“This is an act of war.” “We are at war with an ideology.” “Islam needs a reformation.” “Send these people and their families into concentration camps on one of the islands off the coast of Scotland.” “We should force feed them pork products.” “This is an attack on all of us.”
I have been listening to and reading responses to the recent attacks on Parisian civilians from various sectors of society over the last day or so. Times like these simultaneously shake your faith in the intelligence and integrity of humans, whilst giving you a glimmer of hope. The majority of responses I have heard or read have been along the spectrum of plain stupidity, through racism to opportunistic violent militarism. The glimmer of hope is offered by a select minority of seemingly intelligent people who have called for a rational, deliberated response.
In order to deter the cycle of violence plunging us into an abyss, wise and conscientious people must take a thought-out and empathic approach, and make their voices heard. Unfortunately, if they do not, ideologists and war profiteers will, without fail, take advantage of the media attention and heightened emotions—fear, suspicion, anger, tribalism, et cetera—to further their respective agendas.
We must not forget that war is a multi-trillion dollar economy and, as the last century or so has shown, some of those who profit from the increasingly innovative and efficient ways to kill and mutilate will do anything to prevent peace. As the rare, courageous writer, Chris Hedges, put it:
“Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy. They use fear, bolstered by racism, as a tool in their efforts to abolish civil liberties, crush dissent and ultimately extinguish democracy. To produce weapons and finance military expansion, they ruin the domestic economy by diverting resources, scientific and technical expertise and a disproportionate share of government funds. They use the military to carry out futile, decades-long wars to enrich corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. War is a business. And when the generals retire, guess where they go to work? Profits swell. War never stops. Whole sections of the earth live in terror. And our nation is disemboweled and left to live under what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls ‘inverted totalitarianism.’”
War profiteers and their spokespeople rush to use atrocities that heighten social tension and anxiety to pull the wool over our eyes, much like their middle-eastern counterparts, Alqaeda and ISIS, with whom they share a symbiotic relationship. When civilians of one side are attacked by the foot soldiers of another, they cry out: “Our way of life is being attacked!” They fool us into interpreting anger and violence directed at the elite establishment as an attack on us all. “We are all in this together,” they would have us think. We are not.
These recent attacks on Paris happened, as the terrorists themselves declared, because of “France’s” military strikes in Syria. The reason I use quotation marks is to try and avoid falling into the very mistake I am highlighting, as our common usage of names and terms is part of the problem. This is because it was not literally all of “France” who carried out attacks in Syria; it was a small elite of decision makers—just like in the rest of the so-called “developed world”—influenced openly by those corporate powers that profit from war. This is one of the major differences between “us”, by which I mean the common people of the world, and the propagandists of violence and war, from both east and west.
Anyone who has carefully understood and refuted ISIS and Alqaeda propaganda and rhetoric knows that they believe in the myth of democracy. Their logic is as follows: bombs that fall from the sky and have killed millions of “their own” over the years—who happen to be Muslims—are done so by foot soldiers (and now drones) acting on orders of western governments. These western governments are acting on the instructions of those that elect them—the citizens. Ergo, the citizens of those countries are responsible for the atrocities. This is why it is justified—in their warped logic—to attack citizens of these countries, even the Muslim ones, to cease their governments’ warfare.
Anyone who knows the first thing about the reality of political establishments of the western world is able to see the error of this argument, but many of us take it for granted. This is where the propaganda of our elites helps further perpetuate violence and civilian casualties. When an attack does happen on civilians, instead of learning the truth of the matter, these terrorists and their sympathisers get a reinforcing message from our elites: “This is an attack, not on the government; this is an attack on ALL of us.” In other words, those elites who profit from war—and are perfectly safe themselves from the consequences of their businesses—trick the population into interpreting an attack on their actions, as an attack on our way of life.
This is the most deadly deception of the war machine, because it leads to endless conflict. This irrational rhetoric of ‘patriotism’ sees the elites getting the ‘peasants’ to defend them despite suffering tremendously themselves in the process, and to add insult to injury, suffering from the elites’ domestic policies themselves. This is an almost exact mirror image of the war machine directed from other countries towards us.
