In the wake of the Paris attacks, something must be done…

Once again, terrorists have attacked Paris, this time leaving well over 100 people dead. Everyone will agree that this is a tragedy and that something should be done to prevent anything like it happening again.

Of course, what that something is will vary greatly, depending on your point of view.

For some, it will mean increased domestic security; more spying on innocent people, less freedom of movement, less freedom of speech, less compassion towards refugees and even more intensive military engagement abroad. It will mean increasingly oppressive and restrictive actions by western governments against their own citizens and particularly against foreigners. Such ideas will masquerade under the banner of “common sense” and a “duty to protect”.

We need a rational response, and the basis of any rational analysis has to be the principle of cause and effect.

It’s very easy to dismiss any argument which reflects culpability on our own governments as “making excuses for terrorists” or “blaming the west for everything”. Let’s be clear, the immediate responsibility for these attacks lies only with the terrorists – that should go without saying. The challenge, however, is to understand if and how our own foreign policy contributes to creating an environment in which terrorism can flourish. This is essential if we are to be able to judge whether a particular response is likely to be effective, or actually make the problem worse. It’s not a difficult thing to do.


The 2003 Invasion of Iraq

Ever since the invasion of Iraq, the Middle East has been in meltdown. With a few exceptions, the consensus of public opinion now appears to accept that the invasion of Iraq was ill-conceived, and that both the motivation behind and the execution of the invasion were shockingly inept. Let’s not rehash that debate, except to point out that the lessons learned were the wrong ones. Foreign policy shifted from outright invasions involving the deployment of ground forces to remove foreign governments deemed a “threat to our interests”, to providing support for militant groups inside the target nations whose objectives broadly align with western objectives.

Revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, dubbed the “Arab Spring“, to varying degrees resulted in relatively stable coups. Revolutions can be great, there are many governments around the world who thoroughly deserve to be overthrown. The problem is that revolutions and popular uprisings also present easy opportunities which western intelligence agencies, especially the CIA, are past masters at taking advantage of. They’ve done it for years throughout Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, and even more recently since the ending of the cold war in Eastern Europe with some degree of success – at least as success is defined by the west.

In Libya, things went much less smoothly. Gaddafi had long been a thorn in the side of both western and Arab governments; his support for revolutionary movements around the world had bought him praise in some circles, and branded him a sponsor of international terrorism in others. His plans for a single African currency threatened the position of the US dollar as the global reserve currency, and his support for Pan African unity signalled trouble for western corporations’ ease of access to African resources. His record of political oppression at home was questionable, yet Libyans still enjoyed some of the highest living standards of any nation in Africa, and an average life expectancy of 75 years. In short, Libya had progressed significantly since independence, and potentially stood to benefit if the “old guard” who had led that process, but who still clung jealously to power, could be moved aside to allow greater political and economic freedom.


Western backed insurgents in Libya

In the normal course of events, that’s what might have happened, but in the context of the Middle East in 2010 where many Libyans from the eastern part of the country had actively participated in the Iraqi insurgency, such an outcome was unlikely. Instead, NATO provided close air support to a mixture of tribal militias, each with a different vision of how the country needed to change, a significant portion of whom were al Qaeda style extremists. Soon after Gaddafi had been defeated and lynched, the black flag of al Qaeda was on open display above the courthouse of Benghazi.

Since then, the country has been divided with no effective government, and roaming bands of competing militia extort, murder and torture the civilian population at will. Libya has become a failed state, and life for ordinary Libyans is significantly worse than it was before.

Arms looted from the defunct Libyan army were soon used to destabilize Mali, a former French colony, and following a UN resolution France dispatched troops to the country to defeat that insurgency.

Other arms were reportedly being funnelled to Syria to support the ongoing uprisings there. What had perhaps begun in Syria as a genuine response to another post-colonial-yet-clinging-to-power-longer-than-was-healthy regime was being transformed and hijacked by two sets of forces. The first was the usual western interference, the British, Americans and French supporting the Free Syrian Army, who we were told were “moderates” committed to a secular and democratic Syrian state. The second were salafist head-choppers sponsored by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and a few other Gulf states.

To add context, Syria is at the crossroads of two proxy wars. One between western and Russian interests competing for geo-political control of the Middle East and Mediterranean, and in particular, seeking to remove Russia’s naval base at Tartus. The second, part of a wider conflict between Sunni and Shi’a Islam, championed by Saudi Arabia and Iran respectively.

This Sunni/Shi’a conflict has fomented for a long time, dating back at least to Saddam’s invasion of Iran in the 1980s, and has intensified again as a result of the sectarian conflict which developed in post-invasion Iraq. In 2010, the majority Shi’a population elected a highly sectarian Iraqi government led by Nouri al-Maliki, whose repression of the Sunni minority in Iraq caused much friction and division, and signalled growing Iranian influence in the country. This, along with Iranian support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria’s Bashar al Assad formed a substantial power base opposed to Saudi interests.

