Wednesday, 22 August 2012

British policy towards the Arab Spring has been entirely consistent

David Cameron with Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, whose family have ruled Qatar as an
absolute monarchy since being installed by the British 150 years ago.
Over the past year, the British government have bombed rebels into power in Libya –and are desperately hoping to do the same in Syria–whilst simultaneously aiding and abetting the crushing of rebel forces in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. Some commentators have called this hypocritical. In fact, there is no contradiction: the British government is engaged in a vicious, region-wide attack on all independent, anti-colonial forces in the region, be they states or opposition movements. Client regimes – in many cases monarchies originally imposed by the British Empire – have been propped up, and states outside the orbit of Western control have been targeted for destruction. The policy, in other words, has been entirely consistent: a drive towards the total capitulation of the Arab world; and more specifically the destruction of any potential organised resistance to an attack on Iran. What is more, it has been planned for a long time.
The Arab spring did not come out of the blue; it was both predictable and predicted. All demographic, economic and political trends pointed in the direction of a period of instability and civil unrest across the region, and especially in Egypt. The combination of growing and youthful populations, rising unemployment, corruption and unrepresentative government made some kind of mass manifestation of frustration a virtual certainty – as was recognised by a far-reaching speech by MI6-turned-BP operative Mark Allen in February 2009. In August 2010, Barack Obama issued Presidential Study Directive Number 11, which noted "evidence of growing citizen discontent with the region's regimes" and warned that "the region is entering a critical period of transition." Four months later, Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in Tunisia, sparking off the unrest that led to the downfall of President Ben-Ali.
For the world’s imperial powers, wracked by their own economic crises – Britain, France and the US– it was clear that this unrest would present both a danger and an opportunity. Whilst it threatened to disrupt the Gulf monarchies imposed by Britain during the colonial period (Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait et al), it could also create the ideal cover for the launching of long-planned proxy wars against old enemies.
Both Libya and Syria have long been considered thorns in the side of Western world domination. It is not only their policies –from Gaddafi’s consistent opposition to US and British military bases in Africa to Assad’s support for Palestinian liberation groups – which riles Western policy makers, but the mere fact that they have independent governments which are able to formulate and implement such policies. In the eyes of the world’s unelected and undeclared ruling elites, for a government of the global South to be either strong or independent might be just about tolerable - but not both.
Secret Anglo-American plans for the overthrow of the Syrian government - using proxy forces directed by Western intelligence, and carried out under the cover of‘internal disturbances’ - have been in place since at least 1957. More recently, the US has embarked on a policy of funding sectarian Salafi militias to wage war against the region’s Shi’ites in order to undermine Iran, destroy the Syrian state and cut off Hezbollah’s supply lines. This policy was a direct response to the two major setbacks of the previous year – the massive wave of attacks on Western forces by Sunni militants in Iraq and Israel’s defeat in its war with Hezbollah. In a prophetic piece in 2007, Seymour Hersh shows how the US, Israel and the Saudis hatched a plan to‘redirect’ Sunni militias away from their fight against the US and towards Syria. As one US government consultant put it, “it’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs; it’s who they throw them at—Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”
The coming of the ‘Arab spring’ provided the perfect cover for the throwing of these bombs – and for the British and US government plans to be put into effect. They acted quickly; armed attacks began in both countries within days of the ‘protest movement’ erupting, carried out by insurgents with longstanding links to British intelligence and increasingly trained and directed by the SAS and MI6.
