“They Just Hate Us” and Other Lies
The violence with which the supremacy of white values is affirmed and the aggressiveness which has permeated the victory of these values over the ways of life and of thought of the native mean that, in revenge, the native laughs in mockery when Western values are mentioned in front of him - Frantz Fanon
The British media in the past couple of weeks seems entirely incapable of engaging with the link between terrorism and foreign policy on any reasonable terms whatsoever. At one point, not even that long ago, the idea that British interventions overseas were exacerbating local and regional problems throughout the Middle East and the world was not considered that preposterous. Certainly, at various times, numerous people ranging from intelligence experts to expert on quite literally nothing Boris Johnson have espoused a view which is now, suddenly, anathema.
The response to Jeremy Corbyn’s recent speech on the subject is as predictable and tedious as ever. Corbyn is the leader of a Labour Party that may not win the upcoming General Election but is, by any estimate, doing much better than most political commentators and any number of wry parliamentary sketch writers foresaw. A point has now been reached where Corbyn can say anything and it will be met by widespread derision and opposition irrespective of the content. This is self-evident to practically anyone with even a passing interest in the outcome of the election so it hardly needs to be expanded on. Even if a Labour government in 2017 is completely unlikely, Corbyn seizing this opportunity to open up a discussion on numerous topics is a good thing. It exposes, at least, the completely regressive attitudes of a wide swathe of the British press.
Even if he was elected, this particular subject would hardly be resolved. Corbyn may not wish to bomb countries in the Middle East but his own party largely disagrees with him, and they are able to talk in the most purple of terms about the need to destroy fascism abroad while countenancing any number of proto-fascist policies at home. It’s a fight regardless and that is why the way it is fought requires further analysis.
The first line of argument against Corbyn’s position is that he believes foreign policy alone creates terrorism. This is not what he said so we can safely dismiss this as basic deceit on behalf of people in the British press who rely on people reading only headlines. This is an ongoing trend in reporting anything Labour related. It seems pretty much anything can be said above an article in big letters even if it is directly contradicted by things said in the smaller letters directly below.
The second line of argument seems to be that if Corbyn believes foreign interventions create terrorism, what war provoked 9/11? This is a real gotcha. The type of thing that gets you retweets on Twitter from people like Jolyon Green, although in fairness he will smash that button on anything anti-Corbyn with complete disregard for the provenance of it.
I think I first saw this exact line being put out by John Rentoul, commander of the first Death Star and Chief Political Commentator for the Independent. It exemplifies the current discourse, such as it is, where it is impossible to extricate how disingenuous someone is being from whether they’re actually ignorant or uninformed. A key example of this is Dan Hodges, Tory lobbyist. He weaponises a certain form of “lol!” stupidity in his reaction to things and in his responses to people which is calculated to elicit replies and outrage and maybe even invite abuse which he can then turn on the responder. He gets the upper hand either way. After all, his sneering condescension is within the realm of acceptable debate whereas your nasty swear words are not. It’s impossible to believe that he really is as stupid as he pretends. This is trolling — just in the opposite direction to how it is generally perceived.
Can John Rentoul et al really believe that nothing happened prior to 9/11 that might have prompted terrorism? Have they decided to ignore Britain and America’s continual machinations in the region? Even a shallow understanding of the Middle East in the 20th Century shows western governments (Labour and Tory, Republican and Democrat and so on) interfering in the development and political direction of Iraq and Iran, as just two examples, to a shameful extent. The obvious needs of a dwindling British Empire aside, presumably all actions undertaken by the CIA — that most righteous and unfaultable organisation — are seen under the umbrella of the Cold War and therefore dismissed from the argument. All evils were necessary to defeat the Soviet Union and the general populace of Afghanistan probably understand the greater good being served by arming the mujahideen.
You might as well go back, we’re told, to the 3rd Crusade. I mean that doesn’t have any impact on modern politics and really no-one cares about Jerusalem anymore. It would be embarrassing to admit that there is precedent within Christianity for warmongering and violence, two things which are increasingly and exclusively associated with Islam. Jihadists are the real fascists, you see, whereas people with views traditionally connected to fascism are either dapper, harmless young men or actually, deep down, communists. If you listen to James Bloodworth (who, in fairness, is only 14 and writes solely for his school paper) ISIS are actually communists. In fact, if you’ve ever had dubious reasons for killing someone then you’re probably a communist. It’s a good job, really, that Britain and America have only ever had forthright and democratic reasons to kill people or James Bloodworth would presumably denounce George W Bush as a Stalinist.