The alienation of Iraqi Sunnis left them isolated and vulnerable, making an alignment with al Qaeda in Iraq, whose affiliates in Syria were making significant progress, much more attractive to tribal leaders who had previously opposed them. The forces on both sides of the border then coalesced into what we now know as ISIS, or ISIL depending on your translation. In a matter of weeks, ISIS had taken over great swathes of Iraq, eventually capturing Iraq’s second city of Mosul, as well as having control of huge parts of Syria.


Convoy of ISIS militants

In Syria, the FSA, such as it had existed, either collapsed and faded away or was absorbed into other more radical forces, including ISIS, along with their western supplied arms and money. In reality, the FSA were never that “moderate”, and their membership moved fluidly between them and other more radical elements as boundaries and allegiances shifted during the war.

The US response to ISIS was to engage in sporadic bombing campaigns, and never amounted to much more than a mild annoyance to ISIS. The more recent involvement of Russia appears to be having a much stronger effect, with ISIS now losing ground rapidly in Syria and gradually in Iraq too, thanks to the Iraqi Army and a Shi’a militia who, it has to be noted, are every bit as fanatical and cruel as ISIS.


The devastation of Syria

Over a quarter of a million people have so far died in Syria and this once developed and largely secular nation has been reduced to rubble. Hundreds of thousands of refugees are sheltering in neighbouring states, and tens of thousands of them are also fleeing to Europe as hope of a resolution to the conflict has faded. It’s a humanitarian disaster on a massive scale.

Certainly, religion plays a significant part in this conflict. Most Arab nations didn’t form by natural processes, where people of similar customs and religions come together to form nations. The modern map of the Middle East was drawn by agreements between European powers, much like the map of Africa, paying no attention to the cultural and religious identities of those who fell within their borders. If anything, the potential to divide the populations against each other was seen as an advantage, because a population divided is weaker, easier to manipulate and dominate from outside.

Yet, it’s not the whole story. Any popular movement will find ways of expressing itself in the vernacular that local people understand, in much the same way that Christianity wasn’t the cause of slavery but Biblical texts and ideas were used to justify what economic interests had designed. In Iraq, resistance to a foreign invasion came first and religious fundamentalism followed. Lacking any deep political ideology, religious-based rhetoric filled the void and gave meaning and direction to the resistance.

However, the fact remains that the vast majority of the victims of ISIS are other Muslims who ISIS have deemed insufficiently observant, and the vast majority of Muslims around the world are at least equally as horrified by ISIS as everyone else.

It is, surely, beyond argument that the rise of ISIS is directly attributable to the destruction of stable, if less than ideal, mostly secular nation states and the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of innocent people by western armies and their Islamist proxies.

The situation today in Syria has many parallels in the past, most obviously since the increased involvement of Russia with the conflict in Afghanistan during the 1980s. There, Islamic extremism was deliberately encouraged as it could be used to motivate strong resistance to the Soviet invasion, which itself had been deliberately provoked. The CIA provided logistical support to native Afghan groups, while Saudi Arabia organised the foreign fighters shipped in to assist, most notable among which was of course Osama bin Laden. The seeds of this current conflict were sowed 35 years ago in Kabul, and have borne fruit this weekend in Paris.

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab

Muhammad ibn ʿAbd al-Wahhab

Even earlier, the salafi Islamic sect itself, pejoratively called Wahhabism, arose in Saudi Arabia as the House of Saud, with British support, murdered their way to power in the 1920s.

What happened in Paris is the exception, though, rather than the rule. By far the greatest number of casualties occur in the Middle East itself, and a few in Africa, and whilst some do attract attention like the kidnapping of the schoolgirls in Nigeria, for the most part the reaction is muted. It’s not entirely unreasonable for westerners to be more affected by events happening on their doorstep, to people like them in places like the places they go. However, it is shallow.  The unrelenting media hype which accompanies these events is in part opportunist pandering to populist themes in order to maximize ratings, and part blatant propaganda to reinforce xenophobia and underline the unspoken implication that European lives matter more.

Alongside this narrative is an acceptance of the inevitability of continued war, of the intractable nature of a problem which stands little chance of resolution. This is just untrue, with a real effort aimed at the causes, organisations like ISIS could be dismantled in months or a year or two at most.

All that’s required is a real will to do so. That would mean ending western interference in other countries out of purely strategic and financial interests. It would mean confronting Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states to cut off the supply of money, arms and ideological indoctrination which that region has been exporting for decades.

That’s not a course of action without costs, as the west relies on Saudi oil, and of course Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest importer of arms with a total trade worth more than $60 billion. The world’s top exporters of arms are the very same countries which form the UN Security Council, led by the USA.

That trade in oil and arms is more important than people’s lives is itself an indictment of our economic and political system, and an expression of the imperialist priorities which drive global conflict and give rise to terrorism. Ultimately, it’s all about the money and it always has been.

The real irony of course is that all of this happens in the name of democracy, when if democracy really worked this would all change tomorrow. The vast majority of the profits from the arms trade, war and neo-liberal globalisation pass ordinary people by and go straight into the pockets of billionaire shareholders and corporate directors, whilst the bills for war are passed directly to the people, the taxpayer, to you and I.

