lundi 5 juin 2017

The ‘West’ and Its ‘War on Terror’: Treating the Symptoms, Not Curing the Disease

L'«Occident» et sa «Guerre contre la terreur» : Traiter les symptômes, sans guérir la maladie

Jeremy Corbyn leading a July 2014 demonstration against
the Israeli war on Gaza. (Photo: RonF, via Flickr, file)

By Jeremy Salt

When Jeremy Corbyn made a direct link between the Manchester bombing and Britain’s wars on Iraq, Libya and Syria he was roundly attacked for justifying terrorism, supporting terrorism, being soft on terrorism and being weak. Theresa May accused him of saying terror attacks in the UK ‘are all our own fault.’ Even before he spoke the Sun was referring to ‘outrage’ as ‘it is revealed Corbyn will claim Britain’s war on terror is to blame for Manchester terror attack.’

In fact, Jeremy Corbyn neither intended to make nor did he make any such statement. His link was with British attacks on other countries, not the ‘war on terror’, which he mentioned only in the context of it having failed. As bombings in Britain and other countries have continued over the years, it is surely time to concede that he is right, or at least that there is something amiss in the way governments are dealing with this menace.

Official complicity is one of the elephants in the room. John Pilger and others have pointed to the fact that the British government knew there was a potential terrorist cell in Manchester, in the form of adherents of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), proscribed as a terror organization by the government, but turned into a useful tool during the war on Libya. Sympathisers, or members of the group, were well known to the authorities in Manchester. Many had been placed under a form of home detention when in 2011 they were released, had their passports returned and were allowed – virtually encouraged – to return to Libya to join Al Qaida-affiliated groups fighting under the air cover provided by the US, Britain and France.

One of them was Ramadan Abedi, now living in Tripoli, the father of Salman, the Manchester suicide bomber. Salman was known to police, and was on an FBI terror list as well. Only recently the FBI had alerted the British government to his presence and the possible threat he represented. So, very clearly, the government knew who he was, where he was and where he had been. Just before the bombing, he had traveled to Syria and returned to Britain from Libya without attracting sufficient attention for him to be picked up, questioned and watched.

So, what is more important here, the alleged character weaknesses of a young man, as described by the media, a dropout and dope smoker, a lone wolf, attracted to terrorism because of a void in his life – or because that void had been filled by the consequences of what he saw in Libya and Syria? That he chose to destroy himself in Britain rather than Syria would suggest that he saw the ‘west’ as the deeper and more dangerous enemy and not the government in Damascus.

The other elephant in the room is the ‘western’ wars which have killed millions of Muslims since the invasion of Iraq in 1991. The twelve years of sanctions alone (1990-2002) were responsible for the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. The first war on Iraq was followed by the invasion of 2003, the destruction of Libya and then the war on Syria. If the death toll is extended back to Afghanistan it stands at a minimum of about four million, with estimates reaching as high as eight million.

Countless of millions of other Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians have been turned into homeless refugees inside their own countries, or have been driven beyond their borders. In the aftermath of these wars thousands of people, men, women and children, down to infants and babies, have drowned in the Aegean or Mediterranean trying to reach safety in Europe. The ‘western’ governments that went to war against their countries must be held fully responsible for the short and long-term consequences of what they have done even if they are not prepared to admit responsibility themselves.

These appalling events would seem sufficient reason for any Muslim (or Arab Christian for that matter) to be very angry at what ‘the west’ has done and justification for the very small number of people who want to strike back. Against the scale of damage done to Muslim countries, the shock at ‘terrorist attacks’ (wars which extinguish the lives of millions of people do not fall into this category) should probably be that there have not been more of them.

We need to be precise about who is responsible for these crimes. ‘NATO’ did not destroy Libya: the US, Britain and France did, with marginal help from other actors. These three countries have been at the center of all the disasters that have overwhelmed the Middle East and North Africa since the French invasion of Algeria in 1830.