So, either because of ignorance or because someone is being disingenuous (or a heady of cocktail of the two) all history prior to September 11th is disregarded. I mean George Bush and Tony Blair are good now, anyway. One of them paints nice pictures and the other guy, well, he’s against Brexit and frankly the Iraq War is a tedious subject no-one really wants to talk about anymore so let’s just move on, shall we? If you rehabilitate all the key players then by osmosis alone you rehabilitate the war itself.
Even Andy Burnham can say that there were no foreign interventions before September 11th. The first Gulf War was just an Andy McNab novel and some bombing raids, don’t worry about it. Everything is different now.
The real point of this, I think, is to manoeuvre the argument into winnable terms. On the face of it, the comments in Corbyn’s speech are really not that outrageous. There’s a very decent career to be had simply getting outraged every time he steps out of his front door, of course, but putting that aside there isn’t really much in the speech that’s controversial. I suspect it would be distinctly uncontroversial if someone else was saying it. If Theresa May said it (and obviously she won’t because she’s a violent, racist, reactionary) I would like to see what knots the press tied themselves in to defend it. It would be emblazoned everywhere as another canny slide to the left, no doubt. Corbyn’s views have to be rendered outrageous through misrepresentation or dishonesty.
No-one really thinks 9/11 was the start-point of history but this is certainly a good thing to say if you’re trying to change the terms of engagement. This is debate club stuff. In Britain, happily, we draw most of our political journalists from the aristocracy so many issues foreign and domestic are reduced to dinner party entertainment, a parlour game where you win by making your opponent appear foolish or rude. The merits of either argument, even the respective potential death counts related to each, don’t ultimately matter.
It’s possible to argue that terrorism is one of the few things that might affect a British journalist or their family. A blue tick on Twitter, great though it is, won’t stop shrapnel. Certainly enough of these writers remember numerous lunches disrupted by IRA bomb threats to still hold a grudge against the entire Irish Republican movement and anyone who, 30 years ago, treated them as even slightly human.
Even so, I think really most journalists know they won’t be blown up. They know their children are safe. Globally speaking, their children are really some of the safest and even Eton isn’t as harsh as it used to be. The media as a whole is insulated from the actual effects of endless Middle Eastern war and, not to put too fine a point on it, endless Middle Eastern war will ultimately give them something to write about. In one sense, it profits us all. None of us want to spend too much on petrol, after all. If the cost is a few hospitals and a bit of blowback, then so be it.
Look at it this way: if every columnist from Comment is Free was being bombed daily by US drones (a world I can only dream of) maybe they would see things differently.
In the debate club of political conversation online and off, of course you can say 9/11 is the beginning of history. You don’t have to really believe it. You’re only trying to win the argument. You aren’t speaking from a place of truth or experience. Things you say can actually be counter to what you think and even what you know in order to score points. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that to score points now, people like Sunny Hundal will blithely U-turn on things he said five years ago.
As an aside: this is the problem with Corbyn. Disagree with him or not, he is actually pretty consistent on most issues so in order to disagree with him you have to move.
After all, only awful ordinary people get impassioned and lapse into ad hominem attacks when met by this inscrutable wall of sophistry and contradiction. This loses them both the argument and any entitlement they had to an opinion.
9/11 is the birth of the modern world. I think we’re all agreed on that now. Nothing preceded it. Anything that did precede it, i.e. the creation of the world, God’s spirit hovering over the water, the use of armed force to protect British oil interests in Iran, that’s all irrelevant.
This helpfully implies that Corbyn (here used as shorthand for anyone who feels foreign policy might have a bearing on terror) has suggested a 1:1 causative relationship. You invade a country, you therefore entitle the people of that country to join a terrorist organisation and bomb you back. Isn’t that what Corbyn is saying? Clearly an absurd assertion as some countries that didn’t participate in the War on Terror have been subject to terrorist bombing campaigns. Interestingly, I’ve seen Sweden listed as one of these blameless states on a number of occasions when Sweden has had troops in Afghanistan since 2002. I expect it was another country they meant, it’s easy to get confused when lying. Anyway, the US and Sweden only invaded those places after September 11th, as a response, in self defence.