The only way to change this is to enforce our collective will on the streets and through the ballot box, to let it be known that we do not consent to this war or the next, that we stand together as people tired of war, death and suffering who demand a world where people’s lives come before corporate profit.

The world is inter-connected, our security can only be guaranteed by ensuring the security of others. No amount of military power or technology can ever truly protect us, and if we use it to inflict harm and suffering on the weak and the vulnerable sooner or later some of that violence will inevitably rebound back on us.

Ultimately, the “liberation” of oppressed people across the Middle East from the despotic regimes of Gulf state monarchs and from the crazed pseudo-religious criminality of groups like ISIS will be contingent on the liberation of the western world from the grip of the corporate greed, plutocracy and corruption which created them.


The threat of the ‘other’ Taliban…

Whilst it’s very common to find discussions of the role of political Islam in motivating and justifying violence, it’s much rarer to hear any in-depth discussion of the role of political Christianity in supporting the US military; yet, religiosity and support for the military do go hand in hand as is evidenced by this study as well as the plethora of religious iconography deployed by American military fanatics.

Religious people are born into a belief system which is already embroiled in a war; a battle between ‘good’ and ‘evil’. To sophisticated believers this is an analogy, or expresses a spiritual struggle as much within themselves as in the external world. To the more literally, fundamentalist minded, it lends itself to being easily translated into physical warfare.

To the American Christian Right, God and Country are founding pillars of their beliefs, and the country’s war is God’s war; be it against the ‘godless communists’ of the cold war or the ‘false religion’ of Islam today. Further back in history, the idea of Manifest Destiny supported the genocide of Native Americans, and after that, slavery. Christianity’s pedigree of violence and bloodshed is proven.

Some apologists will argue that Christian violence is all a matter of history, a point which becomes moot when one considers the bloodthirsty support of the Christian Right for the violence meted out by the US military. They play an esseniStock_000008144534_ExtraSmalltial role in providing political and spiritual cover for US military aggression. Their violence is merely disguised under the uniform of the US soldier and hidden beneath the veneer of state sanctioned conventional warfare.

The results are the same – beheadings, burnings and dismemberment.

Support for Israel is also heavily intertwined with Christian belief, particularly amongst dispensationalists for whom the Kingdom of God will be a literal Kingdom which lasts for a thousand years, based in Jerusalem with Jesus at its helm. These ideas don’t even originate from scripture; they come from the Scofield Bible which is a heavily annotated Reference Bible widely used in the United States and virtually nowhere else. The idea of the Rapture comes from the same source, and is equally unfounded.

The irony that, if the Bible is to be believed, Jesus was nailed to the cross by soldiers following orders, for breaking the law, is completely lost on most soldier-worshipping Bible bashers. In the same way, the instruction to ‘turn the other cheek’ is one of the few they choose not to take literally.

It’s no less the case for many of these fundamentalist Christians than it is for ISIS that eschatological beliefs play a central role in shaping their view of the world. To them, the forces of good and evil are on a collision course which will come to a head with the de$_35struction of the world as we know it, and after which the wicked will be punished and the good rewarded. Of course, the one difference being that each regards the other as evil and themselves as good. What they hate in each other is simply a reflection of themselves made ugly by a vision cleared of self-justification.

Another of the consequences of American exceptionalism, which attributes economic bounty to blessings from God rather than to global imperial domination, is that it assumes that if prosperity is a consequence of godliness, then inversely, poverty must be be a consequence of sin. It completely negates any basis of legitimate political grievances derived from the economic disadvantages with which poorer nations are confronted. It is this which makes simple tropes like ‘they hate us for our freedom’ more credible than any actual analysis of economic, political and military cause and effect.

Once faith and politics combine, the mixture is toxic. As Bertrand Russell once commented, ‘The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.’ Any political ideas are open to debate and persuasion, whereas religious ideas derive from faith and have no ideological basis. They are far less mutable, and debating them can lead into a minefield of Biblical or Qur’anic quotations, interpretations and refutations… unless of course one simply goes for the foundation, the faith itself.

To me, as an atheist, there’s nothing more amusing than watching a Muslim and Christian in debate. However, the consequences are no laughing matter; with the certainty that God is on your side and that your actions are willed by God as part of a war against evil there is little room left for evidence, nuance, compassion, empathy or rational discourse. ‘They’ are evil, and evil needs to be destroyed. No matter the level of violence employed, the death and destruction caused in the name of holy war, the fundamentalist never reflects on their own actions to consider if they, too, might be evil.

The binary nature of beliefs is a problem. To me, nothing is ever entirely good or entirely bad, the beauty of aJesus_solderny subject is found in understanding the complexity and nuances within it. Fundamentalist religious belief polarizes everything to one extreme or the other, both of which are wrong.

