“Did the war on terror open the door for the Arab Spring?” a very interesting question that was raised this evening during the BBC’s Question Time Program.
I’ve never really been a big supporter of the idea that war opens any form of doors, other than the door of misery, pain and destruction. However, it is an unfortunate truth that there are cases where the use of force is necessary and acceptable in order to achieve a balance that is more favourable to the greater good of mankind.
I think the primary concern of this question is to establish exactly what the words “War on Terror” exactly mean. It is essential to establish the key target of the war on terror and trace any link between that target and the basis of the Arab Spring itself. I also believe it is important to ask if the efforts and gains, if any, of the War on Terror could have strengthened the cause of the Arab uprising.
The words “War on Terror” I think are an unfortunate choice of rhetoric used by an administration that was lead by a man who saw himself as a crusader for the good of his nation. The words have been used far too loosely by far too many people in power to explain or justify military actions that under any other guise of explanation would be questionable. I would also suggest that the largest players in the coalition in this war have been very selective in their choice of targets, primarily focusing in on one or two groups that challenge the safety and security of these key players. It is for this very reason that I suggest it is paramount to establish exactly who the legitimate target of this war is in order to understand its impact globally.
In a layman’s eyes the “War on Terror”, would generically indicate that Terrorism of any kind in any theatre would become a credible target of such an effort. In a global world you would imagine that such a war would be co-ordinated by a universal governing body such as the United Nations, NATO or some such similar organisation. I feel it would also be fair to assume that any direct action taken against any terror organisation would be unilateral and while secrecy and operational safety should be of paramount concern, it would be naive to assume that collateral damage to civilian targets would not be a consequence of this war. For this very reason alone, it is necessary for the governments and powers in leadership within the various theatres of operation to be in agreement with any action undertaken in order that accountability falls squarely at the feet of the people who can and should be held accountable for the results of such actions.
However the grim reality is far from this idealistic assumption. The War on Terror in reality is a coalition of like minded governments with a very specific target in mind. Ultimately, I do not believe that the war on terror is aimed at any particular human target, but more specifically, using a disguise and subtle subterfuge, was more aimed at the control of a commodity. I highly doubt that there would ever be any evidence of this, however I don’t for one moment believe that as the wider public, we were fooled by the reasons given for going to war in the regions that were selected to raid under the guise of the war on terror.
If you consider the two main theatres of operation in the War on Terror, admittedly pre 9/11, Al Qaeda clearly had a strong and powerful presence inAfghanistan. Targeting their training camps, going after arms dumps and strongholds in the Tora Bora region seemed sensible. Weakening the Al Qaeda threat was the apparent goal of this operation, and the desire to bring Osama Bin Laden to justice was something we all bought into. Perhaps however we didn’t really bother to look beyond the headlines in the press, or the stories being spoon fed to us as the general public by the media.
I am not implying that the press were implicit in the greater deception that was going on through the War on Terror. I firmly believe that seasoned politicians skilled in the world of “Spin”, are masters of hiding the truth and manipulating the media to their own advantage. Do not believe that people in the know within media circles were blind to what was going on in powerful places, but I honestly believe that the world of international politics and press coverage work hand in hand on the basis of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours. In this way the public are fed the story that powerful individuals, organisations and governments want the public to see.
Had we been shown pictures of homes burning, innocent Afghan people being killed and routinely displaced from their homes and lifestyles, children without clothing, water, schooling, shelter and very often wounded or killed by our forces actions, would we have been so keen to allow the War continue in our name? War is a cruel and dangerous game. Civilian casualties are inevitable and when you start to fight a guerrilla war against an enemy which does not recognise the conventions of war, innocent lives are unavoidably caught in the middle, frequently used as a human shield. Is this the type of warfare we would so readily have supported had its reality been blitzed across our screens.
In the ten years since 9/11 I am often struck by the frequency that those powerfully emotive pictures have been splashed across the front pages of our newspapers, or shown on the television news. Vast sums of money have been spent on telling the story of 9/11, discussing what went wrong, how to prevent another 9/11, listening to the heart wrenching personal tragedies that unfolded after 9/11. In stark contrast to this, how many times have we seen any footage of the disaster that has befallen the Afghan people? How many stories of personal suffering and great loss have we heard from the Afghan point of view? I mean let’s be honest for a moment; do we imagine that the Afghan people chose to allow Al Qaeda to set up in their back garden? Do we imagine that people, who have lived with conflict for over 40 years, chose to allow a dangerous and evil element of mankind to establish training bases in their nation?
Let us understand that for years the Afghan people had lived under the tyranny of the Taliban. Since their rise to power in Afghan politics in 1994 the Taliban inflicted an oppressive and violent version of Islamic Sharia Law, under which the people ofAfghanistan, especially the women were left with few if any rights, power to vote, or the basic freedoms that we take for granted in our society. Amputation, flogging and even death were common punishments for things as trivial as a word spoken out of place, right through the genre of crimes.
