Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 May 2008
Issue No. 896
Focus
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Hamid Dabashi

A case of split infinitives

On 22 April 2008, Hillary Clinton, candidate for the Democratic Party nomination in the upcoming US presidential elections, threatened "to totally obliterate" the Iranian people, fully demonstrating the bankruptcy of her campaign, writes Hamid Dabashi*

In the wake of the key Pennsylvania presidential primary for the Democratic nomination on Tuesday 22 April 2008, and in response to a question by a reporter about what she meant by saying earlier that she will launch a "massive attack" against Iran in the hypothetical case of Iran attacking Israel, Senator Hillary Clinton said, "I want the Iranians to know that if I'm the president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that. Because it does mean that they have to look very carefully at their society. Because whatever stage of development they might be in their nuclear weapons program in the next ten years during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them. That's a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that."

Click to view caption
Hillary Clinton

Soon after she made this remark, the good people of Pennsylvania (following the example of practically all other large states, from New York and New Jersey to Texas and California) went ahead and handed Senator Clinton a solid victory over her rival, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois.

A rudimentary rule of the English language, as the good Senator from New York surely knows, is that one should never split one's infinitives -- it's against the rules, betrays bad grammar, and it could very well confuse people as to what exactly are the rules of the game in this blasted campaign for the soul of the next generation of Americans, if not simply to put a new face to American imperialism.

"To totally obliterate them (Iranians)" breaks this crucial rule of the English language, splits the infinitive of "to obliterate" into half, and inserts the powerful incentive of "totally"-- not just partially, as in, perhaps, to blow into smithereens just thirty or forty million Iranians, but seventy million plus human beings.

I have always wondered what precisely is the urge, the inner compunction, to split one's innocent infinitives and hurriedly declare a genocidal intention so urgent that it cannot wait for a simple verb to end in peace. There they are, standing in line in our peaceful or pestiferous minds, and all they expect is to be allowed (should we opt to summon them to declare our intention, for example, to obliterate seventy million human beings) to utter and announce themselves in peace and in one piece, without being rudely interrupted by one adverbial intrusion or another.

If you want to obliterate seventy million human beings by dropping a few nuclear bombs on them (the way Clinton's predecessors did in Hiroshima and Nagasaki), obviously you have both the motive and the wherewithal to do it. Why do you have to rush in and interrupt the innocent verb by interjecting "totally?" Just wait for a few precious seconds until the verb you have summoned utters itself in peace.

One cannot plead ignorance here. My sense is that most people know that they should not rudely interrupt a verb in the middle of introducing itself, and yet they often do, out of some inner urge to utter something so urgent, so immediately pressing, that they cannot wait for the poor verb to finish declaring its intentions in peace. The proper phrasing, as most bleeding-heart liberals of the Nation magazine persuasion, or even the old and the neo-Con of the Commentary brand, know, should have been for the Senator to say, "totally to obliterate them (Iranians)," or, alternatively, "to obliterate them (Iranians) totally."

What on earth is it that is so urgent and pressing that Senator Clinton cannot wait to interject a "totally" in between her own infinitive "to obliterate" seventy plus human beings? To be sure, this is a common mistake that many even quite educated Americans (and even their British and Australian allies in the War on Terrorism) regularly make, invariably splitting their innocent infinitives with complete imperial impunity and leaving the rest of us il/legal immigrants into the English language wondering what to do.

The reason, I have come to understand, is that at traumatic times of anxiety these people split their infinitives in order to underline a particular point, or to put a specific spin on a phrase, or, above all, to spit out a qualifying certainty that just cannot wait for the poor tongue-less verb to finish in peace.

So, when Senator Clinton wishes to obliterate Iranians totally, the thuggish demeanour that underlies her sophomoric command of the English language would not come through if she were properly to say "to obliterate them (Iranians) totally," for example, instead. By hurriedly inserting that ominous "totally" between her imperial "to" and our humble humanity waiting to be "obliterate"-ed she means immediately to emphasise how serious she is about her task of mobilising the ever-watchful Zionist constituency she has been recruiting to her cause.

She does not wish to inconvenience her major supporters -- ranging from her Israeli constituency in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to her Zionist financers in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, all the way down to Gloria Steinem, Edward Rendell, Geraldine Ferraro and Jack Nicholson. She does not want them to wait too long and for the duration of a whole blasting verb to utter and pronounce itself in peace before they all find out how, exactly, Senator (would be President) Clinton is going to obliterate millions upon millions of Iranians.

They might, before she had had a chance to finish her verb "to obliterate," think ill of her and consider backing Senator Obama instead if all she meant was to obliterate only half of all Iranians. The good Senator from the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Israel wants this varied constituency to know immediately what she means when she says she is going to obliterate the entirety of a nation, a people, the whole 70,000,000 plus of them.