In their rejection of science, evolution, knowledge and intelligence in favor of the infallibility of an ancient Bronze Age text; religious fundamentalists of all persuasions represent a real challenge to all of the advances mankind has achieved since the Renaissance. They threaten to take us back to the world as it was before; rife with superstition and torture, where pain and suffering were seen as holy atonement for wrongs committed by a mythical ancestor who in all probability never existed. If the aim of religion is to elevate the human condition, it fails miserably in the hands of any literalist. It’s brutal.

If the consequence of a focus on ISIS is that the Christian Right is ignored, or worse, strengthened, then the threat of the rise of a Christian Taliban in the United States becomes ever more real. Given the power and armaments at the disposal of the US military, should they ever fall under their command, this is a far, far greater threat to humanity than ISIS could ever be.

We ignore it at our peril.

So, you’ve seen this page and now you’re angry and offended.


Here is a quick guide to help you.

The first thing you may want to do is attack me. You’ll maybe want to tell me I’m a loser who has never contributed anything to society, who lives in my mum’s basement and has a grudge against the military because they rejected me, or that maybe a soldier stole my girlfriend who wanted a “real man” instead of a coward… something like that.

The problem with that is, you don’t know me. You know nothing about me, so your attacks on me mean nothing to me. They don’t upset me. You’re not actually attacking me, you’re attacking the person you imagine me to be in order to allow yourself to continue to feel superior, and to therefore restore your sense of self worth at my expense. Once you realize this, you’ll probably then ask why I “hide behind a page, instead of using my real name”. You’ll ask me personal questions, “have you served”, “are you a Muslim”, “do you have a degree”, etc. If I answer, you’ll ask for more and more proof, and then if I don’t give you that you’ll call me a liar. You’re just fishing for information so you can attack me with greater accuracy because you can’t hit a target you can’t see.

The real question you should ask is why this affects you so deeply. Perhaps you’re too used to having people suck up to you because of your military record? Perhaps your whole identity is rooted in what you feel you “gave for your country” and now you feel like everybody owes you some gratitude? Maybe thinking of yourself as a war hero is all you’ve got to distinguish yourself? If you are or have been a soldier, you’ve seen war. You’ve seen death and destruction, maybe even lost friends… if you’re so tough, why should what a stranger on the internet thinks make you so angry that you want to swear at them and threaten them with violence? When you do that you don’t make me question my beliefs, you make me think you’re an unstable, violent individual who lacks self control and probably shouldn’t be running around foreign countries with a gun.

The thing is, I don’t need your approval or to justify my existence to you. This page isn’t about me. It isn’t about you either. It’s not a personal attack on you because, hey, I don’t know you either. It’s not an attack at all, it just says that I don’t believe that being a soldier automatically makes a person a hero. It’s about how the hero worship of soldiers translates into support for war, and silences dissent about foreign policy as if to question war is to insult or betray the troops.

It’s about the issues, and attacking me won’t actually make them go away.

I don’t accept that you fought for me. I didn’t ask you to do it, you volunteered. As far as I’m concerned you’ve been used to fight wars which were more about economic gain and global power than they ever were about my freedom. In doing so, you’ve actually created more problems and dangers, and possibly caused innocent people to suffer too. I can’t thank you for that, even if you were well intentioned. I’d rather you hadn’t done any of it, I’d rather you stayed home safe with your family, I’d rather discourage other young men and women from making the same choices. At the very least, I’d like to enable them to make a more informed choice.

It’s people who cheer for every war and tell young people it’s noble and heroic to die for their country who harm soldiers, not people like me who ask questions and try to encourage people to think and consider if military action is necessary or wise. If you’ve truly suffered and sacrificed, you have far more reason to be angry at them for causing you real loss and injury than to be angry at me for hurting your feelings.

Take a breath, read what we are actually saying, think about it. If you still disagree then come and say why in a calm, coherent fashion.

The real threat: The war machine and the soldiers who serve in it.

“War and the business of war is a greater threat to democracy at home than any other threat abroad…”

These figures fairly reflect US government priorities, but probably less so the priorities of the American people.

I understand the argument that equates high government spending on the armed forces to the military being a “socialist” institution; and whilst it’s fun to tease Republicans with the hypocrisy of their opposition to spending on socialized medicine, or education, whilst they remain fanatically enthusiastic about spending on a socialized military, there is something even more pernicious about this.

Socialism is meant, at least theoretically, to represent a transfer of wealth from the private sector to the public sector, or in more basic terms, from richer to poorer. What this represents is something different; it’s a transfer of wealth from the public sector to the private sector, from the poor and middle classes to the privately owned and hugely wealthy corporations who supply military contracts.

Regardless of your opinion on taxation (and I know we have many libertarians who support this page, all of whom are welcome), the corporate sponsorship of the politicians who in return loot the national treasury in favor of these sponsors is blatantly corrupt and wholly undemocratic. More than that, it’s a driver for war. There are huge vested interests intent on making sure that the USA always has an enemy which the public are sufficiently fearful of to justify and make acceptable the daylight robbery of millions of citizens of billions of dollars, and inevitably, the destruction of foreign countries and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people.

