I have never held original documents written by officials in the Reagan administration or the intelligence apparatus that indicated the CIA armed the mujahideen in Afghanistan, yet we can be pretty sure they did. We have enough accounts from presumably credible sources (such as Zbigniew Brzezinski) the US was the major party involved. Evidence the US has deliberately supported ISIS has come to light in the form of classified documents leaked to Judicial Watch. In fact, we already had several reasons to believe the US had been supporting ISIS.
We can speculate on how the US might benefit from creating an enemy like ISIS. It is clear from the way ISIS sprang into the news in mid-2014 the people in power wanted you to begin to see the new face of the enemy. Why would they need such an enemy?
Contrary to the claims of both those who love and those who hate Barack Obama, the Iraqi parliament booted the bulk of US forces out of Iraq, setting the deadline for their withdrawal for January 1, 2012. The Iraqi security forces were apparently strong enough to fight (or make deals with) militias, but would of course need foreign assistance in dealing with a large group of battle-hardened zealots. My guess is by the time we were seeing ISIS all day on the news the White House had already decided to bomb ISIS in Syria and Iraq and send whatever troops they will send when things escalate further.
In mid-2013 you might recall Barack’s failed attempt to raise enthusiasm for intervention in Syria. Not only was public opinion lukewarm on the idea, Vladimir Putin actually wrote a very diplomatically worded letter in the New York Times to Americans (but really to Barack). The underlying message was clear: Don’t mess with Bashar alAssad or you’ll be sorry. So that idea fell apart. We forgot all about it. ISIS came along. Assad’s crew, as well as many of the groups fighting them, have done things that would disgust us as much as anything we have heard ISIS has done. But we have not heard about them in the news to the extent ISIS has been shoved down our throats. And remember, to a number of Americans and others, ISIS represents Islam, and Islam (or at least “radical Islam”) is the enemy.
The US made some noise of its support for the Free Syrian Army. This was in effect how they recognized a single opposition group as the legitimate rulers of Syria. A number of people are on record as saying many of the weapons and so on given to the FSA ended up going to ISIS. They have presumably been receiving weapons in Syria from the US for three years or more. In discussing Syrian rebels, John McCain has said “the whole National Security Team recommended arming ISIS” and “I know these people intimately.” Asia Times reported Pakistani defense sources as saying Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the founder of what evolved into ISIS, received arms from the US via Pakistan as far back as 2004. The Express Tribune quoted an alleged commander of ISIS as having said the same. (Find more here.) Syrian rebels have also described training by American trainers in Qatar, and Der Spiegel reported Americans trained them in Jordan.
Judicial Watch obtained documents demonstrating the US government knew not only US-supplied weapons were being routed to Syrian rebels through Benghazi, but also the rebels were dominated by the radical types Americans are told their government is fighting–al Qaeda, Jabhat alNusra, the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS. The White House knew and made no attempt to stop it. It is likely they wanted to use Syrian rebels as proxies to fight Assad.
It might well have been nothing more than an accident any given shipment of weapons slipped into the hands of ISIS, just as the last two times we heard weapons were dropped ostensibly first for Kurds in Kobane (not an enemy yet but there is no way they will accept US hegemony) and the other day to Iraqis defending the oil refinery in Baiji that ended up in the hands of ISIS might have been accidents. But it is not necessary to give the benefit of the doubt to an institution that has a long record of arming rival groups in wars and playing sides off one another. The results show a more consistent pattern than simple incompetence would imply.
Assad, Syrian rebels, Iraqi militias, even Iran have all failed to provide the Real Enemy, the “evil” that it took to legitimize reentering the region in a large capacity. ISIS has people screaming for blood.
Moreover, we have also learned from reliable sources that Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar (see here, here or here, for example) and possibly Israel have indeed supplied jihadists in Syria affiliated with ISIS with what they needed to become a state—weapons, funding, training, recruits. It is implausible US intelligence services and thus the White House did not know about it, especially considering the New York Times reported as much and Reuters reported on the jihadist elements in the FSA in 2012. They either joined in aiding their most important allies, gave them the green light or were powerless to stop them. Strictly speaking, this is not evidence the US is complicit in making ISIS what it is, but again, given what we know from history, it is hard to believe otherwise.
