Monday, 4 November 2013

A response to Laura Brindley’s article on Islamophobia

There has been much said in the wake of Laura Brindley’s article on countering Islamophobia, which in great irony elicited responses of being ‘racist’ and ‘bigoted’. I don’t propose to level labels onto Laura, this article is intended to correct some of the baseless claims that were made.

She begins with the widely held view ‘9/11 woke the world to the tangible danger from terrorists’. Which is entirely correct, if you don’t consider the rest of the Earth’s population as human. The label ‘terrorist’ has become utterly meaningless. The FBI’s definition of terrorism is ‘a violent act or an act dangerous to human life…to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives[1]. In 1996, when U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked if the sanctions on Iraq that killed half a million Iraqi children were worth the price, she replied ‘we (the United States government) think the price is worth it’. By the FBI’s definition George H.W Bush who imposed the sanctions and Bill Clinton who continued them are terrorists, on a scale Bin Laden could not dream of. Denis Halliday resigned from his post of administrating the sanctions stating ‘I don't want to administer a program that satisfies the definition of genocide[2]. Only the ‘other’ commits horrendous crimes that we remember, we at worst commit ‘mistakes’ and courageously march on, heads held high. My argument is not to highlight Western crimes and diminish those of Al Qaeda in comparison, crimes are crimes, terror is terror, it’s to correct the widespread and groundless assertion terrorism began in 2001 with the United States conveniently as its helpless victim, or that the world ‘woke to the tangible danger from terrorists’ on 9/11; the rest of the world has been subject to terror in incomparable numbers for centuries, namely ours.

She labeled Al Qaeda prior to 9/11 a previously little known extremist organization’. Bruce Lawrence a specialist in these matters at Duke University writes Al Qaeda in 1980 was originally called ‘Sijill Al Qaeda or “Register of the Base”…at this time he (Osama Bin Laden) cooperated closely with…the CIA…with American and Saudi funds…he built mountain bases…and training camps in the border regions (of Pakistan)’.[3] Al Qaeda was well known prior to 9/11 - as an American ally. Who we (‘we’ which I use broadly to refer to the United States and its lackeys in Europe) liaise with then came full circle into our collective conscious on 9/11.

She later remarks in relief ‘thankfully, no attack has ever reached the scale of 9/11’ which is entirely correct, if again we accept the suppressed premise only people in the West are human. Are the 2,500 civilians killed in drone strikes in North Western Pakistan, 100 of them children, not subject to terror[4]? When Barack Obama carries out a ‘signature drone strike’, when we don’t know whom we’re killing, but hope we’re killing the ‘right person’, is he not a terrorist? Suicide bombers use the same logic, and we most certainly label them terrorists. Again, my argument isn’t to diminish the crimes of Al Qaeda in relation to Western crimes, it is to ask by what definition a suicide bomber is a terrorist and Barack Obama not? Why has the ‘bushy bearded Asian man’ sent chills down the spine of people Laura is reporting on but not the clean-shaven American? If we subconsciously restrict the word terrorist to Muslims, then inevitably Muslims will be associated with it, creating fear and prejudice. The problem with the article is she has done just that. The entire article is myopic and restricts the term to Muslims and appearing in Redbrick it will only spread through the university reinforcing stereotypes. Muslims have already been under constant media attack in the wake of 9/11; Cardiff University in a recent study found ‘of 974 newspaper articles published about British Muslims between 2000 and 2008 more than a quarter of them portrayed Islam as “dangerous, backward or irrational”’ and ‘references to radical Muslims outnumbered references to moderate Muslims by 17 to one’[5]; even though according to Europol, from 2005-2008 there were 1,596 acts of terror committed in the EU, and 5 were carried out by Muslims[6].