Acting under the cover of the Arab spring also proved a winning formula for Western governments to mobilise support for ‘humanitarian intervention’ – the twenty-first century white man’s burden. Bush and Blair had given Western warmongering in the Middle East a bad name, but by implementing proxy wars –and aerial blitzkrieg - under the guise of ‘support for popular uprisings’, it was possible to ensure that liberals and ‘socialists’ by and large fell in line (albeit with some tactical differences on occasion). Frustrated Western radicals, desperate to vicariously experience the ‘revolution’ they know they would never – and let’s face it, would never want to – actually be involved in, lapped up the imagery of the‘people versus the dictator’. These ‘useful idiots’ all helpfully provided a veneer of credibility to the new wars that was clearly lacking in the case of Iraq.
The method of ‘proxy war’ – using militias recruited from the local population to fight for imperial interests – has long been the favoured policy of British policy planners – in contrast to the more ‘gung-ho’ boots on the ground methods of the US.
The war against Libya gave the ‘Arabists’ who dominate the British Foreign Office (the FCO) a chance to show the Americans how it is done. They have always preferred to cultivate local allies on the ground to do the fighting and dying – it’s cheaper, less unpopular at home, and so much more subtle than the blunt, blundering and cretinous approach of the Bushblair posse. Indeed, the FCO opposed the Iraq warfor precisely this reason – there was no moral, nor even strategic, disagreement – but a tactical one. The perceived failure and cost (in both blood and treasure) of Iraq thus allowed the ‘Arabists’ to gain the upper hand for the next round of colonial war that is now unfolding.
Meanwhile, client regimes – those monarchies established by Britain in the dying days of Ottoman control of the region – were given all the help they needed to drown their own uprisings in blood. Britain sold Saudi Arabia no less than £1.75 billion worth of arms last year – arms that are now being used against protesters in both Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where the Saudis invaded last autumn to crush the growing democratic revolt, as well as to arm the militias fighting in Syria. Qatar under the absolute rule of the Al-Thani family – chosen by Britain to run the country in the mid-nineteenth century – has also been crucial in fomenting the new imperial wars. The Al- Jazeera TV channel, which plays such an important role in the colonisers’ propaganda war – is run from Qatar and essentially took over the role of the BBC Arabic service when it closed operations in 1996. Qatar has also been at the forefront of the co-ordination, training and arming of the paramilitary proxy forces in Libya and Syria.
To ascertain the British government’s attitude towards an uprising in a state in the Middle East, one simply has to ask: is this a state created by Britain, or one built on an independent support base? Countries in the latter category get attacked, whilst those in the former are aided in consolidating their power and crushing the opposition.
Egypt, however, does not fit so neatly into either category. Egypt under Mubarak was neither a total stooge regime nor fully independent; neither a Libya nor a Qatar. Although the country had freed itself from its’ British-imposed king in 1952, since the Israeli peace accord of 1979, it had been widely viewed as a client state of the US and a key ally of Israel. Mubarak’s standing in the Arab world reached a nadir during the Israeli onslaught against Gaza in 2008-9, which even became known as the ‘Mubarak massacre’ for his refusal to open the border to fleeing Palestinians. Nevertheless, imposing regime change on Libya was going to be difficult for the West with Mubarak in charge next door. He had developed a friendly relationshipwith Gaddafi over the years, and seemed to be moving closer to Iran. A UN report in 2006even accused him of training the Islamic Courts Union – the Somali government which the US were working so hard to destroy – and he, along with Gaddafi, had opposed the expansion of AFRICOM – the US military’s ‘Africa Command’ – on the continent. A client who thinks he can conduct his own foreign policy is clearly missing the point. Removing Mubarak whilst keeping intact rule of his country by a military in hoc to the US may have come to be seen as the preferred option in London and Washington –especially if this option were to divide the revolutionary movement and take the wind out of its sails. Recent events in Egypt – such as the Egyptian airforce strike on‘Islamic militants’ in the Sinai, and the closure of the tunnels to Gaza – a lifeline for Palestinians to which Mubarak had to some extent turned a blind eye – suggest that the new government in Egypt is more than happy to do the bidding of the neo-colonisers.
This article first appeared in Countercurrents

