We Are in Pitiless Times: ISIS Bombings and US Militarism
November 16, 2015 Vijay Prashad / Open Democracy & Jessica Desvarieux / Real News Network
A week of horrible carnage -- bomb blasts in Beirut and Baghdad and cold-blooded shootings in Paris. Each act of terror left dead bodies and wounded lives. How does one react to these incidents? After Paris, macho language about "pitiless war" defines the contours of leadership. Little else is on offer. It is red meat to our emotions. No-one remembers the Western and Saudi-backed World Muslim League, whose job was to destroy the forces of secular nationalism in the Arab world.
We Are in Pitiless Times Vijay Prashad / Open Democracy
(November 15, 2015) -- A week of horrible carnage -- bomb blasts in Beirut and Baghdad and then the cold-blooded shootings in Paris. Each of these acts of terror left dead bodies and wounded lives. There is nothing good that comes of them -- only the pain of the victim and then more pain as powerful people take refuge in clichéd policies that once again turn the wheel of violence.
How does one react to these incidents? Horror and outrage come first. They are instinctual. We grieve for the dead: the young parents of Haidar Mustafa (age 3), who shielded him and spared his life as the explosion in Beirut tore them to shreds.
In Paris, the terrorists killed Djamila Houd (age 41), who worked for Isabel Marant, at a cafe. There are faces to each of the victims. Each of these faces will appear in the press and on social media. They will smile at us, telling us about their best days and their promise. None of them had an active role in any conflict. Their murder had nothing to do with them.
We will be bewildered by the incomprehensibility of these deaths -- the waste of life in the face of death. We will search for explanations. It has already become clear that the perpetrators in all these bombings -- Baghdad, Beirut and Paris -- is ISIS or "Daesh", the group that controls a large section of Iraq and Syria as well as parts of Libya and Afghanistan (with fraternal groups in Nigeria and Somalia).
ISIS, like al-Qaeda, is tentacular -- it does not have a head, only limbs that are inspired to act in fury. If it is ISIS, why are they striking in these places?
For those in the west, the bombings in Baghdad and Beirut will not take up too much time -- after all, the western media seems to suggest that bombings of this kind are routine in these places; they are almost natural. In October, 714 Iraqis died in acts of violent terror.
These monthly numbers remain the same if we go backward to 2003, when the US invaded Iraq. For eleven years, then, Iraq has faced such an enormous death toll, with the population in a comatose trauma. There is little regard for the people here, whose death and life in death -- occasioned by Western wars -- is now a footnote to global concern.
French president Francois Hollande reacted to the Paris attacks with tough words: "we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless." But the west -- including France -- has already been at war against both ISIS and groups like ISIS.
Who else will be attacked? Will the strategy change? Will the western leaders be able to take a longer view than one constrained by the emotional reaction of the present and be able to see past the reflex of more war?
Would the Western intelligentsia and its leadership be able to acknowledge that some of the strategic choices made in the west have only exacerbated animosities and conjured up a great many threats? It is unlikely.
Macho language about "pitiless war" defines the contours of leadership these days. Little else is on offer. It is red meat to our emotions.
Where did these ISIS attackers come from? The temptation is to blame religion or race, to take the eye off more substantial areas of investigation. Amnesia is the order of the day.
Each terror attack on the west resets the clock
Each terror attack on the west resets the clock. No-one must pay attention to the western and Saudi-backed World Muslim League, whose job was to destroy the forces of secular nationalism and communism in the Arab world in the 1960s and 1970s. All those who were on the good side of history fell to the sword, destroyed as anti-Islamic in order to protect the Gulf Arab emirates and the Saudi kingdom as well as western interests in oil and power.
We must not mention the Western and Saudi assault on Afghanistan in the 1970s, before the Soviet intervention, to cut down that nation's communist republic. No one should talk about the creation of the "mujahideen", whose core contained a brutal kernel that exploded into al-Qaeda.
Why make so much of the wars on Iraq and then on Libya and Syria, which wrecked states and turned them -- like Afghanistan -- into playgrounds for the "jihadis", children of the Cold War?
Disbelief will greet those who remind us of western violence, from the aerial bombardment of Libya in 1911 to the bombing of Libya in 2011 -- untold numbers dead; "it was not war," wrote a journalist in 1911, "it was butchery." Few will go to their shelves and pull out Leila Sebbar's La Seine etait rouge, a searing novel about the French government's murder of hundreds of pro-Algerian protesters in Paris in October 1961.
