Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Deconstructing the War on Terror

Here's a link to my talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan. Forgive the screwed-up face. It's the fault of those Palestinians that took me dancing -

I wrote the following for a Norwegian newspaper to introduce "Deconstructing the War on Terror", a seminar at Chateau Neuf (Storsalen), Slemdalsveien 11, Oslo, from 12-7pm Sunday 22nd February. George Galloway, Massoud Shadjareh, Yvonne Ridley and Dr Erik Fosse will speak. I'm giving a talk on Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Did the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 provoke an unprecedented rupture in American relations with the rest of the world, specifically the Muslim world? Was that day really the day everything changed, as much of the media tells us?

Almost immediately after the attacks a taboo was imposed – most strongly in the US itself, but also in Europe – on serious debate concerning the motivations of the terrorists. (This is the same taboo Israeli society has imposed on itself since 1947). In the new rhetorical climate, to ask why was to justify. “You’re either with us or against us,” announced President Bush in typical Global War on Terror language. Indeed, the control of language has been the most distinctive domestic tool of the GWOT, working by simplification, generalisation, and suspicion of critical thought.

So what were the causes of September 11th? First, ‘blowback’ from America’s longstanding alliance with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and its Wahhabi-nihilist stooges – useful idiots who had contained the Soviet Union and then revolutionary Iran on America’s behalf but in the name of ‘jihad’. Second, Arab and Muslim rage at unconditional American military, financial and political support for Israel’s steady colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Third, tremendous anger at the suffering of the Iraqi people under the US-led sanctions regime, which two assistant secretary generals of the UN described as ‘genocidal.’

None of these American policies changed fundamentally in the Bush years. America gave up its alliance with the Afghan Taliban, but continues to work with the Saudi dictatorship and to fund Wahhabi extremists from Iranian Baluchistan to Lebanon. In fact, America has been more wholehearted than before in its support for a Sunni extremist world view, encouraging its Arab clients to sectarian rabble-rousing and scaremongering over an imaginary ‘Persian-Shia crescent’.

US (and European) support for Israel solidified even as the last chance for the two state solution was strangled, and as Israel launched murderous onslaughts on Lebanon and Gaza. The mainstream American media equated America’s amorphous war with Israel’s war on the Palestinian people. The torture tactics of Abu Ghraib and Bagram were refined for Muslim victims by Israeli ‘expert’ input. Neoconservative ‘Israel-firsters’ ran policy from Washington.

Sanctions against Iraq were replaced by an invasion which resulted in the disintegration of the country’s ancient social fabric. At least a million Iraqis have died as a result of the war. At least four million are now refugees. Many Iraqi cities and villages have been ethnically cleansed.

There was a fourth factor behind September 11th: America’s support for brutal dictatorships across the Muslim world. This was less of a taboo issue; ‘democracy’ was belatedly adopted as justification for the Iraq war, and Condoleezza Rice even made a few speeches about the need for Arab democratic reform. Again, however, all that really changed after September 11th, and only for a few years, was the rhetoric. Dictators in places like Egypt continue to rely on American money and miltary bases for protection, despite increasing repression of their people. Israel and the West demanded elections in Palestine, but then refused to accept the results. Shamefully, Europe has been fully complicit in the ongoing seige of Gaza, sanctioning not the occupiers but the occupied, the repeat-refugees who have dared to exercise their democratic rights.

So what came after September 11th was more an intensification of existing trends than a radical break. In that respect, GWOT was an illusion. Its importance was as discourse, as culture, as myth.

No less a figure than former US National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski writes that “constant reference to a ‘war on terror’ … stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear. Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue.”

The terror threat to the West is real, but vastly exaggerated. In its name military budgets swell and potential dissenters are intimidated. There were 498 terrorist incidents in Europe in 2006, only one of which was attributed to Muslims, yet half of terrorism-related arrests were of Muslim suspects. In Britain the Prevention of Terrorism Act, particularly its criminalising of the ambiguous ‘glorification of terrorism’, has led to many abuses. In the US, the Patriot Act’s curtailment of civil liberties was smoothly accepted by a terrified populace while organisations like Campus Watch rooted out anti-Israel dissent in academia. A dragooned ‘popular culture’ endlessly represented images of evil, irrational Muslim terrorists in conflict with the forces of good.

With the election of Obama, the most extreme rhetoric of GWOT seems to have had its day. (It may be to Israel’s long term cost that it used GWOT rhetoric to package the recent massacre in Gaza, just at the moment when GWOT had been discredited in the West.) But if fundamental pro-Zionist and imperialist policies did not in fact change during the Bush years, not much will change, practically, in the post-Bush years. The passing of the War on Terror is as illusory as its sudden birth after September 11th. It is likely that economic decline will now limit the scope of Western intervention in the Muslim world, but the same old policies are set to continue with minor adjustments under Obama’s leadership. Linguistically, morally, and militarily, we continue headlong into disaster.

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