Surely, if Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States wanted to destroy ISIS, they would be attacking it. Instead, Saudi Arabia has been bombing Yemen. Saudi hegemony over the Middle East is at stake. If the House of Saud is not worried about ISIS next door but feels threatened that Houthis would take over in Yemen, we can infer a lot about their priorities. ISIS is their ally. The US is their ally. They are in league.
Finally, if, in spite of all clues to the contrary, all that has happened has been unintentional, it is obvious all this meddling has not been worth it to you or me. And since it is not ending, we still have no idea what further blowback will come from it all. All these factors contribute to what I infer from the evidence (the results of the empire’s actions) is a larger goal of keeping the region unstable. Instability in the Middle East means higher oil prices, more weapons sales, more pretext for repressive policies, more terrorism (thus completing the circle) and more legitimacy for existing regimes as people get scared.
It’s hard to believe how easy it is for troop supporters to tell themselves they are not being bigots right after saying something about how all Muslims are bad by saying something about “liberals” and “political correctness”. They just brush it aside. Islam isn’t a race, therefore I can make whatever hate-filled statement I want about all Muslims and not be racist. I’m not racist just because I said something hateful about a large, diverse group of people that I don’t understand, right? Nah.
People will say ANYTHING about a religious, ethnic or any other group about which they know nothing—Arabs and Muslims (same thing, right?) today, Asians a couple of generations ago and Catholics—boy, those guys were dangerous. When Irish and Germans began moving to the US in the early 1800s, Americans of previous generations heard about Catholic plots to take over the country and indoctrinate everyone in fanaticism. Blood was spilled in the name of this irrational fear, which lasted more than a century.
Today, troop supporters and others say things like “they are trying to kill us” or “they hate us for our way of life” or “they are trying to impose their laws on us”, “they” meaning everyone and everything in this amorphous group they call Islam. All they need is an anecdote here or there about how a Muslim did a bad thing somewhere in the world—or, for that matter, an anecdote about how someone did something bad to a Muslim—and the flame of hatred burns a little brighter. “Don’t you remember 9/11?” they say, as if all Muslims were guilty of the crime. “Why don’t Muslims speak out against terrorism?” They do every day. You just don’t listen.
They consider thinking in stereotypes sufficient basis for hating and killing anyone in that group and anyone resembling that group. If they actually questioned their beliefs by meeting people and learning their viewpoints with an open mind, they would find they were wrong. If they thought about what freedom really meant, they would stop forcing everyone they are suspicious of to conform to their rules and standards.
Again, it is hard to believe how ignorant these people are. I wish I were exaggerating. But I observe it every single day I visit the troop-supporter pages. They make sweeping generalizations with no basis in fact about a huge group of people and if you call them out on it they say you’re just a liberal who can’t face reality, and that political correctness is killing this country. You wouldn’t say it is your refusal to question your beliefs by asking questions and doing research that is leading this country down the spiral of an imperial police state? Do you not get where the state gets its authority to spy on people, militarize the police, detain whomever they want indefinitely without trial and make war on distant people with impunity? It’s from fear. Your fear of people you don’t understand. Whatever the state does to others, it grants itself the power to do to you. Your ignorance is their power. But hey, if you want to stay frightened and paranoid, you had better learn to love your enslavement.
There is a widespread belief that security and freedom are incompatible. We have been told, especially since 9/11 and not just in the US, that the needs of security, meaning keeping us safe from non-state actors who want to do us harm, who are apparently everywhere, outweigh the luxuries of freedom. But security versus freedom is a false dichotomy. The truth is, the extent to which we are free is the extent to which we are at peace.
Some extremes on the opposite end of the spectrum of freedom are prison, slavery, and a surveillance or informant state that does not tolerate dissent or differences. There is neither peace nor freedom in these situations, as anyone is subject to mistreatment at the hands of his or her masters at any time. The claim that “if you are doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to hide” is wrong because people who have power do not always need what you would consider a good reason to use it. Ask people living in jail for selling drugs, or a slave. They are routinely subjected to whatever form of abuse because their bodies are constantly at someone else’s mercy.