The fear imposed on the Afghan population was total and complete in that no one would dare consider an uprising against such an oppressive and violent ruling party. I think that in the first instance this is an indicator that anyone that accepts that the War on Terror opened the door for an Arab Spring fails to consider. Domination is not only a physical exertion of power over others; it is the mental state of mind of the people that fall under this domination.
We must consider whether the people affected by the dictatorship of these wicked people are capable of rising up. Is it in their blood to fight against their own people? Let us not forget that civil war is costly, ugly and means that families are often fighting against one another. In a community as tightly knitted as the Muslim community of the Arab Middle East, it is uncommon if not almost unheard of for civil war to erupt. Granted there are violent power struggles within the ruling elite of the area, however it is infrequent that the people feel capable of taking power into their own hands, so is it indeed possible that through the process of the elimination of tyrannical leaders through the Middle East that the people felt an empowerment?
I come back to my original point of the mobilisation of the popular press by political propaganda that convinced the population of the West that we had no alternative but to strike first in a pre-emptive measure in order to protect ourselves against the potential of another catastrophic civilian terror attack on our soil. I cannot help but feel that through the eyes of the media we were hoodwinked into believing that there was a clear and present threat against our nations.
Please understand that I do not for one moment want to suggest that the attacks of 9/11 were not a cowardly and despicable act against the innocent civilians of a sovereign nation. I do not wish to lend credence to the belief that attacks like 7/7 inLondonor the Madrid Train bombs, or theBalinight club atrocity are in any way legitimate or explainable. Terror is a wicked, cruel and cowardly attack by a weak and small minded few against a powerful nation through its innocent civilian population. There is no place for such evil in our world, and I support the idea that action is necessary to battle against the people that would choose terrorism as a weapon of war.
However, there is a right way and a wrong way to target such people. Taking the battle to the back yard of a population that on the whole is generally opposed to the actions and doctrine of such individuals only serves to radicalised another whole generation of young people. Watching their own families and friends killed in a battle to protect our people, a people the Afghan people have never seen, have never met nor care to think about only serves to create a new and vivid hatred of our society within a generation that have looked at Russia, Pakistan, the Taliban and now the West as wicked, violent and oppressive occupiers and dictators.
Is this serving the eradicate Terrorism or breeding a new and even more dangerous breed of terrorist? Al Qaeda are not stupid when they specifically target young vulnerable men that are easy to manipulate and radicalise with images and visual media of an occupying force that are seen to be causing massive casualties on their home soil. They are not stupid when they preach their message of hate among the youth and vulnerable within our own societies. They know that so called “Home Grown Terrorists” are the ultimate weapon in their arsenal.
It was common knowledge among leaders prior to 9/11 that there was an uncomfortable acknowledgement among Arab Nations that the Taliban regime was radical and far too oppressive in their leadership withinAfghanistan. So we are left to wonder whether diplomatic discussions between our Arab allies and our nations would not have lead to the Arab world turning on the Taliban and in effect using Arab power to remove an evil and ominous threat. It is questionable whether the Arab world would infact have gone to war to oppose the Taliban, but surely it would have been better to use an Arab lead coalition if this had infact not been possible?
It is also difficult to understand why when the Taliban offered to hand over Osama Bin Laden on the delivery of proof of his involvement in 9/11, that theUSAdeclined the offer saying that they would not negotiate with Terrorists? Does this mean that theUShad identified the Taliban as a part of the terrorist threat? That is something that has never been explained. In addition, I cannot help but wonder when you hear the US Political mechanism say that it has a mountain of evidence against Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden, why it was never used to bring the conflict in Afghanistan to a peaceful resolution and allow a lawful and criminal procedure to take place. Was it infact the case that theUSAfelt it was necessary to stamp its authority within the international community as a world leader and military super power that would not allow anyone to attack its people without suffering retaliation and humiliation of an occupation and regime change at the insistence of the American people?
Al Qaeda and the Taliban were very early on identified as potential targets of the War on Terror. Very quickly after the battle started in the Afghan theatre of conflict,Iraqwas identified as a clear and present danger under the assumption that its weapons of mass destruction could be used against a Western Nation. As Al Qaeda was fragmented and split up as their strongholds inAfghanistanwere obliterated, we begin to see the emergence of Al Qaeda in other areas of the world, more notably,Kenya, the Philippians,North Africa,Pakistan,Iranand various other hotspots around the world. However, Al Qaeda in these other locations have not been pursued as aggressively or fervently with military aggression as is the case with Afghanistan and Iraq.
War on Terror? The question mark begins to grow as the ten years since the world embarked on this war seeking to eradicate terrorist organisations spirals endlessly into the dust of our future. It is now widely acknowledged that the war on terror can never be won, nor should ever have been embarked on. Granted significant progress has been made through the elimination of powerful and evil targets, but at what cost? Personally I do not believe that the price paid for the removal of Sadam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden was the dawn of the Arab Spring. For that matter I do not agree that the cost in human lives both those of innocent Arab nationals, nor the lives of our precious and brave service personal should ever have been sacrificed on such a whim.
