Ed Miliband had said that, if elected, he would recognise Palestine as a state if that would bring about a broader peace deal in the Middle East. I am sure Zomlot must have been disappointed a few days after we met when Starmer told the Jewish Chronicle there was “no risk” Labour would recognise Palestine from “day one” of coming to power. The Shadow Minister for the Middle East Wayne David, added that it marked a departure from the “T-shirt politics” of the Corbyn era, before going on to say, “We will recognise the state of Palestine at a point which will help the peace process once negotiations between Israel and Palestine and the others are taking place.” Starmer appeared to tentatively roll back on his earlier statement in an interview with Channel 4 a few days later and following reports that Netenyahu would reject any two-state solution, telling their reporter that “Palestinian statehood is not in the gift of a neighbour”. Such obfuscation is made especially cruel in the context of the hourly accumulation of the corpses of Palestinians. A couple of days after the latest Labour Party verbal gymnastics, Zomlot tweeted about the tragic case of 17-year-old Khader Zomlot, yet another one of his close family members killed by Israel in an airstrike on his family home in Gaza. He was one of the 250 people who have been killed on average every day for the last 100 plus days.

The case brought at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) by South Africa at the beginning of the year represents more than a different perspective on a set of events, it is a window to a new world power dispensation known as multi-polarity. In this new universe, a host of countries from the Global South propose that all human life is equal and should be considered the basic, indivisible unit on which international law is based, thus concluding the final chapter on western colonialism. The 84-page legal landmark condemns Hamas for targeting civilians on October 7 and also accuses Israel and prominent Israelis – from president and prime minister, to cabinet members and TV pundits – of ordering or sanctioning the members of its armed forces to carry out a genocide. We can’t speculate which way the court will decide and what impact this will have on the people of Gaza, or what is left of them. Yet a verdict has already been delivered in the court of world opinion – with every poll suggesting that Western elites are isolated in their backing of Israel and their legitimacy is eroded with every bomb and every death.

This issue of TANK is informed and inspired by Immediacy, or The Style of Too-Late Capitalism (2024), a dazzling new book by the American academic Anna Kornbluh. Short in pagination and vertiginous in intellectual reach, Kornbluh’s analysis of our current cultural condition as dominated by speed of circulation and absence of mediation, is at once devastating and empowering. Her analysis exposes the apparatus behind such cultural oeuvres as Marina Abramovic´’s performances or the texture of videos on TikTok as expressing the same preference for the unmediated. In this idiom cultural forms are emptied of their social meaning and historical context, promising nothing beyond the immediacy of their experience and the transmissibility of their intent. She draws handsome lessons from art experiences such as Immersive Van Gogh, a new class of cultural exposure that is highly experiential but with no essential artistic impact or point. A work of art need not be understood or studied, analysed, compared or contrasted; it has only to be felt. It has little to no relationship with systems of meaning beyond brand recognition and, in Kornbluh’s words, the experience of “bodies vibing in a room”.

Against immediacy’s atomised self as a bucket list of experiences, humanism claims there is a valuable essential and universal human condition. In the 20th century, this idea was the principle on which the United Nations and other international organisations were founded. Though based in New York and subject to the realities of global power dynamics – an alliance of Western nations control key pressure points, and the five permanent members of the Security Council have the automatic right to a veto – and despite all its imperfections the UN at least provides a forum for global discussion and a platform for possible collective action.

One of the United Nations slogans, “It’s your world,” is derived from a poem by the 13th-century Persian poet Saadi of Shiraz, “Children of Adam”, and is inscribed in stone at the entrance to the UN headquarters in New York City. The poem describes humans as limbs of the same body. When one limb is hurt, the whole body feels pain.

Saadi, who is credited as one of the earliest exponents of humanism within the Islamic tradition, didn’t develop a philosophy of loving his fellow humans by relaxing in Shiraz’s famed perfumed gardens. Like us, he lived in a time of wars, massacres and plagues. One world super-power, the Abbasid Caliphate was collapsing, and the map of the world was being redrawn by the unfolding of the famously brutal Mongol Conquest. He was an orphan and impoverished scholar who was captured in his travels in Syria by another set of alien invaders, the French Crusaders, and held for ransom. According to some accounts, during this time he was forced to work digging latrines. This is an exceptionally challenging perspective from which to commit to a love for mankind, including the heathens who had tortured and enslaved him. Yet once he was eventually ransomed from his crusader captors and returned to his home city and writing, Saadi not only developed a robust moral philosophy based on tolerance and mutual respect, but also crafted it in a simple and accessible language in prose and softly rhyming poetry. Saadi’s writing is often described as “running like a clear stream”. Free of embroidery, allusions or complex language, his poems are used to this day to teach reading and writing to primary school children, some 800 years later.

The too-late capitalism that Kornbluh describes has no nostalgia because it has no appetite for history, nor is it peddling a future in the form of an aspiration, only an intense and fevered present. It has emptied itself of any complex narration of meaning other than direct sensation. No need for Madmen’s Don Draper to market this baby – AI-driven Neuromarketing and tracking techniques such as fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), EEG (electroencephalogram), eye-tracking (gaze and pupillometry), biometrics and facial coding will do the job instead. These automated AI bots don’t need the mediation of advertising, they just need to track minute movements in a consumer’s face to work out how they can be induced to keep watching.

Watching the world watch the ICJ presentation by South Africa was like watching a new world come into sharp focus in Technicolor. As Gaza is ground to dust, Western moral and legal legitimacy is eroded, one dead child at a time. It may be the end of the world as some know it but the beginning of a new world that many want to embrace. There is a tilt in the Earth’s axis of rotation caused by the relocation of its moral centre towards the South.

On January 12, when it was Israel’s turn to present its defence, it only served to expose a tired and tattered visage of a fading world as grey as professor Malcolm Shaw KC, counsel for Israel. At his presentation, he lost the thread of his speech. In what was always destined to be a TikTok classic, he fumbled for his place, and in a rare moment of lucidity said, “Someone has shuffled my papers.” Me too, buddy. Me too. Masoud Golsorkhi