When billions of indiscriminate particles of white phosphorus fall on a playground somewhere in Iraq, or a drone strikes on a funeral in Yemen, or barrel bombs ravage a city in Syria, the civilian populations of those countries are told by ISIS/AQ recruiters: “This is not an attack on the government. This is an attack on ALL of us. This is an attack on our way of life.”
It takes two to tango. The western war profiteers and ISIS are dancing partners; they both need each other. Without continual war and aggression in the Middle East, ISIS would have no recruits. Without ISIS, the western war profiteers would not be able to sustain hundreds of billions of dollars of military spending, especially in the information age of the internet and social media, where false threats are far more difficult to conjure up than in the last century.
This is why one of the most significant events to make us safer, which took the wind out of Alqaeda’s sails somewhat, was the WikiLeaks revelations and the reactions that followed. This showed the rest of the world, including the Alqaeda ideologists and their potential recruits, that the civilians in “The West” were not a monolithic block hell-bent on killing them and destroying their way of life. The vast majority of civilians in the west were against the crimes of their elites and were in fact themselves subject to on-going policies of domestic disempowerment. That is, until the war machine provokes us into a hysterical frenzy of patriotism.
War polarises. Even the most wise and intelligent person in peacetime will fall into polarity when attacked. If someone were to attack the UK tomorrow in order to depose the Tory government by attacking “Tory infrastructure”, no doubt many civilian casualties would ensue. I, like my friends, neighbours and colleagues, would obviously feel compelled to resist and fight back, not for David Cameron or his abhorrent ideology, but for the survival of my family, friends and neighbours. This is a relatively straightforward scenario to fathom, however it becomes near impermissible to articulate for “the other”.
What we need is empathy. Just like in the example above and the recent attacks, when people are bombed in western countries their friends and neighbours are more easily provoked into further violence, incidentally siding with the war profiteers. This is exactly how ISIS and AQ swell their ranks. When people are bombed thousands of miles away by our elites’ efficient killing technology, their friends and neighbours are more easily provoked into further violence, incidentally siding with their war profiteers.
If we refuse to use empathy to see those our governments kill and maim as human beings just like us, then we are doomed to continual control by the war profiteers. Only on Tuesday, days before the attack in Paris, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian celebrated attacks on “ISIS infrastructure” in the Deir Ezzor region. Many who have been whipped up into war frenzy may think of this as a step in the right direction. However, what was this “ISIS infrastructure” on which bombs were dropped? “Firstly on an oil distribution station and secondly on a gas separation plant.”
Ponder over that for a moment. Now imagine bombing the ‘infrastructure’ of a population of 6.4 million civilians that is being forcibly ruled over by anywhere between 9,000 and 200,000 ISIS maniacs; that is anywhere from a 96.88% to 99.86% civilian population. This is despite the official figures counting many civilians in positions of social infrastructure as “ISIS members”.
What will happen when bombs fall on this “infrastructure” from the sky? Will it make the problem of ISIS go away, or swell their ranks? As one survivor of the Paris attacks reported,
“I clearly heard them say to the hostages, ‘It is [President Francois] Hollande’s fault. It is the fault of your president; he should not have intervened in Syria.’ They also spoke of Iraq.”
The war profiteers’ spin doctors have been working diligently to hide this inconvenient fact, despite many courageous journalists and broadcasters repeating it regularly since the attacks. Right on schedule, politicians, security “experts” and other rent-a-quotes have been wheeled on talking about “extremist ideology” and a blind, irrational hatred of “our way of life” being the cause of these attacks. We are at war with an ideology, they tell us. If you close your eyes, you would be forgiven for not recognising which side of this dance of death these spokespeople are on.
Meanwhile, the ignorant and foolish among the masses fall for this, ignoring the rational, empirical and even explicitly stated motives for the attack. This has been attributed in the past to a fundamentally racist doctrine no longer explicitly uttered but implicitly felt: that the white man’s violence must be due to a rational grievance, even if misguided, whereas the non-white ‘other’ must turn to violence due to his fanaticism and irrational hatred. This is a broad topic that has been discussed in many places, so only a few brief remarks on its relevance to terrorism are necessary here.
