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The mainstream discourse on terrorism is still a shambles

June 4, 2017 Leave a comment

I once believed we had gone beyond “they hate us for our freedoms” and similarly fatuous rhetoric. I thought as 9/11 slipped further into the past fewer people would use it to excuse every act of state violence. When I started following the troop-supporter, Muslim-hater Facebook pages, however, I realized this ignorant nonsense still goes on every day.

Every day, thousands of people talk about terrorism with no reference to its actual causes, and about Muslims as if they were a cohesive terrorist organization. This kind of talk is to be expected at the fringes of popular discourse; unfortunately, it is increasingly becoming the mainstream position, and those who shout loudly and angrily about subjects they do not understand have marginalized the people who know something about terrorism and Muslims. I clearly had not considered how useful the phantom of Muslim violence was to the ruling classes, or how lucrative the Islamophobia Industry would be.

First, if we are going to talk about terrorist attacks committed by Muslims, we should be talking about imperialism. The further back into the history of European imperialism we go, the more we can understand about what is going on today. But if you do not want to read dozens of history books, just look at what the current imperial powers are doing now. The US and UK have been bombing Iraq continually since 1991. They have occupied Afghanistan continuously since 2001, despite what the media have told us. They have been arming Saudi Arabia since its founding, and those weapons (such as UK-made cluster bombs) have been causing horrible harm to the people of Yemen. The US, UK, France and Turkey have all been bombing Syria since the civil war started there. There was a terrorist attack in London just yesterday. Could the hundreds of civilians the US and UK have killed in Syria and Iraq recently have anything to do with it? Did you even hear about them? And people have had the nerve to respond to the attack with “when will we start fighting back?”

However, the words “imperialism”, “hegemony”, “foreign occupation”, “state aggression” and “state terrorism” are largely absent from mainstream media (unless they describe Iran or North Korea) and thus popular discourse. Instead, we hear about heroic soldiers keeping us safe (us) and evil terrorists who hate us (them); deliberate attacks on innocent civilians (them) and collateral damage (us). Most commenters in the West know nothing of what their rulers are doing in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq or Syria, and have no interest. As such, their opinions on war and terrorism are worthless. Nevertheless, they are very influential.

Many people commenting from the safety of their homes in rich countries have no curiosity about the causes of terrorism. They speak of it in isolation, as if it had no causes. Others put all the blame on Islam, as if such a variegated religion somehow inevitably produced terrorists, and neither imperialism nor ideology played any role. Take this meme.

I have seen this meme posted several times on the support-the-troops Facebook pages. In other words, people who are just fine with whatever American and British troops are doing overseas, who are suspicious of or hate all Muslims, who have no idea what caused the attack on the World Trade Center, want to keep alive the anger that fuels the many wars in the Middle East. This anger leads not only to indifference when civilians get terrorized by the US and its allies but gloating. Countless people talk about how many Muslims support terrorism, yet they never bring up the astounding number of Westerners who laugh at dead civilians, cheer on indiscriminate bombing of their homes and infrastructure and then, out of sheer cowardice, refuse to let the victims take refuge in their countries. They talk about the “radicalization” of young Muslims but never use the word to describe the millions of Americans who now love killing and torture and see freedom and justice as luxuries.

Liberals are not making things better. They say things like “Christians commit acts of terrorism too”, instead of looking at causes of questioning the War on Terror as a whole. They bring up the Crusades and the Inquisition, which is easily countered by the argument that those things ended long ago. The War on Terror is itself a crusade. Why not point out the millions who have died and will continue to die until it ends? Why not point to the nationalist and religious rhetoric that is driving state violence against innocent people all around the world?

In the US, far-right (eg. neo-Nazi) groups are much more numerous and dangerous than Muslim terrorists. However, the mainstream media do not report these facts, and loud, anti-Muslim, conservative, internet media write them off as insignificant, misleading or lies. Instead, they focus on violence committed by Muslims. Moreover, far-right groups tend to attack Jews, Muslims and assorted brown people, so comfortable white communities have little to fear from them.