All of this twists the argument away from any material reasoning behind terror and also reduces the idea of modern terrorism to basically just Osama Bin Laden. He’s a good villain because no-one really likes him and frankly it’s good that the sovereign territory of an ally was violated and he was shot to death without recourse to the law, which would probably have got him off for good behaviour in ten years.
Reducing the point down makes the motivations of any particular terrorist irrelevant. Any reasons they had were probably just some religious mumbo-jumbo, shouted at a tape recorder in a cave. Obviously, there’s no 1:1 relationship between foreign policies and terrorism because Osama Bin Laden had no real grievance with the US and yet he committed the worst act of terror on record, certainly the most spectacular and most memorable. You were younger when it happened, a kid probably, and it was really scary. Only a monster could try to justify scaring British schoolchildren.
The problem actually is that Bin Laden and his bombers, just like the people who set off a nailbomb in Manchester or those men who shot up Paris, were evil. They just hate us. They’ve got some weird religion which is fixated on the murder of people who like pop music or political cartoons and there’s simply no deterring them. The idea that they have reasons means you could reason with them. That is a completely unacceptable idea. We can’t make peace with them, we can’t stop the war. What we must do is bomb them. Bomb them until they’re all dead. They’ve forced our hand. We’re defending ourselves.
Now, say you oppose this view in any way — not even all of it, maybe just parts of it you’re uncomfortable with. You think that ending wars is largely a good thing and the genocide of people is bad. Where have all these wry Brexit book authors left you to go? Are you going to suggest Islamic State aren’t evil? Are you going to suggest what happened in Manchester was understandable? If you do that then you can be quote-tweeted or screen-shotted to a million people within seconds. People who read Guido Fawkes or who want Marine A to be made Mayor of London, people who have left the Labour Party in the last few months because feeding children was a policy they really couldn’t get behind or people who once wrote comedy shows you liked who have outed themselves as just about the biggest boors imaginable. A million voices will cry out at you, as one. You’re a terrorist sympathiser. Just like Corbyn is. He had a meeting where he talked to people from Hamas, whereas the rational, sensible centre know that the only way to deal with Hamas is shoot them, every one, until they’re exterminated like the cockroaches they are.
Already you’re placed in a position of defending the indefensible, on ground you did not pick. You’re no longer talking about the actual issue. You’re not talking about the effects of current foreign policy, you’re trying to argue about the Taliban and the Soviets in Afghanistan. You’ve got a wiki page with a picture of a Hind helicopter open in another tab and you’re trying to argue three different ways about Guernica or Trotsky.
The other team have won the debate and, of course, like any debate club victory it’s of no worth or importance whatsoever. Discussion of things can be useful if it’s trying to look at how the actual conditions should be changed. Has anyone talked about specific things that are wrong with our foreign policy? Is anyone concerned that some of the things we consider “mistakes” were actually deliberate actions? No, we’re not talking about anything real. We’re just playing word-games with people who own windmills. That is the point of rendering discourse down into nothing but this empty, distracting charade. It prolongs the status quo for as long as possible, for the benefit of the people who profit the most from that status quo.
The reason we need to analyse foreign policy is not limited to the fact that western bombs create terrorists although I would say the actual evidence clearly shows that it does. I think there actually is a certain degree of direct causation, particularly when you consider the philosophy of martyrdom.
I think, often, of an article by Malik Jalal where he realised he was on the USA’s kill list only after he’d narrowly avoided being killed by three separate strikes. Firstly, a car he lent to a cousin was hit. After that, a vehicle that looked like the one he was personally driving was hit just a few streets away from him. Finally, as I remember it, a family event that he was scheduled to attend was hit before he arrived. He finally understood what was happening. Think of the devastation that has been wrought by that simple, abhorrent sequence of events. Your brother was in a car that happened to look like the car of a man who the US wanted dead. Now your brother and two of his friends have been blown to nothing by a robot machine in the sky. A machine you can’t see, or shoot at, with an operator who is in no personal danger whatsoever. You are angry, you are rightly aggrieved and you are impotent. Why wouldn’t you radicalise? For me, the real question is why aren’t there more terrorists?
There are billions of Muslims and apparently their religion and culture is singularly violent and misogynistic and full of hate. How come there aren’t bombings every night, at every concert, on every continent?
