Blood & Ice
Blood - or converted or hot or war or conflict - diamonds are, it’s widely agreed, a scourge of baleful carbon. They must be stopped. For the sake of humanity, of peace, of orderliness. After an earlier flurry of cultural interest, blood diamonds are back in the imaginary.
Without question many funds raised by these unspeakably valuable rocks funnel into the coffers of butchers, amputators, despots & murderers. Without question it would be better were such activities not bankrolled. By anything. Nonetheless, a moment of critical hesitation is necessary. Moralised politico-economic concepts do not necessarily go viral through fractal vigour nor heuristic rigour. More often than not they are the result of aggressive marketing campaigns. Certainly there may ultimately be conflicts over the concrete content of any such category, which may or may not open space for alternative investigation. Nonetheless when any such concept reaches a critical mass of unquestioned authority, in particular when deployed by the semi-official & official arbiters of the legitimate political agenda, it does not automatically invalidate it, but it should red-flag it for attention.
Accordingly, a few questions.
- If the aim of the campaign against these malevolent stones is to end brutal & bloody conflicts, might not similarly star-studded campaigns against, say, the bankrolling of murderous groups from other sources - like vastly more powerful imperial concerns - be as or more effective & pointed? For the Angolan carnage, do diamonds bear more responsibility than the US backing of the murderous UNITA? Assuming Charles Taylor did indeed trade guns for uncut diamonds from Sierra Leone, aiding & abetting the appalling civil war there, why is it the diamonds that are his co-accused, not say, the British government whose long history of destabilisation, implausibly denied intervention, gun-running, mercenary-siccing & cynical pet-murderer husbandry is presumably not entirely without some effect on the problem?
- If it is the use of profits of diamonds to fund dispossession & violence which is the problem, should we consider the intimate connection of Israel with the ‘Kimberley Process’, the industry’s cute putative ‘conflict diamond’ policing efforts - it is, indeed, the host of the most recent meeting - to be other than an unpleasant joke? Are the intimate connections of the Israeli diamond industry not only with officially recognised diamond-adjacent iniquities, but with ongoing Palestinian politicide, not bloody? Why is it only activists who are using the term in this context?
- Should eyebrows be raised at the enthusiasm with which Canada has embraced the Kimberley Process & the blood diamond campaign? Is that adoption unrelated to its own enormous diamond reserves? Should we be suspicious at the country’s successful efforts to use its own very statehood as a brand suggesting (with no little fucking chutzpah) unbloodiedness?
- What can we learn from the utterly fascinating history of the blood-diamond concept, its racist policing, its thoroughgoing propagandistic bullshit about the Bad Diamond/Terror of Whatever Au Courant Flavour axis, its absolutely intimate relations with the monopolistic fervour of de Beers? Is it not the case that a good deal of the corporate outrage these diamonds occasioned is that they bypass Big Bling?
Only a fool or apologist would deny that valuable resources & commodities are eyed & used by many predatory parties, & become inextricable from the paths of that predation. But when Global Witness charts a ‘Link’ between ‘diamonds and development’, what is its nature?
Does the owlish gathering together of countries as diverse as Angola, Botswana, Ghana & Togo et al on the grounds that they all produce diamonds, & the amassing of variegated, often horrifying but thoroughly decontextualised & unexplained stories of human rights abuses not at least imply that the ‘link’ is not profiteering nor imperialism but diamondness itself? Might the concrete historical facts not tell us more than that Bad Diamonds Did It?
This atomised & mystical granting of sinister powers to the commodities themselves - to the diamonds, their cousins conflict cocoa, bad bauxite, reprehensible rubies, &c - seems an almost camp expression of commodity fetishism, by which the social dynamics causing the very decried crises are obscured, & the mindless nuggets with which capital accumulation is effected instead sternly blamed. Are the diamonds - the African diamonds, from the Dark & Deadly Continent, blah blah blah - by some maleficent diamantine quiddity the prime movers of all this brutality?
Perhaps it will help to take a step back. Let’s check, very simply, very carefully, what exactly, officially, blood diamonds are, & what they do. Thus the UN:
Conflict diamonds are diamonds that originate from areas controlled by forces or factions opposed to legitimate and internationally recognized governments, and are used to fund military action in opposition to those governments, or in contravention of the decisions of the Security Council.
Surely that’s clear. Perhaps the forces & factions opposed to legitimate & internationally recognized governments will sell the stones themselves; perhaps they will, with varying brutality, extract a tax from such sales as they can, & use those funds for nefariousness.
So to recap. Funds raised by armed powers from the sale of commodities in areas they control that are used to bloodily & viciously undermine stability & democracy elsewhere are unconscionably tainted. That is in the official definition. So it would be awkward if any of the powers so vocal about the horrors of these stones have ever been complicit in such acts, in torture, in antidemocratic war, in mass murder, in the violent overthrow of popular mass-movements, bankrolling them with funds from taxes & sales from the areas they control.
Absolutely we should care about such stones, & what their sales might allow. In fact let’s take this taxonomy as seriously as it deserves. For a start, all diamonds are blood diamonds (pdf). And with this logic we can go further in tracing these linked commodities, sales, taxes, governments, gunships, war.
Every Pritt stick bought on a London high street is Hot Glue. Every toilet-roll procured legitimately in a Toronto suburb is Conflict Tissue. Every branny breakfast item in a New York Starbucks is a fucking Blood Muffin.