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The Dark Knight Rises: A Masterpiece of White Supremacist Fantasy

Us or Them? Mad thugs bent on the destruction of civilisation wreak havoc on populations

Gotham City is taken hostage by a gang of vicious terrorists. They have crawled out of a dark hole in the Middle East, and one has even managed to pass herself off as a Gothamite. They have made common cause with 1000 Gotham prisoners in orange jumpsuits. They have managed to get hold of a device for creating nuclear power – but the wily swine have found a way to turn it into a nuclear bomb. Their crazed fanaticism means that their only use for technology is as a means of genocide. They are led by a man called Bane. His face is covered. He is a psychopath.
            It doesn’t take much decoding to work out what all this represents. It is a powerful piece of propaganda in the war against Iran. But it also taps into a much older story that white people have been telling themselves for years – the fear of being swamped by the black masses. If they are ever allowed to crawl out of their dark hole, the story goes, this is what happens. They will get into our societies. They will mix with us. Then they will destroy us.
            Of course, these fears disguise the fact that it is precisely us, the white nations, which already do these things the world over. The film’s scenes of violent criminals being let out of prison and armed, of summary justice in mock courts, of public lynchings: this is what has just been imposed by NATO on Libya. The killing of scientists, the constant threat of all out war, the blockade of the city to intimidate the population: this is what the Europe and America are doing to Iran today. The random bomb attacks, the war against the police, the co-option of sections of the army under threat of total destruction: this is precisely the reality of the West’s proxy war against Syria.
            It is a psychological truism that what we hate most in others is what we refuse to see about ourselves. We kid ourselves that our own hatred and brutality is actually an attribute of our victims: and thus justify their destruction. We imagine they are as bad as us.
            What makes us so convinced – without even five minutes serious study or thought on the issue – that Gaddafi, or Assad, or Ahmadinejad is a bloodthirsty murderous tyrant?  We don’t feel the need to look into specifics – because we know their type. We have grown up with these archetypal evil figures – we know them from the movies and stories we’ve been telling each other our whole lives. We know exactly what these people are like. What we don’t necessarily want to accept is that these archetypes are actually based on ourselves. However successful we may be at keeping the fact out of our conscious minds, we know, in our hearts, what genocidal depravities underpin, and have always underpinned, Western/ white supremacy in the world. Our most honoured national figures are open supporters of genocide. We know we are bloodthirsty murderous tyrants. But the stories we tell our children – stories such as the Dark Knight Rises – allow us to project these qualities onto our enemies. When we wage war, it is not against ‘Gaddafi’, but the imagined Gaddafi, the one we know very well – because the imagined Gaddafi is us.
            The battle ends with scenes of euphoria as the jubilant Gothamites cheer on a mushroom cloud from a nuclear bomb dropped over the sea (overseas?). Of course, in the film, no one actually dies in this explosion - but isn’t that exactly what we tell ourselves about our wars anyway? No one really dies at our hands – no one of any consequence anyway – only demons, Gaddafi-ites, insurgents; sub-humans. Won’t the war against Iran just involve a ‘surgical strike’ against ‘facilities’? We will be able to find a way to applaud the overseas mushroom cloud, one way or another; after all, we will say – it’s no worse than what they would do to us. Don’t you know what these people are like? Haven’t you seen Batman?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

When are humans not human? Libya, Liberalism and the incineration of the armies of the global South

Ever since its inception in the seventeenth century, liberalism has been a wholly hypocritical ideology, based not on the principle of the indivisibility of humanity, as its adherents claim, but on precisely the opposite - endlessly redefined categories of exclusion. The founder of modern Liberalism, John Locke, formulated the principles of England’s ‘Glorious Revolution’ of 1688, supposedly entrenching the ‘natural rights’ to “life, liberty and property” with which he believed all humans were born. All that is, except Catholics - whose support for the wrong side in the English civil war was to be the pretext for the denial of their basic rights for the next 150 years - and Africans, who, by a simple logical trick, were simply categorised by Locke as not human at all.

Ever since then, Liberalism’s so-called “universal” human rights have been anything but; Locke’s exceptions have become the rule. A century after the ‘Glorious Revolution’, the USA’s founding fathers followed up their victory in the war against English rule by enshrining basic liberal values into their new constitution. This time “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” were the human rights to which all were entitled. Following Locke, the continuation of slavery presented no contradiction here – Africans were simply written off as not fully human – only three fifths human, in fact – and thus exempt from the ‘natural rights’ inherent to all men.

In our times, the ideological somersault has been slightly more subtle than the simple demonization of Africans or Catholics. The people now deemed unworthy of even the most basic human right – the right to life – are soldiers. This is the barbaric flipside of all the feigned concern for civilians in Syria and Libya that has been pouring out of the mouths of our politicians and media pundits for the past year.

This focus on civilians is intentionally designed to hide the horrific reality of what has actually been taking place – the systematic strafing and murder of Libyan and Syrian troops in their tens of thousands – troops who have never invaded another country, many of whom have not even been involved in the retaking of rebel cities, and most still in their teens.

Of course, civilians were killed by NATO as well - and not just mistakenly either. Defence Secretary Liam Fox effectively admitted that Gaddafi’s baby grandchildren (all aged between 6 months and 2 years), blown to pieces by NATO in late April last year, were deliberately targeted as part of a strategy to “put psychological pressure on Gadaffi”. But these deaths were at least reported as deaths in the Western media, and briefly caused some controversy. Likewise, the Guardian reported on its front page the news that NATO had deliberately left 61 migrants to die of thirst in the Mediterranean, some of the 1500 civilians estimated to have died there whilst attempting to flee NATO’s war.