A short way from the extreme opposite of freedom is a situation such as a city locked down after a panic. The presence of vehicles of war on the streets of Boston or Cairo following terrorist attacks is not a situation of security. In the case of Boston, ordinary people had guns thrust in their faces and their homes entered, which presumably inspired them with terror as intense as the bombing that just taken place. It is unlikely Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would have killed people if they had been allowed out of their homes, especially since if he had the people could have dealt with him themselves. In Egypt following the deposing of the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, peaceful protesters were killed and arrested and a curfew was imposed. Police of every level of the security apparatus, including those in plainclothes and the spy agency, remain all over the city. We are all subject to arrest (or extortion) for looking suspicious or saying the wrong things. The threat of violence looms always just over our heads. And it is not clear how such state reaction prevented further terrorism.
Getting people to expect such state action and believe in it as a necessary way to restore security and freedom are part of the building blocks of the police state. We usually do not know about how power is wielded every day because of compliant media; alternatively, when we find out about what the powerful are up to, we are told why their actions were necessary and right, proportional and in self defense. When we accept this state of affairs it can happen more often.
There is a middle ground (though not at times of crisis) in which police can provide the people with general protection and not turn despotic. However, state security of any kind is necessarily unaccountable to the people and can be used by those with power for social control. Getting a group we do not belong to to protect us does not necessarily lead to protection from that group. We do not necessarily have this choice, because rule is imposed on us without our consent.
That is one danger in the idea of private-security firms. Private security is more likely to be accountable to us than the state is, because if they do not report us they will not get paid. Nonetheless, we must consider the fact that my employing a private-security firm does nothing to guarantee the security of the people around me. And yet, my security depends on those around me. Errico Malatesta put it thus.
Solidarity, that is, harmony of interests and sentiments, the sharing of each in the good of all, and of all in the good of each, is the state in which alone man can be true to his own nature, and attain to the highest development and happiness. It is the aim towards which human development tends. It is the one great principle, capable of reconciling all present antagonisms in society, otherwise irreconcilable. It causes the liberty of each to find not its limits, but its complement, the necessary condition of its continual existence–in the liberty of all.
He proceeds to quote Mikhail Bakunin.
No man can recognize his own human worth, nor in consequence realize his full development, if he does not recognize the worth of his fellow men, and in co-operation with them, realize his own development through them. No man can emancipate himself, unless at the same time he emancipates those around him. My freedom is the freedom of all; for I am not really free–free not only in thought, but in deed–if my freedom and my right do not find their confirmation and sanction in the liberty and right of all men my equals.
Peace is not the absence of war but the presence of the conditions under which we can realise our potential. If we seek peace, we need security not just for ourselves but for others. This belief may be demonstrated when a desperate or mentally ill man robs and attacks someone. We did nothing to help this person and we are all vulnerable as a result. It is even easier to see in an age when people who feel their lives and cultures are threatened can go around the world to plan and execute a terrorist attack on the heart of the entity they believe is threatening them.
Security for all means peace. Freedom for all means peace. They are not opposites. They are, in the end, the same.
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.
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.
Atheism is spreading. People who have realised religion has harmful effects have taken it upon themselves to spread the word against God. So far, I have no problem. However, millions of the same people are willing to use the state to force others. They have no problem with the growth of the state (or if they do they do not voice their concerns), as long as no one lets religious beliefs guide it. Is that the right way to prevent the damage caused by religion? More importantly, does it strike the root of the problem?
Bill Maher made an authoritative list of his problems with religion: “most wars, the Crusades, the Inquisition, 9/11, arranged marriages to minors, blowing up girls’ schools, the suppression of women and homosexuals, fatwas, ethnic cleansing, honor rape, human sacrifice, burning witches, suicide bombings, condoning slavery and the systematic fucking of children”. (I would add religious dogma that denies science.) Let us go through this list and see if we are attacking the root of the problem.
-First, most wars, the Crusades and the Inquisition. Wars are started because powerful men want to expand or maintain the territories and the people on them they consider their possessions. In the past, religion was indeed used frequently to justify going to war, and the Crusades are only the most obvious example. But we need to distinguish between wars that religious people take part in (which is most or all, since most of the world’s people can be considered religious) and wars started by invoking religion. Nowadays, religion has been largely replaced by nationalism as the source of appeals to go to war. Nationalism is far deadlier in the present moment, and it is no less a religion than Christianity. Conflicts between groups that seem to be of different religions, say in Israel/Palestine, are often better understood as colonial, racist and nationalist in nature. Different forms of division and oppression tend to feed off each other. Religion is one means people in power use to oppress, of course, but it is also used by those on the bottom fighting for their rights. As long as no one has a monopoly on interpretation, people can use religion for “good” as well as “evil”.