Another reason the article elicited heated response was because it’s a typical example of the white savior complex. She writes in Redbrick telling fellow white students to have their heads held high, suck it up and fulfill their responsibility to hold arms with Oriental citizens to prevent them from putting on a suicide vest and going on a murderous rampage. Imagine the article condescendingly read like this: ‘Don’t let the Mark Duggan shooting make black people become violent, we must treat them nicer!’ If you subconsciously assume black people are violent to begin with or Muslims fall short of joining terror networks due to the care taken by their white keepers to restrain them, then you’re going to elicit claims of bigotry and racism.

She writes ‘media outlets have a responsibility to give a voice to peaceful Muslims who oppose extreme Islam’. Why can’t Muslims be called Muslim, why must they have the adjective thrown onto them to ensure society of their safety? Why must the entire community apologize for the actions of a few? George Bush invaded Iraq thinking he was fulfilling Biblical prophecy[7], Joe Barton a Republican member of the House of Representatives denied climate change science on Biblical grounds[8] (as one may guess does much of the Republican Party). These individuals have killed hundreds of thousands of people and are potentially putting at risk the fate of the human race, but why do we not expect Christian organizations to come out and condemn them? Why are they not called ‘Christian extremists’ instead of something like ‘fringe politicians’, but more revealingly why aren’t the majority of Christians labeled ‘moderate Christians’ by society? Not of course that I would ever want such a scenario. It’s unthinkable to have an article on Redbrick titled ‘Don’t let evolution put Christians off science, lets teach them!’ as we don’t make the assumption all Christians are scientifically illiterate. Furthermore Islamophobia does not condescendingly make Muslims feel ‘compelled to rebel. To give society back what they have received’, it makes them feel isolated and scrutinized. What makes a handful of Muslims ‘compelled to rebel’ (a euphemism to commit terror) is well known by the experts. The Pentagon concluded in 2004 ‘Muslims do not "hate our freedoms", but rather, they hate our policies...ever increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf States’. [9] the article espouses many of the assumptions that we need to remove; that there needs to be a dialect of ‘peaceful’ Muslim, that all Muslims should be consulted to respond to the actions of a few, that Muslims are like rabid dogs waiting to ‘rebel’ unless they get a pat on the head more often, and that the history of terror in the world began on 9/11. The fact similar assumptions do not exist with other groups that I’ve mentioned goes some way to highlight the distrust that has built over the previous decade due to articles such as these, which will only worsen relations between Muslims and non-Muslims at university unless thoroughly rebutted as I hope to have done here.

There are 14 million Muslims in Western Europe, Turks in Germany, Arabs in France, South Asians in Britain who have migrated here to warmly embrace western freedoms, and a (largely) tolerant and diverse society. If you want to stop the problem of terrorism, stop engaging in it. And stop watching the mainstream media if you want to write an article on it.

[2] BBC News, 'UN official blasts sanctions', September 30, 1998,
[3]  Bruce Lawrence, Messages to the world the statements of Osama Bin Laden, (2005) Verso ppXiii
[9] (the subsequent report has been taken down, however the quoted sections can be seen here )

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Syria: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb

It’s interesting to watch the mainstream media air reruns of the same show. The justifications for war against Syria reached fever pitch this week on the same grounds they had a month ago. Then, ABC News, as did much of the press, opened with the headline ‘The White House now confirming Syria's president has in fact used chemical weapons to kill.[1]’ That’s an interesting use of the word ‘confirming’, the statement is about as ‘confirmed’ as Colin Powel’s speech to the United Nations in 2003 was. That’s the level of ‘confirmation’ it has. Chemical weapons were indisputably used - then and now - but the question is who used them. No one knows. Carla del Ponte, a member of the U.N. Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, told Swiss TV regarding last month’s chemical attack there were ‘strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof’ the chemical weapons were used by the rebels.[2] With the current attacks David Cameron admitted to the Houses of Parliament ‘there is no 100% certainty about who is responsible’[3]. So what is required is evidence to be presented before decisions are made. That’s how a rational mind works. But that’s too much of a requirement. Hans Blix, the weapons inspector George Bush kicked out of Iraq before he could finish inspecting, frustrated with the gung-ho approach of David Cameron and Barack Obama wrote, ‘the Russians and Chinese have said they want "fair and professional inspections" in Syria. The Iranians have also agreed…the Iranians have suffered most in the world from the use of chemical weapons in their war with Iraq during Saddam's time’[4]. David Cameron retorted he would still bomb Syria on ‘humanitarian’ grounds with or without UNSC approval, but was forced by MP’s to wait for the UN to publish a report.[5][6]