When the pestiferous president of the Islamic Republic, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, uttered his now infamous inanity about Israel, he too used a bad grammatical construction (in both his native Persian and in its official English translation). In Persian he said, "Israel bayad az safheh-ye ruzegar pak (or mahv) shaved," which is a terrible way of speaking or writing Persian, because the sentence is constructed in a lame passive voice, and there is no agency in it.

He did not say, as Senator Clinton said, "we would be able to totally obliterate them," in this case meaning Israelis. He simply said "Israel" (not "Israelis") ought to be wiped out from the map of the earth. But who exactly was to do this "wiping out" (as in taking a clean eraser and erasing a misplaced dot off a page) of a colonial settlement was left unclear, a clear sign of a poor and lamentable command over his mother tongue. Many learned students of the Persian language and prominent professors of Middle Eastern Studies in the United States (like my good friend Juan Cole) tried to point out this subtle but important difference, but to no avail. In other words, if it were left to Ahmadinejad to decide the matter, Israel could be wiped out from the map of the earth (the way the Zionists think they have wiped out Palestine from the map of the earth by superimposing the map of Israel onto it), without a proverbial hair being harmed on any Israeli head.

They could live a long and even a happy life, but in a different state than a Jewish apartheid state, say along with Palestinians in a one-state solution: a position with which many good grammarians (of Hebrew, Arabic, or even Persian) might in fact concur.

However, this is not what Senator Clinton said. She did not say that she intends "to totally obliterate" Iran -- by dismantling the Islamic Republic and resurrecting a Pahlavi monarchy more to her liking, for example. She said she intends "to totally obliterate them," meaning the Iranians. She did split her own infinitive for a variety of subtle and vulgar reasons, but she did not use the passive voice. She meant what she said, and she said what she meant -- with complete authority, autonomy, power and punch. She is a carpetbagger of unsurpassed hypocrisy and deceit, and in every state that she goes to compete with Senator Obama we suddenly discover that she and her entire family are deeply rooted in that state, while she serves as the senator of the Empire State of Israel in the meantime. But when she says she is going "to totally obliterate" 70,000,000 human beings she does not blink or waiver. She shoots straight -- splitting her infinitives only for good measure.

This, of course, is the season of vicious politics and Cathy Ames Clinton is simply setting a new standard on how deep, how irretrievably degenerate, American politics can get. She will do anything (absolutely anything) to get elected. If a person is so corrupt, so duplicitous, and so deceitful that she can oscillate between crying in public for votes in New Hampshire one day and then promise to obliterate seventy million human beings the next in Pennsylvania (and in between repeatedly and consciously lie to her teeth about her reception in Bosnia under "sniper fire" and dismiss her rival's success as being due to his being a black man), we are witnessing the unfolding of a psychopath exposing her degenerate drive for power.

Hillary Clinton will drag her rival Barack Obama into the muddiest dirt, conceivable and inconceivable, (as editorials from the New York Times to the Boston Globe to the Financial Times have recognised and warned her of) if she has to. And if she is not to be the Democratic nominee, then she will make sure that the Republican presumptive nominee, Senator McCain, is the next president of the United States: this is how criminally driven she is to preside over the most deadly military machinery in human history.

She has flaunted her being a women (and career opportunists like the Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, or racist fools like Gloria Steinem and Geraldine Ferraro have gathered around her) the way O. J. Simpson flaunted his being black, and she intends to be the beneficiary of a sustained history of patriarchy and misogyny in the United States in the way that O. J. Simpson become a beneficiary of a history of bone-deep racism in the United States and got away with murder.

Clinton will do far more than that. She promises (without blinking an eye) "to totally obliterate" more than seventy million human beings -- women, men, young, old, infants and toddlers -- if she has to in order to be the new face of American imperialism. With that one phrase she puts on the record that behind her clean-cut hairdo and makeup lurks the criminal mind of a mass murderer. The key question in Pennsylvania was for Hillary Clinton to present herself as a national security president, and, as she has repeatedly said on her campaign trail, she and Senator McCain have a record on "national security" (a code-name for endorsing American global warmongering), while Senator Obama has no such record, and all he has is a speech he gave against the Iraq war.

If she has to equate Barack Obama with Osama bin Laden (and Wolf Blitzer of CNN, echoing the Islamophobic racism of the country, has already paved the way for her to do so), then she will. She will do ANYTHING (absolutely anything -- what can be worse than promising to blow more than seventy million human beings to smithereens?) to get to the Oval Office. In his absolutely worst moments of using scare tactics in both domestic and foreign affairs George W. Bush (or even Ronald Reagan before him) did not degenerate so low, to such pathological fear-mongering, as Hillary Clinton has in this campaign.

The point of contention around which Hillary Clinton has publicly exposed her criminal mind is the unquestionable drive of the Islamic Republic to obtain nuclear weapons. Surrounded by four nuclear powers -- Pakistan, Israel, Russia and the US -- the nervous ruling clergy of the Islamic Republic might very well be pursuing a nuclear programme that will result in nuclear arms, and every decent human being on this planet must be against the clerical clique (riding on a stolen revolution) obtaining any weapon of mass destruction, in the same way that we must oppose, using the same logic and in the same breath, any other country in that or any other neighbourhood commanding such an arsenal of death and destruction. This is also the case for the racist apartheid state of Israel, which has stolen the homeland of another people and turned it into a military base (including an Armageddon of a nuclear arsenal) at the service of a globalised imperial project.