Deaths of Libyan soldiers, however, were never reported by Western news corporations as deaths of human beings. At best, there were veiled references to the ‘degrading of Gaddafi’s military capability’ or of ‘Gaddafi’s capacity to attack civilians’. The latter is particularly odious. Soldiers have become, it seems, not human beings - people with lives, feelings and families – but merely the ‘capacity to attack civilians’.

Barely six weeks into the invasion, British officials were already boasting that NATO had killed over 35,000 such human beings (in the usual euphemistic way, of course - “We estimate that [Gaddafi] has around 30 per cent of his ground forces capability remaining,” is how one British official put it, after estimating an initial ‘capability’ of 50,000).

The ideological focus on civilians and no one else does not take much decoding. It is clearly an exclusionary category – civilians are precisely not-soldiers. Therefore the statement “when we bomb Libya, we are going to save civilians” might be a more palatable way of saying “we are going to incinerate all 50,000 members of the Libyan armed forces”, but essentially means exactly the same thing: no soldiers will be spared.

Of course, the massacre of male soldiers also helped to facilitate the slaughter of NATO’s beloved civilians as well, as women and children were left – and remain - even more vulnerable to the rebel army’s rapes and murders after the killing of their husbands and fathers.

We need to challenge this rhetoric about civilian lives, as if no one and nothing else is important. The obsessive focus not only wilfully obscures the massacres of Libyan soldiers, but also justifies the destruction of their economy, infrastructure, telecommunications networks, water supply… once we accept the logic that only civilian lives are important, literally every other possible target becomes fair game.

Of course, when British soldiers get killed, the euphemisms end. When the Taliban “degrade” the British army’s “capacity to attack civilians”, this is not how it appears in the headlines. British soldiers have names, faces, families, and of course, a just cause. Soldiers of the occupying army are always human, no matter what atrocities they have taken part in; Libyan soldiers are never human – even if they have never fired a shot in their life.

In Syria, the redefining of the English language has become even more tortuous. Until recently, the Western press rarely admitted that the SAS-trained and CIA-funded death squads even had weapons, let alone that they were using them to wage war against any and all supporters of Syria’s secular state. Armed men using brutal sectarian violence were instantly whitewashed to become ‘peaceful protesters’ unjustly victimised by the Syrian army. Death figures were reported as if any and all casualties were ‘civilians’ killed by ‘Assad’s forces’. Thus, whilst in Libya, soldiers’ deaths did not ‘count’, in Syria it is even worse – police and soldiers’ deaths are counted – not as victims of the West’s proxies who actually killed them, but as victims of themselves, of the Syrian state. Even the heavily anti-government Syrian Observatory for Human Rights admits that well over 5000 Syrian soldiers and police have been killed by rebels, with massacres of 80-100 at a time not uncommon. But Western reporting tends to lump these deaths together with figures of rebels killed to produce an overall death rate it attributes solely to the Syrian government. Thus are statistics used to demonise the murdered and build support for their killers.

This dehumanisation of soldiers should come as no surprise. British soldiers too – lionised by politicians and media once dead – are treated as thoroughly expendable whilst alive. The institutionalised bullying – and probable murder – at the Deepcut barracks, the lack of effective post-tour emotional support, and the massive presence of former soldiers amongst the growing army of Britain’s homeless are all indicative of a ruling class that treats even its own soldiers with contempt. Many of the RAF crews who carried out the slaughter of the Libyan army actually returned home to find themselves being made redundant. Empire has no loyalty to its servants. Indeed, last year, a judgement by the highest court in the land ruled that British soldiers were in fact officially not human – or at least, not covered by the Human Rights Act – after privates were forced by their superior officers into harsh conditions that eventually killed them.

Despite this shoddy treatment of British soldiers, however, it remains the armies of the global South who are the primary targets of demonization and total destruction. The new ideological focus on civilians is just a new disguise for Liberalism’s age-old racism, with a little twist to make it more politically correct. In the nineteenth century, non-white peoples were portrayed as subhuman. Today’s humanitarian crusaders claim to love those peoples, of course: it’s just their armies – their only source of protection - that they want to destroy. 

An edited version of this article originally appeared in the Morning Star.