By Daniel Margrain
The rolling media coverage that followed the tragic events in Brussels was accompanied by the predictable rhetorical political flourishes from across the spectrum highlighting the need for terrorism to be defeated. After every tragedy of this nature the same kinds of statements are repeated again and again even though the politician’s making them must know that such an eventuality is impossible.
According to the politician’s and the media, terrorism is the new global threat against which global war must be fought. ISIS and their affiliates constitute for them an ubiquitous presence against which the democratic values of civilization must take their fight to the backward forces of reaction and irrationality. But this notion reflects only a partial truth because it ignores an important historical context. The concept underpinning perpetual warfare that the Project for the New American Century evokes, was the precursor to ISIS which emerged from the ashes of the chaos resulting from the US-led slaughter in Iraq and the attack on New York that preceded it. It’s therefore not Islamist terrorism that represents the catalyst for chaos and destruction in the world, but rather the United States, it’s allies and their proxies.
A crucial dimension implicit to this unfolding story regarding the intention of the United States to create a wilderness as the precursor to ‘peace’, are the contemporary and historical links that have developed between American neoconservatives and the Israeli right. Specifically, this relates to the latter’s colonial role in its service to imperial power. This relationship, in the words of Theodor Herzl provided.“a portion of the rampart of Europe against Asia”. In other words, the newly created Israeli state in Palestine would, as part of the tail to the US dog, be part of the system of colonial domination of the rest of the world.
Today, close links exist between leading neoconservatives and the Israeli political elite. Christian fundamentalists – an indispensable element in the rights political base – have also incorporated support for Israel into a worldview in which Palestine is perceived as the land given by God to the Jews in the Old Testament and regard the return of the world’s Jews to a triumphant Israel as a precondition of the Second Coming. A consequence is a close identification by many Republican right-wingers of the strategic interests of Israel with those of the United States, as well as the hostility towards any notion of peace that they share with Likud and Binyamin Netanyahu .
A second dimension is the notion that the destruction of the terrorist demon be exorcised at all costs, even if that cost means the curtailment of civil liberties. The truth is, the global sweep of security services has been an utter failure. Casting the net ever wider by adding millions of names to a digital database in the hope of catching potential terrorists, is less than useless. The whole process seems concerned with targeting people on the assumption that a crime will be committed based on the nature of people’s thought processes rather than what they have done or plan to do.
Ultimately, individuals who are committed to undertaking atrocities in a democracy will always find a way of committing them. To successfully stop them would mean a curtailment to the kinds of civil liberties that the masses take for granted. Wherever large crowds of people gather, the potential for a terrorist to commit an atrocity will be there. Moreover, radicalization is not limited to non-EU or US citizens since many home grown terrorists are motivated to commit their atrocities as a result of them witnessing injustices almost daily on social media.
The disproportionate wall-to-wall media reportage in relation to the aftermath of Western based terrorist atrocities, gives a false impression that terrorist violence in European or American cities is far more of a danger than is actually the case. The reality is that the odds of being killed or injured in an Islamist terrorist attack in Britain, for example, is virtually non-existent. In the last decade, only one person has been killed in the UK by such an attack. Far more people have been killed and far more destruction and chaos caused in countries like Yemen, Syria, Libya and Iraq. This is not to condone the actions of illegal wars/terrorism wherever they occur, but to highlight that the coverage given to European and North American based atrocities is highly selective.
Shortly after the atrocity in Brussels, for example, a suicide bomb exploded in a football stadium near Baghdad killing at least 41 people. The incident received virtually no media coverage. During last Friday’s (March 25) Germany/England football international, both teams wore black arm bands, not paradoxically in memory of the 41 who died at the football match near Baghdad, but in memory of those who died in Brussels. The Baghdad atrocity was followed by a terrorist attack in Lahore, Pakistan, which received just over two minutes of coverage on a subsequent BBC news 24 bulletin.
