UK prepares for war in Syria. But who the hell are we actually fighting?

Chris Court-Dobson

A frantic amnesia seems to have gripped half the nation, while the other half is struck by a dreadful déjà vu. We’ve been here before – on the eve of battle with the case for war changing every few hours, the plan obscure and far-fetched, and no mention of how long it will take to extricate ourselves from the ordeal.

If you feel like we’re having the same weary rationalisations shoved down our throat as in 2003, you’re not alone. There are tens of millions like you, in fact just over half the country is either dead against bombing Syria or unsure.

Do you ever feel like the people with the poignant questions, the considered arguments, and the calls for sanity, are being sidelined and told to shut up?

Why mainstream journalists don’t do their jobs

Why did journalists and politicians, the people whose job it is to question things, never question what so many millions of us could tell was patently fictional nonsense?  Why was it only afterwards, when it was too late, that the tough questions were asked?

John Pilger asked journalists the toughest question of them all: “What would have happened if you had done your job?”

What if the freest media in the world had seriously challenged George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld and investigated their claims, instead of channeling what turned out to be crude propaganda?

And they answered, in much the same way:

There is a very, very good chance we would have not gone to war in Iraq.

And this is coming from the most successful, well-respected journalists of nations which purport to honour the independence of the press as a pillar of democracy. But they didn’t even ask the most obvious questions.

In a managed democracy, war and deception go hand in hand. When all the facts are laid on the table, most wars just make no sense to the population that is being told to fight and pay for them. Consent needs to be manufactured through propaganda, so-called patriotism, fear-mongering, and fabrication. Because, when subject to a rational analysis, there is simply no case for war.

A question that’s never asked: ‘Who are we fighting, and why?’

In 2013, David Cameron wanted to take the country to war against Assad, and like Blair in 2003 was falling over himself with reasons for doing so. Was it because Assad is a ruthless killer of his own people? Or was it for freedom and democracy, to altruistically help the struggling revolutionaries of the Arab Spring? Unlike Blair, with Iraq’s invisible WMDs, he didn’t try to claim that Syria was a direct threat to the public. That would come later.

Ed Miliband, ruthlessly portrayed as a wimp in the media, did something bolder than many members of the Labour party are considering today and stood up to the warmongers. He whipped the Labour party and some rebellious Tories joined his position. As a result, Cameron lost his bid for airstrikes in Syria in 2013.

But a new, better, hate figure than Assad was waiting in the wings. It took a few years for the threat of Isis (Daesh) to emerge, and the mainstream media adored it. Beheadings, slavery, rape – Daesh’s actions seem almost designed to make good copy. That’s because they are.

Terror organisations and the mainstream media exist as symbiotic organisms, with Daesh feeding in a steady drip of videoed atrocities. The mainstream media, thrilled with this stream of horrifying new content, in turn raised Daesh’s profile: free advertising for the ISIS brand such as blue-chip companies could never dream of. This may also serve to explain why the media is always banging the drum for war; as businesses they thrive on the portrayal of violence, like the Hollywood film industry but the blood is real.

Daesh, a convenient enemy. But Putin, less so. 

Saudi Arabian oil barons bought Daesh oil with the West’s own petrodollars. Disenfranchised young men and women also bought into the Daesh brand by going to work for them in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Lebanon, and in the heart of fortress Europe. And a culture of persecution and harassment by security services, as well as widespread poverty due to austerity in Europe and a complete devastation of infrastructure in Iraq and Libya, created the ‘market’.

But will the RAF really bomb Syria, in what can only be a foot-in-the-door move towards a ground invasion, in order to depose Daesh? And having supposedly removed them from the area, as if that would be easy, would the Western arm of this shaky coalition just withdraw, leaving Assad in charge?

If the objective is still to depose Assad, as it is for Turkey, then isn’t Cameron really countenancing a proxy war with Russia? Already their planes are bombing ‘our’ moderate rebels, the ones generously supplied with rocket launcher to take out their tanks and who seem to be defecting to Daesh in large numbers. In this national non-debate, just who would the British public be agreeing to bomb or not to bomb?

How reassuring it would be if if this were just a transitional madness, a brief break in peace, after which relations between Europe and the Middle East could fully expect a speedy return to sanity. But the truth is that this sort of string-pulling, side-changing, ever-shifting power politicing has been a mark of British foreign policy since colonial times. This is where that telling amnesia comes back again. Very few people are aware that Iraq was a British colony and Syria a French colony. And the extent to which this colonial relationship is a thing of the past under present global neocolonialism is debatable.