Moreover, the War on Drugs has killed more people than any religious conflict going at the moment. It is a war that could be ended with the stroke of a pen. Religion takes centuries of education to eradicate. Why would we not concentrate on the former if we wanted to help people?
Condoning slavery is the same. Scripture gave religious justification for slavery, of course. Slavery is a very old institution. Any books written thousands of years ago and used to control people will include slavery. It is possible the reason it took so long to eliminate slavery was religion. But systematic slavery has been wiped out in much of the world and the religions continue to exist. That is because, contrary to what religious and irreligious people believe, religions change with time. Certain parts are emphasised at different times and places. Since we agree slavery is wrong, why not work to end debt slavery in your own city?
The deadliest religious conflict going at the moment is probably the fighting between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. Nigeria is a very poor country with a poor education system. While poor education itself does not cause conflict, it facilitates manipulating people into attacking each other. When education is controlled by a corrupt state, it is the state who is to blame for poorly-educated citizens. Of course, the conflict is more complicated than I am making it out to be. I merely wish to point out that religious differences do not necessarily lead to violence.
-9/11 was probably the work of religious fanatics who had pledged allegiance to Osama bin Laden. But was it religion that led them to destroy those buildings? People who make this claim have only Osama’s pronouncements from the Quran to back them up. But a closer look at the evidence reveals the attacks as what is often called “blowback”, or revenge for US foreign policy. To say Islam is what flew 19 men into two buildings begs the question, as it does not explain the millions of Muslims who denounced the attacks or the 1.5-or-so billion Muslims who have never committed any act of terrorism.
-Arranged marriages to minors, blowing up girls’ schools, the suppression of women and homosexuals, honour rape, human sacrifice, burning witches and suicide bombings are not institutions of religion. Bill might have added male and female circumcision to this list. They are things that take place in some religious societies and some societies with different religions. Many anti-theists do not take the time to research the different cultures that comprise “Islam” and “Christianity”. If they did, they would see beyond the lenses their cultures provide to the fact that it is ignorance, not religion, that unites these practices; and while religion keeps us ignorant, so do state schools and propaganda. Many religious people would find all of these practices abhorrent and can point to places in the scripture to justify their positions. War is human sacrifice, and religion is just as likely as atheism to make someone oppose war.
Suicide bombing, in particular, has little to do with religion. We tend to see it as something justified by Islam, but only if we do not look at the reasons behind it. (Indeed, Islam forbids suicide and the killing of innocents.) Robert Pape has done comprehensive research into this field, having looked at every suicide bombing that has taken place. He has concluded that, while religion may be a recruitment tool for suicide bombers (even though the irreligious Tamil Tigers were the pioneers of suicide bombing), nearly every such attack has had the same causes: an indigenous population feels under threat from occupation by an illegitimate foreign military, nearly always that of a democracy, and suicide bombing is an effective tool for making the foreigners withdraw. It is not a phenomenon of Islam, or religion, but merely a weapon of war. If we want to end it, we should end foreign occupation, not religion.
-Fatwas are religious legal opinions and are non-binding. Until the scholars begin enforcing their fatwas with police, the rule of law should be the target of all who are against arbitrary violence initiated to protect the elite. It matters to an extent who make the laws, but most lawmakers, now and throughout history, do whatever they can to further their own interests. The more laws and police to enforce them, the more restrictions there are on you, the more easily you can go to prison, the more money it is going to cost you and the more powerful the lawmakers and the people they work for get if the masses do not rise up against them.
-Seeing ethnic cleansing on the list makes me wonder if Bill (and Richard Dawkins in the God Delusion) is clutching at straws. Any differences in identity, whether religious, ethnic or national, can be the reason we claim for committing acts of violence. But how does religion actually cause it? The problem here is the politics of identity. I am just as opposed to religious identity as I am to any other form of collectivism. People commit acts of ethnic cleansing in the name of their group, whatever the group. We should not be more or less opposed to it when religion is the excuse.
-The rape of minors by priests is indeed a problem and we are right to oppose it. However, it is a problem with a specific part of a specific religion. If it were possible for priests to get married, it is unlikely children would suffer anymore. Religions can be reformed, as time has shown us, and enough pressure on the Vatican could end this vile practice in our lifetimes. Someone who works against the priesthood for raping children but remains silent on or approves of drone strikes that kill children is a hypocrite.