But not only are the kinds of coverage given to terrorist atrocities highly selective depending on who is killed and where, but the wall-to-wall rolling coverage given to Western-based atrocities are also, I contend, counterproductive. This is because terrorists crave the oxygen of publicity. It says something about the strange times we live in, that a figure as divisive and reactionary as Margaret Thatcher was more radical in her thinking over 30 years ago than the majority of the current crop of corporate controlled robots in Westminster today. This is what Thatcher said in 1985 during a speech to the American Bar Association::
“The terrorist uses force because he knows he will never get his way by democratic means…Through calculated savagery, his aim is to induce fear in the hearts of people. And weariness towards resistance……And we must try to find ways to starve the terrorist and the hijacker of the oxygen of publicity on which they depend. In our societies we do not believe in constraining the media, still less in censorship. But ought we not to ask the media to agree among themselves a voluntary code of conduct, a code under which they would not say or show anything which could assist the terrorists’ morale or their cause while the hijack lasted?”
There is no moral excuse for committing horrific violence upon civilians. This remains true whether they are committed by men in uniforms pressing buttons on computer screens in the cockpits of aircraft that release bombs at the behest of commands from rich men sitting behind desks in plush offices, or if they are committed by alleged alienated Muslims in Brussels. Two wrongs do not make a wrong right. However, just because there is no moral excuse doesn’t necessarily mean that there are no circumstances in which individuals will not rationalize the use of violence.
If your loved ones happened to have been victims of an Obama drone attack or a Blair bomb, your life will be debased and you might feel that you have nothing to lose. I’m not condoning such actions but merely trying to put myself in the shoes of others. It doesn’t make it right or moral but seeking retribution against injustice anyway you can under circumstances where no alternatives are possible, might be reason enough to drive you over the edge. Every human being has a breaking point and seeing the death of your loved ones in terrible circumstances might be the straw that breaks the camels back.
If pushed to extremes, humans are potentially capable of just about anything. This goes far beyond the conventional media reasoning for terrorism which focuses almost exclusively on Islamist fundamentalist rationales but continually fails to make the connection between the foreign policies of Western governments and the consequences of those actions. Terrorism doesn’t emerge out of a metaphorical clear blue sky and so we need to reflect on why people all over the Middle East hate us. And they do hate us. We represent two decades of bombing the hell out of them and they loathe us for that. It doesn’t excuse the outcome but it explains it.
But instead of asking the relevant questions relating to likely causes, journalists tend to focus far more on the effects. Suicide bombings are not some barbaric throwback to pre-modernity. They are a horribly distorted response to the very real horrors of imperialism and capitalism. As Stephen Holmes, in relation to the 9/11 attacks on New York, argued:
“The vast majority of Bin Laden’s public statements provide secular, not religious, rationales for 9/11. The principal purpose of the attack was to punish the ‘unjust and tyrannical America’. The casus belli he invokes over and over again is injustice not impiety. True, he occasionally remarks that the United States has declared war on god, but such statements would carry little conviction if not seconded by claims that the United States is tyrannising and exploiting Muslim people… Bin Laden almost never justifies terrorism against the West as a means for subordinating Western unbelievers to the true faith. Instead, he almost always justifies terrorism against the West as a form of legitimate self-defence.”
In other words, the Muslim extremist goal is no different from other national liberation movements – to achieve independence by forcing the imperialist power to retreat. The terrorists may express themselves in religious terms, but in essence the aim is the same pursuit as that adopted by previous secular-nationalist movements in the Middle East, namely the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the region. The scale and reach of some present-day attacks is greater than any terrorist organisation has been able to carry out in the past. But the devastation and death toll are still on a massively smaller scale than that routinely inflicted by the armed forces of ‘civilized’ states.
By focusing on the effects of terrorism as opposed to addressing the probable causes, encourages the worst kind of highly politically motivated and bigoted soundbite journalism imaginable. Examples have been the crass responses to the horror of Brussels by the likes of Katie Hopkins and Allison Pearson. Both ‘journalists’ attempted to tie the events in the Belgium capital city with the unfolding refugee crisis by condemning people who suffer terrorism on a daily basis in places like Syria and Iraq for fleeing to Europe where it’s virtually non-existent. The fact that this kind of commentary is widely regarded as part of the acceptable face of journalism within the ‘mainstream’, illustrates just how debased journalism has become.