If we can admit, just for a moment, that people aren’t grateful to be bombed by the west then maybe we can really get into the heart of why political journalists and politicians in Britain are pretending there’s no relationship between our bombs and theirs. The short answer, I think, is because these people still support British imperialism. They support it to the point that they will not allow any criticism of our wars or our extremely questionable arms deals.
Even in Ireland, where atrocities committed directly by the British military are well known, it is now no longer permissible to criticise Britain. You must unequivocally call out the IRA as if they existed in a bubble. These are another group of unstoppable, evil people, not granted the luxury of context. Now we’ve got this bizarre situation where the IRA and ISIS are treated as if they are exactly the same. Just a homogenous group of terrorists motivated by nothing but evil. It’s ridiculous.
The Labour Party itself, historically, has always upheld British imperialism and unless it splits its likely to continue to do so with Corbyn or without him. Most MPs in Labour probably have no issue with Britain’s place in the world. Certainly, notionally “centrist” commentators take a line on Britain which is completely interchangeable with those to the right of them and for which they should be pilloried.
These people know that the current state of Libya, for example, is a mess of our creation. They also know that saying this doesn’t actually mean you love Gaddafi but they’re certainly going to say that you do. Britain is good, our enemies aren’t. The US is good, their enemies aren’t. The CIA is good, anyone who opposes them isn’t.
In Syria, does anyone really know what’s going on? Who is funding who? Who do we hate now? Aren’t the Saudis, our ally, materially supporting ISIS? What particular people can we kill to sort it all out? It’s not a grand strategy game. You can’t pause time and look at every faction and every individual and even if you could, there isn’t one string you can pull which will unravel it all. Even if you like the idea of bombing flat those few places which aren’t already flattened, surely a compelling reason not to is simply having no clue who the terrorist is in this situation?
Many political journalists who feel that Tony Blair is the father they never had must know, deep down, that the Iraq War was a horror-show that has contributed to a widespread destabilisation of the region. They must also know that military bases throughout Turkey and the Middle East, a hangover of a Cold War long over, are an insult and an imposition on the people of those countries, a flexing of US power that is an affront to the independence of those states. They must realise that any anti-imperialist sentiment among a deprived population in a country which has been deliberately under-developed will, probably, become interwoven with terrorism. They know that the US is hated for reasons beyond its secular ways and its scantily clad young women. They simply won’t admit it. They don’t want to admit it. Groups like Al Queda and ISIS hate us. We must therefore hate them in return.
They’re just misogynists, we’re told, but just because ISIS espouse misogyny doesn’t mean that misogyny is the sole reason they exist. This is a thoroughly basic assertion: none of this should need to be said, but apparently it has to be because the reactionary nature of government and the media in Britain has pushed completely run-of-the-mill and commonplace assertions right out there, like you’re spouting some outlandish and laughable conspiracy theory you read in The Canary.
The really outlandish assumption — that ISIS are just pure evil, goblins of some kind– has somehow been replaced by anything with even a little bit of nuance. It is this that’s frustrating. We all go through the Sorting Hat and some people just get put in the Bad House and must, eventually, be killed. That’s not good enough for me and it shouldn’t be good enough for anyone let alone a paid political commentator.
I think if we are to talk about great evils then Britain itself is an act of violence perpetrated against the world. It’s pretty rich that we now get to decide from a place of moral superiority who gets to live and who gets to die, whose reasons are worth consideration and who is simply evil. Even now, children are drowning at sea and largely we don’t care so I personally struggle to see Britain as this kind, loving nation we’re always told about. A hundred different pundits and a revolving door of worthless politicians may try to assuage our guilt and whisper lies about how we did good all over the globe but none of it is true. Politicians would be talking about how wonderful British values were even as they told us to start eating one another.
It’s not victim blaming to suggest Britain bears some of the responsibility for the current situation in the Middle East when we’ve been fighting wars there for centuries. “Victim blaming” as a term is really only used in this context to troll people on the left and prompt anger. Imperialism has many faces and many names but it does appear that at the beginning of this century neocolonialism — the idea of using economic means alone to control other countries — was no longer a sufficient means to keep Iraq in check. An invasion and the ousting of Saddam Hussein probably would have occurred without 9/11. Some pretext would have been found. This seems fairly obvious given that a pretext was entirely fabricated in the end anyway. The Twin Towers could still be standing and the Pentagon would still be conducting a risk/benefit analysis of invading Iran. That’s why the idea that terrorism begins at 9/11 is absurd. This is just one part of the terror that has been unleashed on the people of the Middle East. Self-determination has been forbidden. Regimes have been chopped and changed with CIA involvement for decades.
