Thursday, 12 July 2012


With the US and Western Europe at its core, much of the world has been immersed in the cultural politics of 'terrorism', as the US and Western governments define it; namely, religious terrorism emanating from fanatic Islam intent on undermining 'Western Democracy'. There have been right-wing Christian religious fanatics as well as neo-Nazi elements in the US and Europe engaged in mass violence. However, that is something that Western media, politicians and 'expert analysts' dismiss as 'isolated incidents of unbalanced individuals', while anything with the imprint of Islam entails guilt of the entire Muslim world - collective guilt for Islam. More significant, there is another kind of terrorism, (for more on this, see my posting entitled 'Human Rights Violations: Governments and Banks') namely, the kind that has resulted from wholesale displacement of large segments of the middle class and workers as a result of neo liberal policies, policies that the International Labor Organization (ILO) argues account for the very high rate of unemployment across much of the Western World.

After 9/11, not just the US but much of the Western World established institutions and geared its domestic and foreign policies to combat Islamic-based 'terrorism' that has replaced the old Cold War. The 'war on terror' became the new catalyst to engender social conformity and maintain loyalty to the status quo. From the media to educational systems, from police to intelligence, all sectors of society and institutions operate under the cultural cloud of 'terrorism' as molded by Western governments. Though the Olympic games of Beijing in 2008 were largely the exception, the Olympic games of Athens in 2004 and those of London in 2012 are very much part of the Western culture of terrorism, looking at Islam as the potential enemy waiting to strike. This is indeed ironic, considering the the spirit of the Olympic games entails peace and solidarity  even among 'warring factions'; a goal that Pierre de Coubertin, a product of the Franco-Prussian War, was interested in promoting when he revived the summer games in  Athens in 1896.

The spirit of the Olympic games was tainted politically by Nazi Germany in 1936 when Hitler and the psycho-neurotic individuals who ran the Third Reich were interested in demonstrating the superiority of the Aryan race. The games were tainted politically throughout much of the Cold War as they had become an arena of competition between the Communist East and the capitalist West. By the time that the Cold War ended, however, the games had become so commercialized that the Atlanta Olympic games were labeled the "Coca Cola games", marking the total triumph not just of the bottling company, but of the corporate dominance of the games that were the excuse to sell products and services to billions of consumers around the world.

What is the spirit of contemporary Olympic games if not the use of athletic games - hardly amateur and hardly non-professional - by large corporations to advertise their products and services, and an attempt to attract tourism and validate a certain national image that would add national (commercial and political) prestige? Both Greece in 2004 and China in 2008 used the Olympic games as platform to demonstrate to the world that they are 'global players'. This was certainly very true in China's case, but a myth of Olympian proportions in the case of Greece whose foreign debt skyrocketed as a result of the games that provided another pretext for Greek Olympic game officials and politicians to line their pockets with massive bribes from domestic and foreign contractors like Siemens among others.

The Greek government has never published an official cost of the games. Security alone cost one billion euros, while the range of estimates for the games runs from 10 billion to 27 billion euros, despite the fact that only 5.5 billion was actually budgeted for a country with a GDP of 200 billion billion and current public debt of 365 billion! Regardless of the controversy about the actual cost, one thing on which everyone agrees is that the Olympic games contributed heavily to the public debt crisis.

That countries use the Olympic games to showcase themselves is well and good, even if its means total bankruptcy as in the case of Greece and even if it means paying past debts for the next three to five decades, while suffering double-digit chronic unemployment. Human beings are hardly perfect and even less so their institutions that undermine any semblance of human decency, even if those institutions are supposed to represent noble ideals as the Olympic games. More practically speaking, do Olympic games generate sustainable growth and development, do they attract domestic and foreign investment that will create jobs and benefit the local and national economy? Certainly every government, including UK in 2012, promises that the games will do all of that and more for the economy and society.

Political promises about the games aside, the question is whether the Olympic games be used to promote multinational corporations and militarism and police state as is the case of UK in 2012? There have been a number of thoughtful articles regarding the 2012 London-hosted Olympic games that are the most militarized in history. Some such articles argue that the Olympic games are the pretext to convert the city of London into an emergency police state, with more than 17,000 soldiers serving as part of a security network that includes uniformed and undercover police, special agents, and other security personnel. Possibly the largest military-police operation in Britain's history during peacetime, the militarized Olympic games will have sharp-shooters as well as sophisticated military hardware - surface-to-air missiles, etc. -  across the city, all to make certain that there is no 'terrorist' incident.

It is estimated that the ratio of security personnel to athlete may be four-to-one - 10,000 athletes to 40,000 security personnel, a new world record! Is the militarization of London justified and is this the future of Olympic games? Naturally, militarized games translate into big profits for defense-intelligence-security-communications companies, like the US-based company Long Range Acoustic Device. Considering that UK is a close US ally and it has taken a hawkish role in overt and covert operations in Muslim countries over the last two decades, should anyone be surprised that it is arming London as it has never done before? If I were in position of authority, I would opt for massive spending on security and I would leave nothing to chance. 

The cost of the games is now estimated at 24 billion pounds sterling, despite promises at one point that it would be under three billion, and despite promises that the games would be a 'public-private' joint enterprise - only 2% will be paid by the private sector and the rest by the British taxpayers amid a recession. All of the major multinational corporations will have a prominent present, from Dow Chemical to McDonald's. This is fine, except for one thing, why should UK taxpayers foot the bill so that the government can put on a show that offers multinational corporations an opportunity to sell their products? If the answer is so that UK can increase tourism, studies show that Olympic games have an ephemeral bump in tourism and not a long-term one. Clearly, some cities, like Atlanta in 1996, have benefited from the games, while others, like Athens in 2004, will continue to feel the pain of paying back debt for many decades.

More significant than economic growth and development, what is the cost of militarizing London to English democracy, to Western democracy at large? Is there hope that the Olympic games will recapture the spirit of ancient times or of its 19th century French  founder who believed in amateur competition, peace, and solidarity among all people? Are the games used to distract the attention of people away from austerity and banking scandals, like the recent one of Barclay's that manipulated inter-banking rates?

The dominant culture shaped largely by the political economy swallows up all institutions. The Olympic games are no exception, although people like to believe that there is something sacred about top ranked world class athletes competing for the honor of the sport. If the dominant culture is geared toward consumerist values and 'manufactured terrorism' emanating from Islamic sources, then why should the Olympic games be the exception; how can they possibly not reflect that culture which is the mirror of contemporary society? Besides the irony of the London games taking place under quasi-police state conditions, the added irony is that the Olympic games of 2012 are showcasing the corporate sector at a time when the EU and world economy is in recession and unemployment rising at a time of ongoing massive transfer of capital from the middle and lower classes to the upper socioeconomic groups. "London Calling", but what message is it sending to the rest of the world?

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