Archive

Posts Tagged ‘Middle East’

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.