The only legitimate manner in which the Islamic Republic can be prevented from becoming a nuclear power is by ensuring that all the other nuclear powers in its neighbourhood engage in regional disarmament, first and foremost the mirror image of the Islamic Republic, the Jewish apartheid state of Israel. The latter is fully supported and sustained by the American Christian Empire, and will be after Senator Golda Clinton Meir possibly becomes its Commander-in-Chief.

In significant part because of the stupidities (a bizarre combination of imperial hubris and political ignorance) of the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Islamic Republic is now a far more significant political player in the region than it was before them. The Islamic Republic does not have the will or the wherewithal to "wipe out" Israel from the face of any map, while as a matter of historical record Israel is in full command of such will and wherewithal, as it has actively and murderously sought to wipe out Palestine from the face of the map.

Yet, the Islamic Republic has the will and the wherewithal for creating much mischief in its neighbourhood (in Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine in particular), all made possible and justified by the army of Attila the Hun that George W. Bush has amassed around it. Out of sheer geopolitical ignorance, President Bush has turned an illegitimate band, the functional equivalents of John Hagee and Pat Robertson gathered in their seminarian fraternity houses in Qom and Tehran, into one of the most pestiferous forces for mischief in the region.

Still perpetrating ungodly acts of violence against its own citizens -- against women, students, workers and teachers in particular -- and plotting to clone itself in Palestine, Iraq and Lebanon, the Islamic Republic basks in the unexpected power and authority offered it following the US-led invasion of the region (with the Israeli mini-empire ballooning in its belly).

Threatening Iran with nuclear annihilation will strengthen that degenerate leadership and rally every single human being in the region, not just Iranians, behind that regime (even the Saudis, not just the British, have come out and condemned the Israeli Senator from New York for her thuggish demeanour and nuclear threat). The thing that Hillary Clinton does not seem to understand is how absolutely detested George W. Bush has made Americans in the region, and how even more detested she is making them through her fear-mongering, racist, bellicose and belligerent campaign.

She is the worst face of American political culture -- a vicious, vulgar and degenerate power mongering, willing to do absolutely anything and everything to destroy a rival, no matter how many more states have voted for him, how much more of the popular vote he has received, and how many more pledged and super delegates are on his side. None of these things means anything to this politically corrupt and morally degenerate aspirant to becoming the next Commander-in-Chief of an imperial army.

The common wisdom of American politics is that campaigns (particularly prolonged presidential campaigns) are tough, that politicians must be tested, and that the weak- hearted among them must be weeded out in the process. My reading of what I have seen of Hillary Clinton over the last few months in particular is entirely different. What she is doing in this campaign, which is, as everyone says, typical of such presidential races, is to make sure that both she and everyone else in the process is stripped of any iota of decency, integrity, eloquence, elegance, hope, aspiration, poise and positivity that he or she might have or have aspired to generate in others.

The process is thus geared not for politicians to be tested, but in fact to be detested. Everyone in the public domain running for the highest office of the land must be cut down to the most common and the lowest denominator of what degenerate politicians like Hillary Clinton and her husband think Americans are. There is a dialectic of deprecation in motion here: the lower the candidates go to reach what they believe to be the lowest denominator of their constituency, the more they are stripped of any civility and grace, or any uplifting aspiration or ennobling sentiments that they might have had when they entered the race.

Hillary Clinton has consistently mocked and made fun of Barack Obama's eloquence and his gifted ability to stir hope for a better future among young Americans. At times she has acted like a silly standup comedian poking fun at Obama's speeches, making a fool not just of herself, but also a mockery of the ennobling sentiments that Obama has managed to bring to this campaign.

The most immediate targets of this strategy are in fact young and idealist Americans, those who have gathered around Senator Obama, forgiven his enduring flaws and serious shortcomings, invested their hopes and aspirations in him, and want to wrest their country from the present degenerate band of moral bandits and their demeaning practices. Never since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s has American politics been so squarely divided along generational lines -- a young (at heart), progressive, idealist, hopeful, determined and active spectrum of Americans across race, gender and class lines, coming together against their parental generation of corrupt and cynical politics and politicians.

This campaign has increasingly assumed the character of an epic battle between two mythic forces of infanticide and patricide. On the side of McCain and Clinton is the politics as usual of a corrupt party machinery that seeks to sustain the hijacking of American political culture for imperial warmongering around the globe. Gathered around Senator Obama, far beyond his deserves, are the hopes and aspirations of millions of Americans, young in their hearts and hopeful in their undying aspirations for their country to return to the fold of humanity, share in its sufferings, and be in turn graced by its dreams.

* The writer is the Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.

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