There are many in the ‘west’ who are not Muslims or even Christians, but atheists and agnostics, humanist in their convictions, who feel just as strongly as people of religion about the gross violations of international law and human rights represented by ‘western’ attacks on predominantly Muslim countries. Nevertheless, it is Muslims who have had to bear the brunt of the consequences of these onslaughts, who have had to watch their countries being destroyed and millions of their countrymen and women or their coreligionists being obliterated in the pursuit of ‘western’ interests. They know from their own histories that these attacks have continued without a break for the past two centuries.

In the 19th century, from the Caucasus to the far borders of North Africa, Islam (‘Mohammedan fanaticism’) and not the invasions and occupation of Muslim lands by European armies was identified as the prime driver of hatred of Europe or the ‘Christian west.’ It was a self-serving lie and now we see a repeat of the same deliberate disconnect between cause and effect, the wilful refusal to see what should be obvious before anyone’s eyes.

The search for ultimate responsibility for terrorist attacks has been pushed in the direction of Muslim communities, skirting the backfiring consequences of the policies of ‘western’ governments. It is Muslims who have to be prevented from turning to violent extremism, not governments; Muslims who come under suspicion, not government policies based on lies, propaganda and blatant illegality; and Muslims who have to deal with Islamophobia as the government cranks up public concern resting on their communities.

They are right to be resentful. It is not just now but two centuries of unrelieved ‘western’ aggression that Muslims recall, entitling them to conclude that the ‘west’ does not change because it does not want to change, because less aggression and more morality abroad will hinder the pursuit of profits and power and because the price it has had to pay for its wars is not yet high enough to compel it to change, despite 9/11, Bataclan, Nice, Manchester and all the other horrors we have seen recently.

Ahead of time, words of warning bounce off its thick hide like pebbles off the side of a tank. It does not listen because it does not want to listen to arguments that stands in the way of its policies, however logical, humane and well-founded in international law. When it suffers the consequences of not listening, minor compared to the damage it has wreaked elsewhere, it either averts or denies responsibility, expressing outrage at those who make such an outrageous suggestion. At an impasse, because the law does not work at the local or international level, allowing these governments to get away with mass murder, what are Muslims to do?

They protest, they put pressure on their local MPs, they write letters to the editor and they call on their fellow Muslims to be more active in their support of their bombed and persecuted co-religionists overseas, at the risk, in these increasingly watched times, of attracting the attention of state security. Almost none of them will resort to violence as an answer to the violence they are forced to witness. Like nearly all people everywhere they abhor violence: they don’t want it for themselves, for their families or for other people, for the country in which they live or their country of origin.

Some, a tiny number, will take the further step and either travel abroad to fight with the group of their choice or strike back, as they would see it, at the enemy at home, killing and injuring people who are as innocent of any crime as the multitudes who have been killed or have died as the direct result of ‘western’ wars on predominantly Muslim countries. These groups justify their killing just as ‘western’ governments justify theirs. The moral line between them is just about indistinct, as much as they profess to loathe each other.

One act in the name of Islam, when the killing of innocent people, the killing of Christians just because they are Christians and the destruction of their churches is not just inconsistent with Islam but a violation of its fundamental principles, setting them up as renegades against their own faith. The other’s slaughter of civilians in aggressive wars is just as much a violation of the principles and the ‘shared values’ for which ‘western’ governments say they stand.

If the ‘west’, just once, had put one of the people responsible for these crimes in the dock, say, very obviously, Tony Blair, Muslims could at least feel that a bit of justice had been done. But the ‘west’ protects its own whatever their crimes. Neither the politicians who go to war in breach of international law nor the individual soldiers and airman responsible for atrocities, are punished for what they have done.

There are very few exceptions. There is law but no-one to uphold it and arrest the lawbreaker so there might as well be no law. There is a global institution, the UN, with no power to enforce the law. There are no policemen on duty and like a gang of jewel thieves, the collective ‘west’, having got away with numerous crimes, sees no reason to stop what it is doing.

If the unrestrained violation of international law is one central issue in the debate over who is ultimately responsible for the chaos that has enveloped much of the Middle East and North Africa and is now blowing back across British and European borders, the ‘shared’ or ‘fundamental’ values ‘western’ governments are supposed to represent is another. These values are the basis of the ‘deradicalization’ and ‘rehabilitation’ programs set up in ... 

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