What’s more interesting is what were relegated from the press to specialist journals and op-eds buried deep within news websites at the same time the press is ratcheting up for a war with Syria. CIA documents describing the extent Ronald Reagan helped Saddam Hussein gas Iranians during the Iran-Iraq War were released, with Foreign Policy describing them as ‘tantamount to an official American admission of complicity in some of the most gruesome chemical weapons attacks ever launched…even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted. [7]’ It always is for the powerless. What was also hidden deep inside news-websites was a July 2013 report from the House of Parliament Committee on Arms and Export Controls which found Britain had sold £12billion worth of chemicals (used to manufacture chemical weapons) to Syria, Saudi Arabia, China and even has licenses to sell them to Iran.[8] Another story garnered slightly more fringe coverage; the United Sates sold Saudi Arabia, which is cracking down on pro democracy reformers in Bahrain, $634 million worth of cluster bombs, which are banned by 83 nations.[9] Those were non-stories for the press; we’re the good guys and indoctrination needs to be total.
Morality, evidence and hypocrisy aside, should we attack Syria? First of all the military architect of the plan to attack doesn’t think it would work. Chris Harmer, a senior Navy analyst at the institute for the Study of War, wrote the proposal for airstrikes on Syria to begin with, and doubts their effectiveness. ‘I never took my analysis of a cruise missile strike to be advocacy even though some people took it as that…if we start picking off chemical weapons targets in Syria… he’s (Assad’s) going to start dispersing them… you’re too late to the fight.’[10]  But the repercussions would only then begin. The former Syrian foreign minister stated if attacked ‘we will defend ourselves[11]’, as would any state; probably using Russian anti-ship missiles (nicknamed ‘ship killers’) with a distance capable of reaching Western Naval ships positioned in the eastern Mediterranean. Ayatollah Khamenei of Iran, Syria’s strategic ally, warned ‘the region is like a gunpowder store and the future cannot be predicted’.[12] A member of the Syrian Ba'ath national council, Halef al-Muftah, said Damascus would view Israel as behind any aggression and it will ‘come under fire should Syria be attacked by the United States.’[13] Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov even had to make clear an attack wouldn’t trigger a war between Russia and NATO, effectively a third world war.[14] So an attack is folly according to the architect of the plan, would drag in Israel and Iran, with Russia (sick of seeing itself encircled) explicitly stating it wouldn’t immediately trigger a third world war, probably.  
So what are the remaining arguments for attacking Syria? For the world’s agenda setter, the New York Times, ‘Presidents should not make a habit of drawing red lines in public, but if they do, they had best follow through.’[15] So Obama might be embarrassed if he doesn’t attack Syria over a statement he accidently made, or risk the consequences of attacking. Hmm. Tough one.
The United States is a democracy (so I’m told), so what do the people think? Do the American people favor war? First we need to get some context. In March of 2003, 62% of Americans favored a war with Iraq[16]. By December 2006 that figure had fallen to 26%.[17] In 1965 on the eve of rapid escalation, 61% of Americans approved going to war with Vietnam, by 1971 only 28% of Americans still agreed with the decision to go to war[18]. How many Americans favor attacking Syria right now? Nine percent[19]. It would be the war with the least popular sanction in modern American history without comparison. Obama would outdo George Bush and Richard Nixon three fold. Not bad for a Nobel peace-prize winner.
So why are we really encouraging the gulf dictatorships to send in arms and watch Syria rip apart? With the Bush debacle in 2003, Iran became the most powerful nation in the region. By implementing democracy (against it’s initial plans) in Iraq, Bush and his gang of neo-cons created a Shiite arch stretching across Iran, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, which gives Iran leverage (if attacked) over Israel through Assad in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon, and control of Iraq. Independence will not be tolerated. The plans to destroy this arch date back at least to 2005, with the New Yorker then reporting ‘The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.[20] Helping bolster Al Qaeda sympathizers? America? Who would have thought? (But remember to point to verses of the Quran after each development). Now those extremists are fighting alongside people who were genuinely oppressed and gunned down by the Syrian dictatorship during the initial protests, both now trying to topple the regime; the only way out is a negotiated settlement with Syria, Iran and Russia, and forcing the gulf-states to stop sending in arms. But that won’t happen. All the muscle flexing is Obama not losing face for a statement he made by accident. The Hezbollah-Syrian quagmire is just too beneficial for the West, in the greater scheme of things it paves the way for the Super Bowl: The Iran War. Iran is four times the geographic size of Iraq with a population three times larger, which is religiously homogenous and loyal to the state. When the Iran war happens it’s going to be the biggest pile of human corpses since WW2. I said ‘when’ because it is coming, but that’s another article. Syria has to be dealt with first.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Gangsters for Capitalism