What about Saudi Arabia, Britain’s best friend?

Of course, Daesh are ruthless killers, hell-bent on reviving every despicable institution from slavery to stoning. That’s what happens when you bomb a region back to the stone age. Their particular brand of Salafism is a direct export and political tool from one of Britain’s biggest Middle Eastern allies, Saudi Arabia. There, stoning is common, and slavery while officially illegal is in fact open and commonplace. Many of the enslaved people captured by Daesh are being sold to rich Saudi clients.

But behind the Salafist Jihadi dogma, a powerful propaganda tool that bans argument and free-thought, is a bureaucratic state apparatus, hierarchical and well organised. How did Daesh grow such a state so quickly? Out of thin air? No.

Daesh has a cabinet, in the upper echelons of its government 18 out of 19 members are ex-members of the Ba’athists, the party that ruled under Saddam Hussein. That’s why the ‘Islamic State’ looks so much like a state, and so little like Islam. When the invasion of Iraq occurred, the vast apparatus of state officials, generals, soldiers, the secret service, and the Imams recruited in the 1990s as a tool of state control, didn’t disappear. They just went underground.

usisgov
Source: Captured in raid by Iraqi military. For this reason, details may not be up to date. https://www.quora.com/How-is-ISIS-structured

And if Daesh is the ghost of Saddam Hussein returned to haunt Iraq, where did he, and the Ba’ath party come from?

From freedom fighters to terrorists

Iraq, in particular, bears the mark of the British empire with Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath party coming to power in the overthrow of the Hashemite monarchy –  the puppet monarchy installed in Iraq. But a few years later at the height of the cold war the British government decided that they preferred Saddam to his pro-communist opponents, so they backed him and his rise to power.

Hussain and the Ba’athists were not communists, though their founding intellectual figure, Michel Aflaq, read Marx at the Sorbonne in Paris. In fact, there was a strong and paradoxical western influence on these Middle Eastern nationalists, who wanted to see the Arab world united from Libya to the Iranian border. Afleq was not a soldier, but a dreamer and his dream ran deep – he and his contemporaries wanted to see a revival of Arab culture, a return of the great civilisation that gave the world medicine and mathematics. They felt their world had been under the boot of Europe for too long, and that through revolution they could break free. In essence, they were a rebellion against the colonial powers.

Not only is the Daesh hierarchy steeped in Ba’athism, but Assad is also head of the Ba’ath party of Syria, and the task of erasing the artificial line dividing Iraq and Syria has been on their to-do list since the 70s. The reason that so many people are willing to fight British, French and American armed forces in the Middle East, is that as a region it desperately wants independence from its former colonisers.

We have a choice to make

The West seek allies to advance its interests in the region, but the fact is that none of these interests are legitimate. There is no rightful claim to the resources of the Middle East, nor to a say in how things are run.

We, the questioners of this bizarre global regime, have a choice, to let our governments continue this drawn out colonial war indefinitely, or demand that they leave the Middle East completely, and stay away. We must give the Arab world a chance for independence. This means withdrawing support for Saudi Arabia, and also Israel. We may fear the consequences, but they’re better than the consequences of letting this disastrous agenda continue.

In response to the attacks in Paris, there needs to be a focus on security Europe-wide. The attackers were EU nationals who had lived here for years, they are more a product of European society, with its inequality and persecution, than of Syria’s.

And the biggest thing governments can do to ensure everyone’s safety is to rebuild trust with our Arab and Muslim communities who have been unfairly demonised. The followers of Islam among us deserve good treatment as equal citizens, whose freedoms under the law matter no less. Let us put an end to this ill treatment of a mistrusted and excluded minority, imprisoned without trial. This behaviour on the part of Western governments has been hypocritical and shameful.

Let’s leave religion alone. This has never been about Christianity versus Islam, as both Blair and Cameron tried slyly to insinuate in their calls for war. Rather it is about an old and insipid European idea, that the world beyond our borders is somehow lesser, a wilderness in need of taming, full of primitives who can’t manage their own affairs and who threaten us by their very existence. And year-by-year, the media plays out the same pantomime, with the same villains and the same heroes, and the same monsters always behind us.

We’ve tried everything in the Middle East – invasion, patronage, colonialism, divide and rule. The one thing we haven’t tried is allowing its people to determine their own destiny.

If you would like to know more about the UK’s role in the world today, these are excellent and informative documentaries:

The War on Democracy – John Pilger

Bitter Lake – Adam Curtis

Featured image by the author.

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