Anti-religious statists also display hypocrisy with relation to the esteem the religious hold for the written word. They lament and mock following religious texts while believing in constitutions and the rule of law. What is a constitution but a legal holy book? What is a holy book but an old constitution? Those who say holy books are invalid because they condone war and slavery but consider more recently made laws legitimate (perhaps because of democracy) need to consider what principle their beliefs are based on. As Lysander Spooner said, “whether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain – that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case it is unfit to exist.”
My main problem with religion is its emphasis on scripture, rather than science, as the method for ascertaining truth, and providing certainty where there should be mystery. All that means is humans, with their capacity for both fantasy and reason, should emphasise the latter over the former. That goes for the militant atheists as well. The question I pose to them is, what is truly important?
We see places like Saudi Arabia and Iran, where religious people have taken over, and we see the excesses of the state in forcing people to act in certain ways, and we blame religion. But if they had no power to force people, what would be the problem? People could still practice their religions and yet would not harm others. Any ideology can be warped when it is used by the state for legitimacy.
I liken the hatred of religion to the hatred of communism. In its time, communism needed to be opposed for the sake of freedom. Today, such worrying almost seems quaint. The truly dangerous ideas of today are statism, the rule of law and nationalism, which millions of people claiming to be atheists hold in awe. If they have principles besides merely ruffling feathers, they should end their religious views of politics and oppose all violent ideologies.
Drawing on sources from political science, history, media and the psychology of nationalism, this paper explains how the Bush administration used what Americans perceive as the virtues of their nation and its foreign policy–freedom, democracy, peace, humanitarianism and God–to win support for its invasion of Iraq.
I do not say “fuck the troops”. It seems pointlessly hateful. I am not against “the troops” but the system that sends them to war and brings them back wounded if at all, and forces everyone to pay them for the dubious privilege of dying for the state. But I do believe the freedom to express such opinions should be valued. Facebook has removed a page called “Fuck the Troops” under pressure. Its action demonstrates society’s contempt for freedom of speech.
A new page of the same name sprouted in its place within the past 24 hours, and it has already been subject to the same venomous insults and threats as the old one. The “Support the Troops” people have returned in full force, replete with swearing and non sequiturs. They claim to value freedom but express their willingness to force others to stop talking or leave the country. They are convinced US soldiers have fought for freedom, but have no evidence of a causal link between whatever freedoms Americans have left and war. (In fact, wars are inevitably an opportunity for the state to expand and take away liberties.) They claim today’s wars are necessary to protect American lives, when they make not only troop deaths but the risk of terrorism rise. More importantly, they betray the very principle they purport to believe in–freedom–by telling others to shut up or risk violence.
Diversity of opinions is healthy, especially on issues of such moral implications. Uniformity of opinion benefits the ruling class so that it can be seen to appeal to it (as, for instance, when a politician gets photographed standing next to a group of soldiers in Afghanistan and his poll numbers rise the next day). The state thus spreads the idea soldiers are heroes through the school system and by honouring them for whatever reason, creating heroes when necessary. It is part of its efforts to spread nationalism, which helps support wars in the name of the nation. But open minds and intellectual honesty are essential for addressing social problems. The arguments of the Fuck the Troops page, along with the equally-provocative “Soldiers are not heroes. They are tools of war.” and “The Troops are Welfare Whores” are the troops should not be venerated as they are. People should listen to them.
In less complex, tribal societies, soldiers are defenders. They train in order to protect their people from aggression. It makes sense for us to respect, admire and support them. But modern nation states do not have such soldiers. War conducted by advanced democracies such as the US, the UK and Israel has nothing to do with defense and everything to do with expanding the state into new areas of the world. Soldiers have become the agents of this imperial conquest. We live in a world of information, where the truth about war (such as US Army Special Forces veteran Stan Goff’s admonition to young people considering a career such as his) is available. The modern soldier, whom I believe is a victim of war, nonetheless has the ability to reconsider working for the military. Removing the social pride that comes from enlisting and replacing it with a stigma could mean more refusal to go to war.
At any rate, at stake in this conflict is freedom of speech. Believing in freedom means tolerating those with different opinions, and taking comfort in the knowledge that if the truth prevails, they will be proven wrong. Telling those who disagree with you to shut up, leave the country or die means you do not believe in freedom.