Liberals also tend to support the state’s humanitarian justifications for war. They join conservatives in their excoriation of “Muslim countries” for their repression of women and homosexuals. They are carrying on the centuries-old tradition of waging war in the name of white men saving brown women from brown men. They make ignorant, blanket statements about Muslims and Islam, sometimes referring to “Muslim culture” (as if Muslims didn’t belong to countless diverse cultures) or a monolithic “sharia law” (because they know nothing about interpretation) and repeat the lies about Muslims they read in the internet media (“Muslim no-go zones” is an example that keeps raising its ugly head). And despite all their supposed concern for oppressed Muslim women and homosexuals overseas, they know and say nothing about the bigotry, rape, assault and murder by police and non-state actors that occurs in their own countries every single day. If you need an example of privilege, look at one man’s claims to be worried about people on the other side of the planet and his indifference to those in his own community.

The entire concept of “terrorism” needs reexamining. The word is used to shut down debate about causes, make us think killing civilians is the exclusive province of non-state actors and legitimize any action the states deems necessary to fight it. In fact, many times more people die in war, that glorious occupation states engage in for our freedom, than in acts of non-state terrorism. And since virtually every Muslim who has committed such an attack has cited imperialist war as a motivating factor, you might think fewer people would say “they hate us because we’re not Muslims”.

The exception to the rule about state aggression as a cause of terrorism is attacks by ISIS. On the one hand, they could never have started without the wars in the Middle East and the CIA gun running intended to prolong the war in Syria. On the other hand, their violence seems to have little to do with fighting imperialism (though imperialism is unquestionably a useful recruitment tool for them). But here again the media mislead us with the word “terrorism”. ISIS is referred to in the news as a “terror group”, or something similar. A more accurate description would be a state. ISIS is attempting to gain power in various places by terrorizing people. That is how all states are established. (See, for instance, Bruce Porter’s War and the Rise of the State or Franz Oppenheimer’s The State.) They tax and impose laws on their subjects. That is the state’s means and end. The only difference between ISIS and other states is they are not recognized as a state by other states, and are thereby not a legal state. That simple fact does not change their actions.

Most people do not understand terrorism and do not care to understand. They have much to learn before jumping into every conversation on the subject and spraying their opinions all over it.

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Why our world is so harsh for so many

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

The world is a complex place and any simple description of it will be incomplete, but I think it is fair to say we are the subjects of an artificial system of theft and oppression that continues to make the world harder to live in.

Look at the sources of power in the world. Look at government, corporations and the media. Laws written for rich people have created a system where it is necessary for us all to sell our labour to the owners of businesses. They own the land, the factories, the offices, the infrastructure. We need to earn money to survive and the best and sometimes only way to make money is to work for a large corporation. We make money for the people who own and run the corporation and they give us back some of it. Next, the government takes its share, claiming it needs it for roads, schools, hospitals, pensions and security, and gives as much as it can (for example through contracts) to corporations. It does not give people a choice to keep that money, decide what to do with it themselves and get what they need through mutual aid (helping each other) like they used to. Some people work their whole lives making others rich and still end up penniless. Why? Because they didn’t work hard enough? Because they were evil in a past life?

The media tell us to consume. The remaining money we have earned, the last bones we have been thrown, we are encouraged to spend on things that make us feel rich: nice houses, cars, furniture, decorations, restaurants, two-week vacations and fancy coffee. Consumers spend their lives working for corporations and giving most of their money back to them. Instead of pursuing their dreams, they work hard in order to spend hard.