Guardian Comment hosted an op-ed piece recently written by Tom Rogan, an American blogger who attempted to discern ‘is the US military a force of honor or injustice?’
The framed question falsely assumes an organization has agency. Is the Conservative party a force for honor or injustice? Is Manchester United a force for honor or injustice? It’s a meaningless question. As the military has little decision making powers - other than those subject to the whims of politicians - all that can be done is an examination of actions taken by individual members of the military who have agency, unlike a branch of state.
Rogan praises the US military for its ‘restraint’ in Fallujah in 2004, whilst disassociating Robert Bales who murdered 16 Afghan civilians as a lone wolf, to clarify the ‘solemn truth’ that ‘at its defining core, America's military is an extraordinary force for good’. As bad as Bales’ massacre was, it is a footnote compared to atrocities occurring in Iraq during and after military invasion.  The cancer rates in Fallujah - which was bombarded with uranium packed shells and bullets - are higher than those found after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki[1]. Mothers are petrified of having children as batch after batch are born with two heads, multiple limbs and organs growing outside their bodies. Rogan also criticizes the media for not covering the ‘obvious good’ the US military does. This is particularly shocking given 59% of the British public believe fewer than 10,000 people had died in the entire war.[2] Given the Iraqi Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs estimates 4.5 million orphans are in Iraq, half a million of whom fend on the streets with no social or provisional care, the actual figure is probably 100-200 times that much.[3] If 59% of the American public thought 1 person was killed in the Sandy Hook massacre, which even then is an insultingly unrepresentative analogy, our thoughts would automatically think of an astounding cover up by the mainstream press to not share this information.
After going some length to justify the now notorious Collateral Murder video (above), he comes to the conclusion ‘The Apache crew's responsibility was therefore clear: to protect American troops and counter the evident insurgent threat.’ The remarkable indifference to his choice of words would be quite stunning with the irony of it wasn’t so grotesque. It’s become acceptable to label and use military equipment after groups of people who were hunted down and exterminated. Scholar George Monbiot describes how Christopher Columbus treated Native Americans when he landed in the New World. ‘His soldiers tore babies from their mothers and dashed their heads against rocks. They fed their dogs on living children. On one occasion they hung 13 Indians in honor of Christ and the 12 disciples, on a gibbet just low enough for their toes to touch the ground, then disemboweled them and burnt them alive. Columbus ordered all the native people to deliver a certain amount of gold every three months; anyone who failed had his hands cut off.’ From this initial act of murder, groups of Native Americans were made into slaves and kept on one third of the food intake as African American slaves in the 19th century. Thousands died of exhaustion. The Native American population dropped from 80-100 million pre-Columbian to 5 million today[4]. Christopher Columbus now has a day named after him. Helicopters are now named ‘Apache’ and authors write about the ‘apache’s crew’ indifferently. You don’t need to hypothesize how western culture would be if Germany won the war. All that is required is look at the treatment of Native Americans. Germany would have labeled their helicopters ‘Jew’ or ‘Gypsie’ and depicted them as foreign savages in their movies. Marlon Brando snubbed his Oscar win for the Godfather for that very reason. The Native American woman he asked to accept the award on his behalf was then booed off stage. What would we think of German