This doesn’t create jobs, the arms industry is highly technical and low on labor costs. The costs of training military personnel are huge. If the money spent on the military, which has a primarily destructive function, were either spent instead on socially beneficial projects or simply left in the taxpayer’s pockets to spend as they choose, more jobs would result.

If the death march of the US military across this planet is ever to be halted, the challenge to democracy within the USA presented by the military industrial complex will need to be addressed. Never mind freedom and democracy elsewhere, war and the business of war is a greater threat to democracy at home than any other threat abroad.  The soldiers also profit from this, and take orders directly from the same politicians who endorse this expenditure. A positive change in foreign policy would be a direct threat to the livelihood of every soldier in exactly the same way as it would threaten the profits of those who manufacture and supply the arms and equipment they use to wage war, not to mention the other corporations who reap the spoils of war; gaining access to resources and markets, and the reconstruction contracts to rebuild what the military lays waste to.

Soldiers are an essential and inherent component in the machinery of war. If ordered to, many of them would defend the interests of these corporations against the American people, just as they do abroad. Soldiers are not defending freedom, they’re part of the threat to it.


A Caricature of Islam


The issue of Islam is once again centre stage in world news and public debate since the recent murders in Paris. Can the actions of Islamic extremists simply be put down to the nature of Muslim beliefs, or is there something more fundamental at work?

Charlie Hebdo March

Terrorists run amok in Paris

Typically, the debate has become polarized, and because simple explanations have the appeal of being easy to understand many people are being seduced by the binary, good versus evil simplicity of blaming the entire problem on the Islamic religion and Muslim people in general – much like the offending Charlie Hebdo cartoons did. Their barbarity and intolerance is contrasted against the peacefulness and freedom of western civilisation, and provides a new opportunity for our leaders to portray themselves as valiant defenders of freedom, as opposed to what they actually are – corporate stooges and war mongering mass murderers who are increasingly spying on and restricting the rights and freedoms of people at home and abroad. From the right, calls for all Muslims to be deported are being made with renewed vigour.

Personally, I’d be quite happy to see a world without religion, although this issue isn’t the subject of this page. The point is though, that whilst it’s fine to attack religion itself, and discuss whether the ideas and beliefs that religions promulgate are actually true, that’s very different from attacking religious people, or worse, persecuting people of one particular religion regardless of their individual guilt or innocence.

There are many very violent Christians, and the Bible, if you read it, contains far more violence than the Qur’an. Parts of it are in fact very disturbing. Yahweh starts out essentially as a war god, defeating the enemies of the tribe which created him – the Hebrews. His character changes throughout the course of the text, gradually evolving as the ideals of the society he represents evolve, until we reach the apparent personification of goodness and love in Jesus – how much of this has been altered and revised by later writers is impossible to precisely quantify, except to say that it certainly was altered, added to and revised again in the process of constructing Christian mythology.


The Inquisition

Despite this, historically Christianity has a very bloody and oppressive past, and that changed not because the Christian church decided to reform itself, but rather because its followers rejected the authority of those who led the Church along with the monarchies they legitimised. That change happened in spite of the Church, not because of it.

Based on the same Biblical Abrahamic roots as Christianity, I’m not convinced that Islam is “the religion of peace”, and it certainly allows for violence in defence of Muslims under attack. Like Christianity, which has many different branches and sub sects, so does Islam. They may all be based on the same book, but there are a wide variety of interpretations, most of which, especially in places where western imperialism has had less of an impact, are relatively harmless compared to the Wahhabi Islam which emanates from Saudi Arabia, our close and favoured ally. All of the Gulf States are essentially monarchies where there is no meaningful democracy. Religious laws are ruthlessly enforced and dissent isn’t tolerated.

In the West, the transition from monarchic theocracy to democracy was a long and very bloody one. First, there were the 100 years war and the 30 years war, which challenged the power of the Church of Rome to control the affairs of European nation states. The English civil wars gave rise to the Puritan movement,  which was essentially a fundamentalist movement – they even banned Christmas, and were not unlike the Wahhabiist we see today in their desire to resist decadence and return to what they saw as the core values of their religion, and enforce that violently. They too rejected the opulence of the Church and the concept of “Divine Right” which legitimised an equally opulent and decadent monarchy. Where “Jihadi John” has allegedly beheaded journalists and charity workers, in England Oliver Cromwell beheaded King Charles I and slaughtered thousands of innocent civilians (which he claimed was “the righteous judgement of God”). In the years which followed, those Puritans unable to accept the compromises which resolved the conflict  fled to the New World – now known as the Pilgrim Fathers, they founded the the oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in what was to become the United States of America, and at the same time established their ideals at the core of American folklore.

The second stage arose out of the Enlightenment movement which established reason, rather than religious dogma as the basis of knowledge, and civil consent, rather than Aristocratic heredity as the basis of power. It would perhaps be wrong to abstract this from changes in the economic sphere, where Feudal production was being replaced by Capitalist production, bringing the burgeoning capitalist class into conflict with the old order.