You will read these words and say, are you blaming the people who died for their own death? You will be outraged at me. You will not be outraged at the history of these countries, of the death they have occasioned, of the misery they have concocted and then denied. You will not ask, why did these thousands of Europeans go to Syria and fight these last few years, or why the French foreign minister -- Laurent Fabius -- seemed reticent to place the al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria on the terror list?
You will not ask who influenced these young men, sanctified by their governments to go fight in a war elsewhere and then inspired by Saudi-funded clerics who told them not only to fight in Syria but to go home and create mayhem? You will think all this is made up, that I want to justify the massacres.
There is no justification here. There is only the recitation of a pitiless history that is buried under official clichés.
After 9/11, the Bush administration decided to ignore its own history. It was almost a crime to suggest that the wars to come would merely exacerbate the problem -- throw fuel on the fires of hatred. A few days after that violence, I wrote, "nothing good comes from terror. It never did and it never will."
What I meant was not only the terror of those who attacked the US, but also the terror that was to follow. What came of the Bush wars is not the resolution of violence -- Mission Accomplished, as Bush arrogantly said -- but endless wars.
Is there another way? After the Mumbai Attacks of 2008 (164 killed), the government of India did not rush to war. It opened a slow investigation into the attack and unraveled the plot and its execution. Diplomatic discussions opened with Pakistan, which is accused by India of harboring the planners of the attack.
The file remains open. Patience is the order of the day. No hasty missile strike could make up for the attack in Mumbai. It would only have escalated the conflict further and drawn India and Pakistan into an intolerable war. It is far better to pursue the case prudently.
You will not be outraged at the history of these countries, of the death they have occasioned
All parties agree that the problem of ISIS and al-Qaeda does not afford easy answers. The west has not been willing to confront its main west Asian allies -- the Saudi kingdom and the Gulf emirates, whose funds continue to lubricate the networks of extremism and whose sheikhs continue to agitate young minds with dangerous ideas -- including hateful sectarianism.
No western country has put sufficient pressure on these countries to do anything. No western country has asked Turkey's ruling party to set aside its own domestic ambitions and allow the Kurdish militias to fight ISIS freely. Not one western power has admitted that their continuous logistical support of proxies of Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey has fed the cycle of extremism.
No one has taken seriously the call from the UN member states to revise trade agreements and financial policy so that their countries are not suffocated into chaos, the breeding ground of terror.
In 1992, Mali's liberal leader Alpha Oumar Konaré asked the west to forgive his country's odious debt. He could not lead his people out of division and poverty if he had to keep paying the banks every month, and if his farmers got no relief from adverse trade policy. No one listened.
The US brushed him off, saying "virtue is its own reward" -- meaning, pay up. Konare could not move his agenda. He left office. The country imploded. Al-Qaeda took Mali's second city, Timbuktu. The French bombed them in 2013. The country remains shattered. It is the outcome of a series of bad policies. Nobody bothers with them. They are only interested in al-Qaeda of the Maghreb and its movements.
Western policy-makers are like little boys playing with their little toys. They don't see the human suffering and the terrible outcomes of their terrible polices.
We are in pitiless times. There is terrible violence. There is awful sadness.
This is for Adel Termos, of Beirut, who gave his life so others could live.
Vijay Prashad, who teaches at Trinity College, is the author of The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South and editor of Letters to Palestine: Writers Respond to War and Occupation -- both from Verso Books
Transcript: Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Jessica Desvarieux in Baltimore.
Lebanon is holding a national day of mourning following twin bombings for which ISIS has claimed responsibility. On Thursday evening 43 people were killed, and more than 200 wounded, in a southern Beirut neighborhood.
This came a day after President Obama said that the US strategy has "contained" the Islamic State, and news that Syrian state forces with the assistance of Hezbollah fighters made advances near the city of Aleppo, pushing out the alleged Saudi and Qatari-backed group Al-Nusra Front.
There is much going on in the region, and our two guests are here to give us more context. Joining us from Beirut, Lebanon is Rania Masri. She's an activist and professor of political ecology in Lebanon. Also joining us is Vijay Prashad. He is a professor of international studies at Trinity College in Connecticut. Thank you both for joining us.