I understand people who do not do anything about it. Politics can be pretty boring. I disagree with people who say you should pay attention to politics even if you are not interested in it. You should not be compelled to pay attention to the news and what it tells you the people in power are doing. If they do not have your consent, they should not spend your money or pass laws over you. Moreover, most of the people who expect you to follow politics pay attention to the wrong things. They watch party nominations and election results and contribute to political parties and candidates who never make any real changes. But the media tell us those are the important things. That is how we can make a difference. There are no alternatives, except competing warlords or some USSR/North Korea nightmare. The system works. Stop questioning the system.

Enormous power is thus concentrated in the hands of only a few thousand people, most of whose names you and I have never heard before. A few million or so more wield power on the national level in different parts of the world with some autonomy (think the generals in Egypt) but they have mutually beneficial relationships with members of the upper ranks of the global elite. Look at what the elite do with their power. In the old days, a king would send soldiers somewhere and thousands of people would die. They had power over small parts of the world. Nowadays, power has become global, and as such the crises it leads to have gone global as well. Look at all the (supposedly unintended) consequences of all the wars the US government has been leading, all the people who have been tortured and killed, or who lost their homes and their livelihoods, and continue to do so even after the foreign militaries have left. And yet, consider who has got rich from those wars. Look at the economic carnage from the last financial crisis. Look how many people lost their jobs, homes and all their money, all around the world. And yet, the people who caused it actually made more money from it. And they tell you not to worry, because there will be an economic recovery. Do you believe them? Where is the justice?

Finally, “education” tells us what to think. I’m sure you can think of reasons why the system we live under is the best possible system. You learned it in school, and if you learned it in university like I did (political science major), you have even more reasons why it works best. We need leaders because without people making our decisions for us, society would collapse. We need rich people because without them, who would start businesses for us to work in? We need police to protect us from all the bad people around us. We need hierarchy: all societies have hierarchy, right? All other ways of living go against human nature. Don’t think too much about it: watch TV instead.

As far as I can tell, most people are neither interested in understanding the system nor willing to take the risk of fighting it. Again, I understand and I don’t judge. I just think they should understand it better than they do. If they choose to do something to change it or to change their circumstances, that is their choice and I will support them. I warn you, however, if we do not fight back, one day it will be too late.

Warlords

February 26, 2014 Leave a comment

“Anarchy is no guarantee that some people won’t kill, injure, kidnap, defraud or steal from others. Government is a guarantee that some will.” – Gustave de Molinari

The warning that, after the removal of government, gangs and warlords would take is not an argument for government; it is an argument against government. Government is not different from warlords. It is the result of the institutionalization of warlords as the formal rulers of a given territory. This argument might confuse some people, so allow me to explain.

Max Weber defined the state as that organisation with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given (national) territory. “Legitimate” here merely means legal, as actual legitimacy is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. That is why Albert Jay Nock countered Weber by saying the state “claims and exercises a monopoly of crime” over its territory. (Statism is the belief that this monopoly of crime is good or necessary.) David S. D’Amato explains its effect: “the state’s principal manner of acting is to make peaceful interactions crimes while protecting the institutional crime of ruling class elites.”

After all, what does the state do? It steals, but it calls its theft taxation. It kidnaps, but calls kidnapping arrest. It counterfeits, but refers to state counterfeiting as monetary policy. It commits murder on a wide scale, but prefers terms such as war and execution. The state claims to act to protect person and property, but paradoxically aggresses against person and property. It claims to protect freedom while taking it away. It claims to aid the less fortunate when in fact it benefits the powerful at the expense of everyone else. If I go to another country to kill people I do not know, I am a murderer. When the military does it, it is fighting terrorism and promoting democracy. This sleight of hand and clouding of truth is how the state manufactures legitimacy. From a historical perspective, the purpose of the state is and has always been the same. Franz Oppenheimer explains.

The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner.

The warlords have already taken over. That is the problem.

two warlords

two warlords

At this point, those with some understanding of history point out such is the way of the world: states and empires constantly expand their power and attempt to conquer us all. But again, this claim is not an argument in favour of government. It is an admission that a monopoly on crime is wrong. Vocal opposition on moral grounds to states and empires can lead to resistance and revolution. If people understand why the state, the concentration of power and the monopoly on crime, are unnecessary and wrong, they can fight it. They can find ways to avoid paying taxes, avoid conscription and arrest, set up systems of mutual aid to become independent, and counteract the lies of the schools and the media.