16,500 people were beheaded following the French Revolution

The French Revolution and the American wars of independence were both directly inspired by the Enlightenment. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, Maximilien Robespierre beheaded 16,500 people, and many others also died. In the end though, the nation states which emerged were founded on reason and democracy, and where the monarchy did survive their power was greatly reduced. Adherence to the edicts of the Church, now firmly separated from the state, became increasingly voluntary, until today where despite the clear influence of the Christian religion in society more and more people are identifying as non religious or atheist. Despite some resistance, moral values are being rewritten along more humanist, tolerant lines, and our view of our place in the universe and how we came to be here is being increasingly informed by science and less by mythology and superstition.

Christianity was able to make this transition without outside interference, which complicates the process enormously in the Islamic world. Cultures shape their resistance to internal oppression and external aggression depending on their existing cultural and religious beliefs, so it’s not surprising that forms of Islamic fundamentalism are born this way. It’s really got nothing to do with Islam, and everything to do with people, human beings and human society. The absolutism of religious ideals and the belief that somewhere an all powerful intelligence is somehow controlling events and will ultimately dispense justice is naturally appealing. In societies in turmoil and transition, these core values are often the first refuge of the oppressed.

In contrast to the way our leaders attempt to shape our perceptions, our wars today have nothing to do with assisting, or even impeding that process – they’re nothing to do with defending freedom of expression or democracy. They’re about access to markets and resources, as our alliance with the most oppressive monarchies of the Gulf States concurrent with the destabilisation and destruction of mostly secular Arab states, such as Libya, Syria and Iraq, clearly indicates. Radical Islam has been deliberately and cynically fostered to fight the cold war, to remove regimes unpopular with the West, and to create pretexts for invasions and military campaigns to advance global economic and military power.

Most victims of Islamic terrorists are Muslim too, and hundreds of thousands have also been killed as a direct result of western imperialist aggression. The world is a complex place, full of nuances and shades of grey. There’s good and bad in everyone, some more than others, but the vast majority of people fall somewhere in the middle where there is much common ground to be found. Most people simply want to live in peace, to be able to raise their families in safety and make a sufficiently good living to support them.


The skyline of modern Doha, Qatar

Real change happens in the world as a result of the battle of ideas, far more so than as a result of military conflict, which sometimes it can give rise to as power is shifted and resisted. Ideas emerge from the material conditions in which people find themselves and the economic relationships within them. The Middle East is far from immune from the very profound changes resulting from the rapid growth of both wealth and inequality which have occurred in that region over the last 50 years or so. Thanks to the internet, ideas are more fluid and move more rapidly than ever before, particularly amongst younger people, so change is inevitable.

The fight against the spread of fundamentalist Islam should be and needs to be an ideological one, exactly the same as the fight against western imperialism needs to be… and I guess that is what this page is about after all.

The fight against terror begins at home.

The declared intention of the “war on terror” was to make the world a safer place, but if the last 12 years teaches us anything it’s that militarily confronting terror has so far been an abject failure, if not totally counter productive.

“Terrorism” is a concept which despite having been around for over half a century remains extremely difficult to define, yet we all know what it is when we see it.  The real problem facing western governments is to come up with a definition which doesn’t implicate themselves.

Consequently, dictionary definitions pivot around the concept of legality.

“The unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons.”

Since states can determine their own laws, and states influential enough can control the implementation of international law, this leaves a rather meaningless and circular definition of state-sponsored terrorism which can be selectively applied:

“state-sponsored terrorism – terrorism practiced by a government against its own people or in support of international terrorism”

In any case, there are better descriptions for these acts, oppression and covert warfare.

In ages gone by wars would be fought by two armies lining up on a battlefield and slogging it out until one side conceded defeat.  Alternatively, if the combatants refused to face open battle the attacking army would lay siege to a city until it was repelled or else managed to gain entry to the city and sack it.  Certainly in the latter case civilians would bear the full brunt of military conquest.

Since then, military tactics have adapted to the available technology.  Formation manoeuvres were replaced by front lines stretching hundreds of miles, hand to hand combat by cannon and rifles, artillery and tanks, and eventually warfare took to the air.

By WWII, the hoped for possibility of being able to hit a specific target from the air had receded, having proven difficult to achieve, so the concept of area bombing (or as it was known at the time, “terror bombing”) was developed as an alternative.  If it wasn’t possible to hit a particular factory accurately enough to put it out of action then the next best thing was to bomb the entire workforce with the hope of demoralising and incapacitating them.  When this didn’t prove effective, bombing strategies were adjusted to cause even greater damage and loss of civilian life by creating the kind of fire storms that were seen in Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, reaching the pinnacle of destructive capability in Hiroshima and Nagasaki once the atomic bomb had been developed.

Terror bombing deliberately targeted civilians, so by today’s standards must surely count as terrorism every bit as much as 9/11.  In terms of the number of casualties, it was actually far more devastating.

