John Barnie warns of an increase in Islamist terrorism if we continue to veil the truth about Western military aggression.
by John Barnie
The Ministry of Truth has been busy in the past fifteen years. Instead of censorship we now have ‘redaction’; instead of torture, ‘enhanced interrogation’, or ‘extraordinary rendition’ to foreign gaols for torture by proxy; and instead of assassination, ‘targeted killing’, unless it is committed by others, as in the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, when it becomes ‘state sponsored terrorism’. ‘Targeted killing’ by drones sounds surgical, humane almost, and when it goes wrong, killing bystanders, or blowing up the wrong target altogether – a wedding party in Yemen or Afghanistan – it becomes ‘collateral damage’. These evasions have entered the language.
And there are others. ‘Freedom’ and ‘democracy’ were reduced by George W. Bush to war cries when America invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. ‘Freedom of speech’, too, has been diminished to a slogan after the killings in Paris. ‘Je suis Charlie’ placards made people feel good without having to consider the responsibilities and limitations of free speech in a democratic society.
The greatest casualty in all this has been the several hundred thousand lives lost in Afghanistan and the Middle East and the collapse of these regions into civil war and chaos as a direct result of American aggression backed by satraps like Britain. In the long run, however, a greater casualty – for us – may be the hollowing out of the humane values we thought we stood for. This begins with language, because if we cannot trust the honesty of the words we use, we cannot trust, or know, ourselves. In the process we lose the ability to act according to the values we claim to espouse.
One of the greatest lies America and the West tells itself is that we are the innocent victims of Islamist terrorism. ‘Why are they doing this to us,’ one anguished middle-aged woman was filmed saying as the Twin Towers collapsed, ‘we are good people.’ The West seems incapable of facing the truth that Islamist attacks on their territory are a direct result of a century of interference in the Middle East, beginning with the Sykes-Picot agreement of 1916 which divided the region into French and British spheres of interest. More recently it has been America, supporting dictators like Saddam and Gaddafi when it suited them and deposing them by force when it did not.
What we are experiencing now may not be a ‘clash of civilisations’ in Samuel Huntington’s sense, but when George W. Bush declared a ‘crusade’ against Islamist terrorism after 9/11 it was more than a slip of the tongue as officials tried afterwards to pretend. Western politicians see Middle Eastern countries – with the exception of Israel – through a racist lens which values white lives over Arab (or Afghan) ones. This is reflected in casualty figures where time and again the ratio approximates 1 to 100. Israel has always operated on this ratio (see its recent incursion into Gaza) but so have America and Britain in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. We do not speak of ‘collateral damage’ when it comes to our own people, ‘collateral damage’ is what happens to the ‘other’ in faraway places. It is instructive to watch documentaries about the Middle East on Al Jazeera where we are presented with people like us, individuals who have families they love, who they try to protect, and who they grieve for when brothers and sisters or parents are killed. All of this is largely masked by Western television reporting which shows angry mobs, street fighting, corpses wrapped in grave cloths jostled through emotional crowds. This is the other. Life for them is cheap, and it is a cheapness we acknowledge in the death tolls piled up by our armies; in the casual violence and brutality of US and British soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan; in the failure of Western governments and the military to understand the social and political structures of the countries they invade.
The past fifteen years have been a period of defeat for America and Britain. They lost the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where ‘drawdown’ and ‘mission accomplished’ are fig-leaf terms for retreat, and they are losing the ‘war on terror’ because they are incapable of admitting to themselves that they are in large part responsible for it. In opting for ‘targeted killings’ by drone instead of occupation on the ground Barak Obama is saving the lives of US soldiers and vast expenditure on materiel, but for every known (or suspected) terrorist leader assassinated, others spring up to take his place; for every drone attack that kills civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, or Sudan, the hearts of the people in those countries are hardened against America and her allies who become the enemy, leading countless young men to take up jihad against them.
This will lead to more attacks on French, on British, on American territory, and often, as in Paris and London, by individuals who are residents and citizens there. That is the nature of ‘asymmetric warfare’ and it will not go away until we stop lying to ourselves about our own culpability for what is happening, historically and in the present; for there is asymmetry there, too.
These are issues which ought to be debated in this year’s general election campaign. They are unlikely to be, however, because election campaigns traditionally focus on domestic affairs. So the threat from Islamist terrorism will remain, and even increase, while we in the West veil the truth from ourselves, preferring to believe the lies and evasions of our political elites who are incapable of honesty.
John Barnie is a poet and writer.
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