RANIA MASRI: Pleasure, thank you.
VIJAY PRASHAD: Pleasure.
DESVARIEUX: So Rania, you're there on the ground. Let's just get the who, what, when, where, and why situated. What information do we know about the attack, and do we know why this neighborhood was attacked, and by whom?
MASRI: Well, we know yesterday at approximately 6:00 PM there was one individual who either strapped a bomb onto a motorcycle and then exploded himself, or was on the motorcycle as it was fleeing and exploded himself.
Seven minutes later, after people had gathered to see the wounded and to see the casualties, another individual exploded himself. So there were two bombs that were seven minutes apart at approximately 6:00 PM.
In the sense of where this is, this is a very congested, low-income neighborhood beside one of the Palestinian refugee camps of Bourj el-Barajneh. And I have to stress that this is a very, highly congested neighborhood. That this attack happens, terrorist attack, happened at approximately 6:00 PM, which means people had been home from their work. The children had been out from school. People are out at the marketplace purchasing things for dinner. The streets are heavily, heavily congested.
There was also a third gentleman--gentleman, a third terrorist, who also attempted to release a bomb, but he was captured by the individuals. We do have a third man who has been captured by the authorities. The first bomb was launched close to a school.
The second bomb, there was an attempt to launch within a mosque where people had been gathering for a religious prayer. And fortunately, he was apprehended by a civilian, [Adel Termos], who embraced him. Just actually hugged him, to release the number of casualties. I mean, he hugged a suicide bomber. So a lot of the explosion went off in himself. So [Adel Termos] is now regarded as a national hero, and also another victim of this terrorist attack.
And as you stated earlier we have 43 people that have been killed, and almost 239 that have been wounded.
DESVARIEUX: Rania, how are the Lebanese people responding to the news that ISIS is claiming responsibility?
MASRI: There is absolutely no surprise. This is not the first time that ISIS has attacked our capital, not the first time it's attacked our neighborhoods. There were car bombings last year, in June of last year, that ISIS claimed responsibility for. There were other attacks in 2013.
Some of the comments that we've been hearing by people saying, you know, we're back to the same cycle of car bombings and suicide terrorist attacks, and other people have, have been saying, you know, we actually thought that this had been over. That the one thing that we could be guaranteed in this country of ours is a semblance of security. But absolutely no one is surprised that it is ISIS that's behind this act of terrorism.
DESVARIEUX: All right. Let's get into the geopolitics of all of this. Vijay, I'm going to bring you into the conversation. Because much of the Western media is describing these bombings as evidence that the civil war in Syria is increasingly becoming a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. And we have outlets like Al Jazeera, Reuters, they're describing this area that was attacked as "a Hezbollah stronghold." So Vijay, what do you make of that narrative?
PRASHAD: Well, you know, the issue of using a term like Hezbollah stronghold, or as Reuters headline put it, Hezbollah bastion, essentially buys into the narrative of ISIS. That's ISIS's storyline, that they want to come into certain parts of Lebanon and Iraq and conduct these kind of bombings in civilian areas to terrorize certain civilian populations.
It's important to mention that at the same time as this bombing took place in Beirut, a bombing was going to be underway in Baghdad, which happened a few hours later. And that was a bombing in southwest Baghdad which killed about 25 people. That bombing took place at the funeral of a fighter who had been fighting against ISIS. That was also a neighborhood, largely a Shia neighborhood.
So there is a narrative that ISIS is putting out, which is that they want to bring pain on sectarian lines against the Shia population of greater west Asia. And that narrative is essentially being mirrored by the press.
By, you know, whether it's a New York Times headline or Reuters headline, by calling a civilian neighborhood a Hezbollah stronghold or a Hezbollah bastion, is to give credence to the ISIS storyline. I think that's very disturbing, and people in these media outlets need to really think seriously of whether they're telling the news or they are spokespersons for ISIS.
DESVARIEUX: Rania, I want to get your take on this as well. What do you see the media doing in terms of this story?
MASRI: I agree with everything Vijay has said. And I want to add to it that there is a really heavy problem with this language that journalists have been using about stronghold and bastion, particularly because it creates an image in people's minds that we're dealing with a military barracks. We're not dealing with a civilian neighborhood.