The rationale behind what we recognise today as terrorism comes from a similar reasoning process.  It’s simply not possible, or if it is possible it’s highly inadvisable, for those sufficiently motivated to want to attack technologically advanced nations or well defended military targets to do so directly in an open confrontation.

There’s another term for terrorism which is rather more descriptive.  “Asymmetric warfare” refers to a conflict where the opposing forces are unequal. Generally, those engaged in terrorism against advanced nations have limited resources and only basic equipment.  Today’s insurgencies use tactics similar to the guerilla warfare methods developed by the the Irgun in Palestine, the Viet Cong in Vietnam,  and the Mau Mau in Kenya, to name but a few, to achieve the greatest effect with the minimum resources and exposure.

These tactics exploit the weaknesses of modern technology-reliant profession armies; an unwillingness to suffer large numbers of casualties and a reluctance to inflict large numbers of civilian casualties due to public sensibilities at home, and to sustain a benevolent, moral façade in the occupied nation abroad.

As repugnant as these tactics may appear, they are no more so than a high altitude bombing which hits a civilian target by mistake or as a result of poor intelligence.  That such events are not calculated or deliberate makes little difference to those affected, they are still negligent, predictable and horrific.  It is no less cowardly to fly out of range of enemy fire and drop bombs, or sit behind armor plating and fire tank shells than it is to remotely detonate an IED as a military vehicle passes over it.  In the media’s reporting of such incidents every effort is made to use language which legitimises state sanctioned violence whilst delegitimising retaliation against it.

Somewhat ironically, western Special Forces are also extremely familiar with these tactics, and indeed are the people responsible for providing training in them in Afghanistan, and to other insurgent/terrorist forces as is convenient to western interests.  The public and media revulsion at such tactics clearly does not extend to the military, unless of course they become the victims.

If it is the case that terrorism results from military necessity, as dictated by the different levels of technological sophistication, then the assertion that the deployment of more, more expensive and more sophisticated weapons systems will reduce the incidence of terrorism is fundamentally flawed.

“Surgical strikes” are only as accurate as the intelligence they are based upon, and incurring innocent casualties appears to do nothing except harden the resolve of the victims to continue fighting, and drive them towards even more desperate and vicious measures.  This was certainly the result of the Blitz on London, why should we expect it to be any different in Afghanistan or any other country?

The very concept of a “war on terror” makes no sense.  You can’t fight a tactic, an intangible idea, any more than you can reasonably assert that one form of violence is morally superior to another.  All war is coercion, all war is threatening, all war generates terror.

That’s not to say that war is never necessary.  Sometimes conflicting interests are so far apart, so entrenched, that the choice is either to fight or to submit to the unacceptable, or worse, to die.  History is littered with many such scenarios.  It is however to say that war should be a solution only of last resort, of self defence, and that when entered into it should be with distaste, without pretence of glory or nobility of action, even where there is nobility of purpose.

A culture which lionises its warriors and glorifies conquest lends itself to becoming an imperial aggressor.  The irony for the USA, a country which takes so much pride in its own struggle for independence against an occupying power stamping the same oppressive boot in so many other countries around the world seems to be lost on the majority of its population, so much has it lost sight of its core values.  In today’s world, George Washington would have been portrayed as a terrorist.

We need to move beyond focussing on the weapon systems and tactics and ask not why people select a particular method of fighting, but why they choose to fight at all.  This is the key question, and one which the media and public figures are reluctant to discuss.  It is necessary in order to combat any phenomenon to do all you can to understand it, again, if indeed that is your intention – rather than, say, creating a fertile environment for perpetual war.

It is not unreasonable to propose that invading and interfering in the affairs of other nations creates a powerful sense of indignation and a desire for vengeance.  That it has a strongly religious flavour isn’t necessarily an indication of religious motivation.  Whenever people are attacked they will tend to retreat into their national or religious identities, as was evident in the surge of US patriotism after 9/11.
The recent murder of Lee Rigby, a British soldier randomly selected walking down the street in London, was directly attributed to a sense of outrage at the killing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan by ISAF forces. A blood stained Michael Adebolajo stated to horrified onlookers:
“We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.  I apologise that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same.”
This illustrates a clear sense of “us and them”, even though Adebolajo was born and raised in Britain, his statement expresses more affinity with people who share his adopted religion. This makes no more or less sense than to feel connected to strangers you’ve never met purely because they were born in the same country, but it still indicates an identity issue rather than a purely religious one, even if religion is used to provide a moral rationale for taking the life of another.

The other notable aspect of this case was the outrage in the UK that a soldier could be attacked and killed while “off duty”.  I’ve never once heard that criticism levelled at the USA for striking “off duty” targets with drones.  I can’t even begin to imagine the level of outrage in the UK had not only this soldier been killed, but 16 members of his extended family along with him, on their way to a wedding.

