Sahel

Terrorism is just one of many scourges to beset the people of Mali for decades | Peter Beaumont | Comment is free | The Observer

Terrorism is just one of many scourges to beset the people of Mali for decades | Peter Beaumont | Comment is free | The Observer.

Of four modern myths

“We are supported by the collective will of the world,” declared U.S. President George W. Bush as he launched the war against Afghanistan’s Taliban regime in October 2001. For many people, that collective will has a name: the “international community.” This feel-good phrase evokes a benevolent, omniscient entity that makes decisions and takes action for the benefit of all countries and peoples. (Foreign Policy Special Report)

US troops in Afghanistan Information manipulation, propaganda and the broadcasting of falsehoods are not new. The modern psyche, awash with consumer “dreams”, celebrity worship and, in the English speaking world, a curious mixture of self-deprecation and arrogance, seems now unable to discriminate, analyse, and form a real “opinion”. Others have acknowledged the “de-politisation” of the public sphere, exemplified by voters’ apathy, indifference and contempt for the political class and fragmentation into single interests politics, from climate change militancy to gay rights.

What may be a source of wonder for historians of the future is the emergence of relatively short-lived but apparently influential myths in our time – the first decades of the 21st century. Those myths are the products of media universally enslaved to the “owners”, meaning the various elites now ruling both the first – the “old” new world, to paraphrase Perry Anderson –  and the “second” world – to simplify, the growing powerhouses of Asia and South America, as well as an academic and political caste hell-bent in defending their privileges. Some are throwbacks from the pre-world wars world of bourgeois delusions (harking to a new “Belle Epoque”), some are central to the reigning neo-liberal ideology which translates as the “pensée unique” of the assets-owning classes and their henchmen. The 20th century, up to the 1979-1989 decade, had the “Soviet threat”, that fuelled anti-communist reaction, the industries of the Cold War, and the immense profits made out of plundering the resources of the then “third world”. It also saw money and weaponry flowing from the US and Europe to some the worse dictatorial régimes of modern history, from Chile’s Pinochet to Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Saudi empire, the Greek colonels and many others.

What of now? Well, I submit we have – to identify some of the most evident in the western press – “Al-Qaeda”, “9/11”, the “international community” and “there is no alternative”.

The myth of the “international community” is a good starting point. What is it? Who’s in it? How do we know? One can understand an international community of physicists, say, or of expert neurologists, or of science fiction writers. But “international community” on its own? What does it really mean? Yet “we” – whoever “we” are in it – have apparently justified, condoned,  called for, wanton destruction throughout the world, two wars against the impoverished people of Iraq, murderous bombings of Pakistan and Afghanistan, the destruction of Libya, mindless support to gangsters and neo-fascists in the former Yugoslavia and elsewhere – indeed the destruction of the country that had a historical role in the liberation of Europe from nazi tyranny, and countless armed interventions across the world, sometimes by proxy. An obvious statement is that no one is consulted on what the “international community” wishes! In 2003 millions of people demonstrated publicly in cities in the US and Europe against war in the Middle-East to no avail. Yet whatever the “international community” decides, or authorised its (well) armed proponents to enact, has consequences for all of us. Some of those consequences are predictable, and others “unintended”, from the casualties of the first Gulf war of 1991 to the spread of a militant, violent and distorted form of Islam, fuelled by Saudi money and the support of those exemplars of democracy such as Bahrain, the UAE and other Saudi’s sidekicks, through the ruins of western economies and the rise of private and unaccountable armies paid for by impoverished western taxpayers. Observations of those consequences does not appear to reach the consciousness of our “international community” or its media channels. Nothing has been learnt in Iraq – the continuing nightmare of violence and bigotry, the endless pursuit of wealth and power by an unaccountable class of despots – nothing in Egypt, and worst of all, nothing has been learnt from the quagmire of the Afghan wars. Nothing was learnt from the medieval treatment of “suspects” in Guantanamo Bay and dungeons in Afghanistan and elsewhere, which yielded not a shred of evidence on “terrorism” or any conspiracy against “freedom”. Yet the drama continues, today through an aberrant armed intervention from France in the Sahel, in support of a corrupt, hated and incompetent régime. The crisis in the Sahel is real of course, and as Kofi Annan has shown, a by-product of inept western policies, most recently towards Libya.