Many commentators and the general public may be under the impression that non-white terrorists attack us because of their backwards, “savage” ideology that needs to undergo some kind of reformation. They need to be enlightened by superior (or, white) western values. All rational, empirically determined causes for their violence, including their explicitly stated motives, are irrelevant. The reason they are violent is because they are just inherently violent people. We have seen this rhetoric from the colonial era slowly be sidelined and be replaced by less ideological, more rational approaches to sociological issues, in the public domain. However, one of the last remaining vestiges of such irrational, ideological thinking is yet to be eradicated in the mainstream media: the conveyor belt theory to violence.
This is one of those examples where politics, media and popular culture take time to catch up to academic, peer-reviewed research on a topic. The conveyor belt theory has been comprehensively refuted among academics, and alternative evidence-based theories of terrorism are slowly making their way into the spectrum of expressible opinions in the mainstream media. However, now is the time to highlight the truth of the matter and challenge politicians and pundits desperately and insidiously trying to insert “ideology” into the rhetoric surrounding the recent Paris attacks.
The facts say, in summary, that ideology is incidental, not causative. Just as a Christian, Hindu or Buddhist terrorist group will use Christian, Hindu or Buddhist language, metaphors and imagery to justify their actions within their respective ethical traditions, likewise Muslim terrorist groups will naturally use their own. An intelligent person if given basic facts and statistics should easily be able to distinguish between a logical cause or motive, and a post-facto justification for an act. As Michael Scheuer, the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden tracking unit and the author of three acclaimed books on al-Qaeda said,
“I don’t think there are a lot of people who want to blow themselves up because my daughters go to university…People are going to come and bomb us because they don’t like what we’ve done.”
It is, however, a much more comforting illusion for someone to believe that we are under attack because we are so free and superior as a civilisation, as opposed to in retaliation to the actions of our elite. This makes it even more necessary and commendable for just politicians, journalists and regular people to break the silence and try to end the circle of violence. It is even more urgent to do so when people are calling for an escalation of hostilities that led to this mess in the first place. Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity comes to mind: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
What should be done to keep us safe from terrorists?
The very first thing that should be done to keep us safe is not to take away our civil liberties allowing more and more powers to the security industry and war profiteers. The way to keep us safe, is not to bomb other countries, full stop. The racist myth that we are attacked because of our “freedoms” is refuted by the very enemies that we were told hated our freedoms yesterday. As Osama bin Laden said in his message to American people years after 9/11, if he hated their freedom “then let [Bush] explain to us why we don’t strike for example, Sweden?”
Bin Laden served the purpose the war profiteers used his rhetoric for, and now they have moved onto ISIS to scare us. However, we must not forget lessons we have learned from the previous bogeymen. We must stop allowing our elites to continue to strengthen ISIS, by recruiting more aggrieved men and women to their cause, and in turn perpetuate the cycle of violence indefinitely.
“Are you saying we should let the terrorists win?”
Some people attempt to obediently shield the political and security establishments from scrutiny and suggest that if we criticise them we are somehow supporting terrorists or allowing them to “win”. A classic false dichotomy fallacy, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” Even if some are ignorant enough to buy the excuse that “they hate our freedoms,” and are still obediently cheering on and making excuses for the elite establishments that have gotten us into this mess, then let them ponder over the following scenarios.
Either the rational, empirically-based and explicitly stated motives of the terrorists are true, and they hate us because of our elites’ militarism in their countries; or it is an elaborate and sophisticated excuse that has fooled everyone that has been studying them, and they do in fact hate our freedoms. If the former is true, then our ruling classes care more about their ambitions for war abroad than our own safety, so we should have no hesitation in refusing to be the victims of their adventures and exert pressure on them to cease war and further bloodshed. This will make us safer, like the majority of the “free world” not under terrorist threat.
If the latter is true, and the terrorists do in fact hate our freedoms, then allowing the security establishment to introduce more draconian policies and crack down further on our civil liberties and freedom—an emblem of the War of Terror—constitutes a resounding success for the terrorists anyway. There is no escaping the obvious fact that unless a significant number of people call for a peace movement and resist the Neanderthal impulses for more and more war, the “terrorists” will always win. That is, the corporate profiteers on one side, and the ISIS fanatics on the other.
 The buffoon known as former president George W. Bush. https://philosophynow.org/issues/52/The_Bush_Disjunction
The views expressed on Islam21c and its connected channels do not necessarily represent the views of the organisation.