Such comparisons are never made because it is simply unthinkable to imagine that Islamic militants are anything like ourselves.  That would destroy their sense of “otherness” and disconnectedness from everything which is familiar to us.  It would undermine their dehumanisation.  Yet, one only needs to spend half an hour on the internet to find shockingly large numbers of people who would quite happily expel or kill all Muslims in western Europe and North America, or worse, suggest nuking the entire Middle East to then “let God sort them out.”

People with such views are fundamentally no different, no less genocidal or psychopathic than the Islamic militants themselves.  They similarly divide the world into “us and them”, where it is not the actions of the individual that count, nor is it a question of whether those actions have any justification, it’s just a question of belonging, of identity. They perceive these conflicts in the same spiritual and cultural terms as do members of al Qaeda or the Taliban.

These backward beliefs provide a convincing and thick smokescreen for what I would argue are the real causes of these wars; competition for resources and access to markets, and to the same end, strategic global positioning.  The resistance encountered is resistance to global economic domination expressed in terms that resonate culturally and politically with the populations they affect.

The rise of al Qaeda is directly attributable to western actions, from deliberately fostering Islamic extremism throughout the late 70’s and 80’s in Afghanistan in a short-sighted but ultimately successful attempt to defeat the Soviet Union, to facilitating their infiltration into the Bosnian conflict and supporting them in Iran, Libya and Syria to do the dirty work in overthrowing regimes who refused to cooperate with western imperialism.  At the very least they can be used to provide a pretext for intervention, as was the case in 2001 in Afghanistan.

That Saudi Arabia, a close ally of the United States and a de facto ally of Israel has played such a pivotal role in the creation and dissemination of Wahhabi Islam and in funding and arming these groups is virtually ignored.  The 28 pages redacted from the 9/11 Commission’s report are widely rumoured to implicate Saudi intelligence services, which given the close relationship between the then Saudi Ambassador to Washington and current head of Saudi intelligence Bandar bin Sultan and George W. Bush, is at best highly embarrassing, at worst, extremely suspicious.

It is not necessary though to imply direct complicity of the US government in the attacks on 9/11 to observe the coincidence of interests which it represented.  The military industrial complex has made an industry out of war, and in order to justify the simply staggering levels of public spending on the war machine it is essential to have an enemy.  If that enemy can be almost alien in nature, so much the better.  The more inhuman and beyond the comprehension of ordinary people that enemy is the easier it is to scare people and arouse their anger to the point they are baying for blood and retribution.

So, here I can argue either of two points of view; that the “war on terror” is ill conceived and counter productive, or that the “war on terror” was never meant to succeed, rather to create a pretext for perpetual war with the dual benefits of destabilising and weakening states that challenge Washington’s global hegemony and to provide a constant stream of new business to the military industrial complex.

Keeping the public in a constant state of fear also affords western states an excuse to continually expand their creeping legislative and technological attack on the liberty and privacy of their own citizens.  This, combined with the fact that all of this is paid for, at enormous expense, by those same citizens compounds the assault.  Freedom is indeed under threat, but in reality that threat comes from our own governments!  The public purse is being looted and our rights are being taken away while we in turn provide the soldiers to loot other countries and violate their right to self-determination.

It’s not that intervention is a bad idea in principle.  Had there been a timely intervention in Rwanda in 1994 maybe half a million lives could have been saved.  The reason there was no intervention was because Bill Clinton, sore over the humiliation of the US military in Somalia declared that the US had “no interests” in Rwanda.  He went further, instructing US diplomats to obstruct all attempts by the UN to declare what was happening in Rwanda a genocide which would have legally compelled member states to act.

The problem with either intervention or non-intervention is the motivation, and therefore the priorities and goals set.  To intervene or not intervene on the basis of “interests” is going to be wrong in either case.

If we were serious about combating terror we would address the grievances which motivate ordinary people to resort to extraordinary acts by finding political avenues for them to empower themselves, as opposed to relying on purely military options as a first choice to suppress them.   We would base our foreign policy on pragmatic solutions which address the needs of people rather than business.

If we were serious about “defending our freedom” we would begin by addressing the completely disproportionate political representation which can simply be bought, either through professional lobbyists or  political donations in our own nations.

We would challenge the necessity of having such large and profligate “defence” budgets whilst at the same time our social programmes are being axed in the name of austerity and fiscal responsibility.  We would challenge our so called friends as well as our so called enemies to try to create a world in which more people enjoy proper democratic representation and have the power to control their own lives, free of corporate or political interference from vested interests within our nations or theirs.  We would stand on principle rather than interests, we would value other people’s lives as highly as our own.

We would not deem it patriotic to cheer as our troops are sent off to fight wars for the profit of the few at the expense of the many.

The fight against terrorism begins at home.

Why we fight

The most dangerous thing about an assumption is that by its very nature it is never questioned.

“We are fighting for our freedom” is one such assumption.  Is this really borne out by the facts?  The USA and its western allies have been militarily active in over 50 countries around the world since the end of WWII.  Did all of them threaten our freedom or was there another motive or driver hidden behind the jingoism and nationalist rhetoric used to justify our killing?

These are the questions asked in this challenging and moving film by Eugene Jarecki…