This takes us to the second “myth”: Al-Qaeda. The word was an invention of the US media, misreading, perhaps intentionally, a statement from Bill Clinton after attacks against US interests in Africa in 1998. The “Bin Laden’s network”, as it was then described, was chiefly motivated by the “occupation” of the Saudi empire by US forces during and after the first Gulf war in 1991: the same sentiment of religious outrage (the occupation by heathens of the holly land and sacred sites) would later provoke the outrage of 9/11, a purely US-Saudi event and development. This was therefore one of the unintended consequences of the folly of 1991. But of course the media frenzy would never stop from then on, and with the advent of Bush Jr and the “War on Terror” after 2001, Al-Qaeda was born, or reborn, as the “universal enemy”, justifying, first, indiscriminate bombing in Afghanistan – a country wholly unable to defend itself against technological warfare, and only related to Middle-East events through the flow of – yet again – Saudi money during the Soviet war, and soon exception laws in the name of “security”, and wholesale torture of suspects. After 9/11, the initial justification invented for the war against Iraq, was some mysterious involvement of the Iraqi state with “terrorists”, an implausible theory since the secular governments in the Middle-East were in fact at war with extreme Islamic agitators funded by the Saudis. Never mind the facts, the myth rolled on. Then we heard about “weapons of mass-destruction”, a fallacy soon proven to be utter bilge. Of course there was no shortage of falsehoods, blatant lies and posturing in the era of Bush and his acolyte Mr Bliar, supported by media empires soon to be proven highly unethical and flouting the law.

The tragedy of 9/11 was real enough, and was felt by all of us as an atrocious attack on the innocent. That sentiment was subsequently and shamelessly exploited. Few observers doubted the central motivation: outrage caused in Saudi Arabia by the continuing presence of US troops – including women – on Saudi soil. The actors of the drama were nearly all Saudis, living in Europe (chiefly Germany) and the US. The whole plan was a Saudi product, probably funded by Saudi benefactors of strong religious beliefs –  the same bankers of madrases all over Africa and the far East where militant Islam is taught relentlessly to this day. The episode had little if anything to do with Afghanistan, Iraq or any of the future targets of the “war on terror”. Yet the story of “international” terrorists was spun ad nauseam. It is, in a way, the other side of the “international community” coin. Black and white, a convenient “them” and “us”. The media ignored the role played by those countries (Saudi, Yemen, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and others, and the then dictatorships of Egypt and Tunisia) supported militarily by the US and Europe. The continuing fault line caused by the Israeli government policies towards its neighbours and the Palestinian people was equally glossed over. A decade later Iraq stands in ruins, the entire the war in Afghanistan is lingering through countless suffering for its people, more trouble brewing up in Pakistan, thousands of maimed ex-soldiers damaged physically and mentally for life, and of course the colossal costs of the intervention for western countries on the brink of bankruptcy… I hesitate to mention Bin Laden himself, but enough is to say that the man who was a mere agent for channelling Saudi money to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet armies, had probably very little to do with events in the US. Already a sick man at the end of the Russian withdrawal in 1989 – after, incidentally, a pointless 10-year murderous war – his appearance on obscure videos served mostly to fuel the neo-conservatives’s propaganda machine. He may or not have died earlier in the caverns of northern Afghanistan, or in his jail in Pakistan as claimed later by the US government. Does it matter? Not to the victims of the “war on terror”, that is certain.

What matters to “us” is that – it is claimed – there is “no real alternative” to the criminal austerity policies imposed on the hapless people of the western hemisphere by government solely committed to the privileged 1% of society that is benefiting from the collapse of the post-war status-quo. I am writing about the whole episode of the rebirth of hayekian reactionary policies since the late 70’s, through the many crises of the 90’s, and the socialisation of the financial “losses” since 2008. The Chinese media called the rescue of the bankrupt financial sector in the US “Socialism with US characteristics”. Indeed. The transfer of speculators and gangsters losses to the larger public has sunk the fragile fiscal equilibrium of those nations, already hit by rising inequalities of income and unemployment. For how long will European and American public opinions tolerate the war on the poor and unemployed conducted by the various administrations of those countries is hard to predict. Revolutions are also made of myths, and unintended consequences…