culture if this had happened in Germany? If they had named an operation to kill Osama bin Laden  ‘Operation Anne Frank’ as opposed to ‘Operation Geronimo’? The irony of being in someone else’s land and labeling them insurgents, which is why they were then killed by an ‘Apache’, in an article proclaiming the ‘extraordinary force for good’ of the American military, is astounding. Living in such a brazenly brainwashed culture, it’s no wonder he comes to the conclusions he does. Even if we were to concede there was a weapon present in the Collateral Murder video, it still does not justify his argument ‘theirs was a legitimate strike.’ The only people fighting ‘legitimately’ in Iraq were the Iraqis. No more so than the French resistance in Occupied France from 1940-1944. To say otherwise is a logical incoherency. Both countries were occupied illegally by aggressive foreign powers, which attempted to eliminate dissent from military occupation by labeling resistors terrorists.
The very wording of the question also fuses together two words that by default come hand in hand: honor and military. Americans in particular have a deep-seated reverence for their armed forces, placing more confidence in them than any other institution in the country, above the police, churches, medical system and schools[5].
An effective method of having an armed forces revered as God-like and an ‘extraordinary force for good’ has been well documented by journalist David Robb, who literally went through thousands of Pentagon documents and looked at a century of relations between Hollywood and the Pentagon, interviewing insiders, including producers and screenwriters. His findings concluded that to subsidise the costs of making an expensive Hollywood blockbuster, movie studios would let army brass dictate, edit and change elements of a film to lend studios expensive equipment, and in return the military could use the movie to meet recruiting goals and disseminate pro-military, pro-US ‘imagery’. ‘The first thing you have to do is send in a request for assistance, telling them (the military) what you want pretty specifically…Then you have to send five copies of the script to the Pentagon... Then you wait and see if they like your script or not. If they like it, they’ll help you; if they don’t, they won’t’. Approval is contingent on the ‘accurate’ depiction of history: ‘if it’s based on history, they say it has to be historically accurate, which is really a code. They’re much less interested in reality and accuracy than they are in positive images…(the) main objective is to aid in the retention and recruitment of personnel.[6]’ A military supervisor is kept on set to approve of the progress of the film; plot points are altered and in one specific case the villain and hero were reversed; all to reinforce the goodness of ‘us’ and the evilness of the ‘other’. This level of propaganda is what North Korea is criticized for. But this is incomparably more dangerous given several of the highest grossing movies of all time directly depict heavy military elements[7]; with the army brass’s goal to meet recruiting aims by showing the United States armed forces as the ‘good guys’, the full reach of the indoctrination of general public may never be clear, but it is clear Rogan has been recruited, given he states clearly the War on Terror is ‘a struggle between forces of obvious good and evil.’

Having interviewed a whistleblower in the American military, I’m not ignorant enough to lump individual men and women together and blame them for the actions of their politicians, but I’m not blind enough to ignore reality. US Major General Smedley Butler wrote about life in the US military a century ago, his time in wars across Latin America:
‘I spent most of my time being a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914…I helped in the raping of half a dozen central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street’.[8]

[8] The Untold History of the United States, Oliver Stone, pp.xxxii