Countries can still be invaded if the states do not comply with the empire of their time. A military is no guarantee of security. However, the difference between a state society and a free society is resistance is considered legitimate and necessary in the latter. Those who believe in freedom believe in the right to defend oneself against all oppressors by any means necessary without having to put on a uniform. Freedom must be defended by decentralised forces. People will need to fight the power or they will neither achieve nor maintain their freedom for long. But it is possible, and it is worth it.

Finally, we often run up against the claim that domination, hierarchy and elitism are part of our nature, which is why formalizing them is accepting the inevitable. It is unsurprising that we should hear this claim so often. Everyone in our society with a few years of schooling claims to understand human nature, and invokes it whenever defending the status quo. However, in my experience, most such claims reflect the thinking of the immediate world around the speaker. In other words, we believe what we have experienced reflects the whole range of human possibility. Looking more carefully through history, psychology and anthropology, however, we can find innumerable counter-examples. One need look no further than the history of the highland people of Southeast Asia (Zomia) for people who have consciously avoided domination and hierarchy for centuries. My question to those who cite human nature as an excuse for domination is, should we not be allowed to resist and defend ourselves? Should we give up and submit to those who desire power over us? Yes, we would need numbers. Yes, we would need time. But if you recognise that warlordism and violence are wrong, why would you not support us? We should unite to fight all forms of warlords and replace them with freedom.

The logic of the new empire

November 20, 2013 Leave a comment

If you want to understand why a coalition of states invaded Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, why drones are bombing people in a dozen countries and why Syria and Iran will probably be next, consider, as one reason, the logic of empire. Empires are always attempting to expand. For at least 20 years now, if not 50, people have been talking about the decline of the US empire. It’s not declining. It’s still expanding. But it’s a new kind of empire.

This empire does not consist solely of the US government. It includes considerable cooperation from other states. Contrary to what some realist scholars believe, states do not represent the people they rule over (and never have), but the elite of the given territory they rule. In recent decades, however, as legal regimes have converged and states have made it easier to make and move money across borders, the elite and their corporations have gone global. National and regional governments have become, to one degree or another, subordinate to this empire.

This empire is becoming less about the US than about multinational corporations and pliant states around the world. The UN and all affiliated organisations designed for global governance, aided in part by well-meaning non-governmental organisations, have spread constitutional and legal norms. Corporations now have the law (ie. words they have written to give them the use of hired guns) on their side when they repress and displace locals, whether kicking native people off their land in far-flung regions or tossing people out of foreclosed homes all over the US.

If states do not play by the rules of empire, they become targets for regime change. While the US is integral, as I mention elsewhere, this modern empire is not only about the US military but whichever militaries the elite want to use so they can enjoy a piece of the action. Look at how they carved up Iraq’s oil reserves. They went to oil giants from the most powerful countries, not just Shell, Exxon and BP, but the China National Petroleum Corporation, Japan Petroleum Exploration Co., the Korea Gas Corp, Malaysia’s Petronas, Turkish Petroleum International and Russia’s Lukoil and Gazprom. The conquerors auctioned off the oil in Iraq those who might otherwise have had the power to block future wars. Now that they profit from war, they are likely to support it more willingly in future.

Iraq Iran US war oil

Historically, all empires have declined and fallen. There are a variety of answers as to why. Suffice to say, we have it in our power to push this empire over the cliff of history as well. But it is not inevitable. The people of the world could eventually cave in, succumbing to the boot on their faces and accepting their enslavement. Most people do not even know what is going on. It is up to those who can see the system for what it is to show others. Resist. Disobey. Fight for freedom and justice. We can have it if we want it enough.