The conditions we have created have led to ISIS, whether through funding of terrorist groups, or as an unintended by-product of other acts of direct or indirect imperialism. It’s easy to say that dodgy dossier aside it was a good thing to remove Saddam but again this misses the really important point. The exacerbation of tensions between different religious groups is surely part of what must be stopped in order to end conflict in the region. The death of people who are not involved in western foreign policy is now callously used as a gotcha to show the targets of ISIS are many but this is a staggeringly fallacious argument.
The reality is that we continue to prolong the circumstances in which people radicalise, turn to terrorist organisations and take up arms against us and against each other. It does not start nor does it end with the invasion of Iraq or with the Twin Towers. It does not end with just Britain and the US. Of course other countries and other religious groups have been affected. This is a sprawling conflagration that we can’t hope to control. Maybe it’s possible to stop stoking the flames.
Will stopping bombing campaigns and ground invasions in the region halt terrorism? I expect it won’t. It’s facile to suggest that things will magically improve overnight. If Corbyn were elected, as soon as a terrorist bomb went off anywhere, the usual commentators would be scrambling over themselves to denounce the “useless” changes to our foreign policy. Even if terrorism does continue, an end to the War on Terror is a step towards addressing British and US imperialism and the hugely damaging effects of these two world-spanning empires.
Many of these people who wished to bomb Syria prefaced any remarks they made by saying they marched against the Iraq War. So then, if they could go back in time and stop the Iraq War, we can presume they would. Yet here we are on the precipice of another ten Iraq Wars, another twenty years of violence and blood. Bombs unending, dropping on hospitals and on villages and picking out the cars we think our enemies are sitting in. Why shouldn’t we stop it?
I don’t believe the British public are actually tired of experts, whatever Michael Gove might have said. I think we are tired of people who pretend to be experts. Fitting then that I state right now that I’m certainly not an expert on what constitutes Salafism or the various factions in Syria and I have no intention of setting myself up as one. I have not tried to write this piece as one. It’s really just an articulation of my own misgivings on the topic which I’m publishing in the hope it might be helpful to one or two people. The reality is that the vast majority of people who have commented on Britain’s response to terror don’t have a clue either. The administration, regardless of whether its Labour or Tory, doesn’t have a clue on how to stop terrorism either. All the more reason not to be absolute in our judgements or in our actions.
It’s easy to throw stones at specific people from afar, and I have done it here as a reflex more than anything else, but really the way this subject is treated is a deep-seated institutional problem across a variety of publications and media. It’s a problem that has to be confronted. Anyone I have mentioned by name is just an example — there are many more — of an intellectually bankrupt media class pushing a line that will lead to more death and destruction and more terror for not only the population of Britain but people across the Middle East and the world. Corbyn tells them to get out of the way of an oncoming car and they say, “Actually there is no car and never has been.”
This is the crux of it. The modern media may be worried about fake news and it may have become an easy term for the right to adopt to shield itself from challenge but at the same time, there is clearly a bewildering lack of real engagement with any given topic and, instead, hollow point scoring and obfuscation. It feeds itself endlessly.
I was never prepared for how disorientating it can become when propagandising continues relentlessly, day after day. It feels like we are being softened up by an onslaught of what can only really be described as misinformation to an extent where it negatively affects the mental health of people. Dissent is to be quelled by the sheer weight of sneering commentators.
I don’t think we need to lapse into conspiracy theory about this. For years, the press have been the mouthpiece of power and that’s unchanged. That is what we must be mindful of every time we see someone, especially those notionally on the left, saying how obvious it is that we must remove Assad; we must deploy more troops; we must buy more bombs. That’s a familiar tune that anyone with a passable understanding of history should be sceptical of.
To believe that we will stop terrorism by continuing to bomb and invade, continuing to destroy the lives of thousands to protect western interests is to me more absurd than the only alternative we have left after twenty years: that is to deescalate and stop the cycle.
It is gratifying to see that, much to the chagrin of a clueless commentariat, it seems that the British people may well agree.