To an extent that yesterday when I was being interviewed by another journalist from the US he actually asked me if there were any civilians that were killed in this terrorist attack. So we get this image of the military, which thereby excuses and justifies the death of women and children and men and family, that forgives them and excuses them. And it places the onus of their death on Hezbollah itself.
So it's a very problematic discourse that not only promotes or not only uses the language of ISIS, as Vijay so eloquently portrayed. But it's also deeply, deeply racist. That it's also--in our own deaths you have this Western press that refuses to humanize us even in our deaths. Not only when we're living are we not humanized and are we neglected and disregarded, and there's all this racist language against us, but even when we die we're not even recognized as people.
DESVARIEUX: Yes. I mean, really, really powerful statement there, Rania. And I want to talk about now, that you know, the Lebanese people, as you said, they see this as terrorism, no doubt about it. Are they going to be calling their governments to step forward, and is there a heightened call for more of a broad coalition to really fight ISIS? And I mean, they've been saying this.
But I mean, not like fight ISIS the way Turkey fights ISIS, by also fighting the Kurds. I mean actually coming together and no longer supporting, for example, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supporting these jihadist elements. Vijay, I want to get your take on that.
PRASHAD: Well, look. You know, it's very interesting that in 2013, when Jabhat al-Nusra and the Abdullah Azzam Brigade conducted bombings inside Lebanon, it was a time when the Saudi-backed rebels were facing a pinch inside Syria.
And they retaliated in a sense against the Lebanese people. Over the last several months these Saudis and Qatari proxies have had a fairly free reign inside Syria. And you haven't seen them retaliate with this kind of vehemence or frequency.
Recently, of course, with the Russian entry into Syria there's been a great deal of disquiet among these proxies. It's very likely that this bombing, which of course has taken some time to prepare, is part of that frustration. It's not a sign that the Saudis or the Turkish and Qatari proxies are feeling confident.
On the contrary, I see these kind of bombings as a sign of deep frustration, and an attempt to extend the war beyond the boundaries of Syria because they feel pinched and they feel, you know, hemmed in where they are.
DESVARIEUX: Okay. Rania, I want to get your take. What do you think is policy that leaders should really be enacting if they're really thinking about the safety of their populations?
MASRI: Well, if the question is directed to the Lebanese politicians, I'm personally grateful that this is one of the few times that all our Lebanese media channels--and we have quite a few. You know, we have 13 daily papers and around 6 television channels in the country, that were all unified and we all recognized that this heinous act is an act of terror. And it is an act of terrorism.
So with that I, you know, I'm grateful enough that at least we have that coming out of Lebanon. But I think the question is what is the role of the United States and what is the role of the US allies here? And if the United States government continues to claim that it actually wants to fight a war against ISIS, or does it simply want to contain ISIS, does it simply want to limit the casualties and the victims of ISIS brutality to, you know, a few brown people here and there? Is that the goal?
If the goal really is, and I argue it's not, but that's another issue, but if the goal really is as certain US officials declare, that they actually want to stop ISIS, then they can easily do that by halting the financial pipeline that supplies ISIS with its weapons and with its funds, and putting pressure to stop purchasing oil from the oilfields that ISIS has captured, both in Iraq and in Syria.
That becomes one very, very powerful tool that they could use. Not only could they be putting pressure also on their allies, the Saudi Arabians and the Qataris, to just stop the financial and diplomatic and military support of ISIS. I mean, there's a lot that can be done if the United States and their allies were actually sincere in wanting to defeat ISIS, but I claim that they're not at all.
And what they want to do is arguably exactly what Republican candidate for Senate and -- Republican candidate for Senate from Pennsylvania, Everett Stern, who may be a bit lacking in tact but I would say is quite honest in representing certain US policies where he says, and I quote, that Hezbollah and ISIS continue to bomb each other.
And he actually celebrated the terrorist attack yesterday, and he said, and I quote, Hezbollah terrorists were killed and he hopes there are many more bombings. Is this the mere policy and the mere ideas of a crazy man running for Senate from the state of Pennsylvania, or is this actually the undercurrent policy of US foreign policy throughout the region?
DESVARIEUX: Yeah, and just putting us back on the track of endless war, endless military intervention. Rania Masri, as well as Vijay Prashad, always a pleasure having you both on the program. Thank you so much for being with us.
MASRI: Thank you.
DESVARIEUX: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.
Vijay Prashad is professor of international studies at Trinity College in Connecticut.
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