So am I calling the War on Terror a whim? After 9/11, the emotive pictures of human beings falling to their deaths from a burning hell of steel, and the knowledge that thousands of people were pulverised to nothing more than dust and bits of flesh and bones as the twin towers crumbled to the streets of Manhattan became a huge asset in the propaganda arsenal of a mighty nation. There were people within the American and Western political infrastructure that were itching for a war. It didn’t take much for the images of a London Red Bus or the knowledge that 52 people perished in the attacks on British soil to be used to emote the British public into outrage.
Cast your mind back if you would to June 1996 when the IRA detonated the biggest bomb on the British mainland since the war injuring 212 people. Over a wide passage of time, the IRA was and still is responsible for many of the worst atrocities of terrorism in theUK, however many of the leading perpetrators of violence on British soil in the name of the IRA are now serving time. In December 1988 the then dominant international terror group the PLO brought down a PanAm flight over Lockerbie inScotlandkilling 270 people. We discovered that the reality was that the terrorists had originated fromLibyaand in 2001 a Libyan national was imprisoned for the attacks. These are just two instances of terrorism inflicted on our nation, where no war on terror was perpetrated in response to the attacks, and while long and detailed investigation was necessary, people have been brought to justice. IRA bombers are still currently serving time in British Jails, and while political leadership saw fit to release al-Megrahi the Libyan locked up for the PanAm atrocity, it is proof that a diplomatic and legal channel is possible for justice to prevail.
So let us consider these points then. Firstly, what is the real target of the War on Terror? Personally, while Al Qaeda is defiantly a target of our military efforts, I cannot help but believe that the real target of the war on terror was the control of oil within theMiddle East.
Secondly, Al Qaeda were based in Afghanistan, and while there was a lot of rhetoric and sabre clashing from Sadam Hussein at the time, was Iraq ever really a threat to our national safety? I think that we can all agree that after it became evident that weapons of mass destruction never existed, that the war inIraqwas anything but a war on terror. Personally I do not for one moment feel safer as a result of the war inIraq. Truth be told I worry more about the future as terrorism becomes more technically advanced and tricky to detect. Had politicians been more cautious about entering into war, and taken the time to work out a logical and internationally agreeable response to the attacks by Al Qaeda, we would not be faced with the mess of an Iraq in tatters, insurgency activities launched against innocent Muslims, international soldiers and anyone who would oppose the terrorists, who see themselves as working, sleeping and living in very real danger.
Thirdly, I can honestly say that I firmly believe that had we the public been shown the reality of the war on terror, its effects on other innocent people and the overall reality of its success that we’d instantly have withdrawn our support and approval of these actions. The American, British and other nationalities involved in the coalition are on the whole, beautiful, generous and kind people. We are proud and have a strong sense of morality. I do not believe that had the people in power been honest with us that the war would ever have taken place.
So does this make the war on terror a whim? Yes. It is clear that in haste the authorities of the day mislead us, the governments of the time were eager to show their muscle on an international stage, and in the wider game of intimidation and domination we have gained nothing, if not ultimately put ourselves in even greater risk.
Now if I am able to sit down and come to this conclusion, it is not worthy of even asking if as a result of this fiasco of the war on terror that the Arab people looked at what was happening and thought, hang on, we want a part of this. Do you honestly imagine that the Egyptian people looked at Iraq and thought, “Hmmmmm, Iraqi people are democratically free, but live under constant threat of political persecution if suspected of being an insurgent, live day to day wondering whether the next insurgents suicide bomb is going to take them into the blackness of death, or lets be honest, where they are going to find work, survive, get a home or build a life” and thought, “Hell yeah, we want some of that!”
Are we expected to believe that the Libyan people thought, “Right let’s oust Gaddafi and descend into a tribal feud that will tie up our nation for generations to come”? Are we meant to believe that the Syrian people relished the idea of rising up against one of the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East with the idea that the sacrifice they would have to endure in order to gain their freedom? Is a noble and diligent quest for freedom and the destruction of evil worthy of giving credit to the war on terror? No, the Arab people are a sophisticated, knowledgeable and dynamic people. It would be foolish to imagine that through the actions of the western world, the Arab people felt emboldened to stand up for their rights. This is a process of revolution, and revolution takes time, effort, long term hardship and oppression.
Africawitnessed a revolt against the oppression of the colonialist invaders through the 20th centaury. Did that mean that the rest of the world watched and thought what a wonderful idea, lets rise up against our oppressors? It did not. Liberation struggles began within each nation at a time that the people reached a point where they couldn’t stand the torture of a second class lifestyle under a powerful minority any more. The birth of the guerrilla struggle is nothing new. Throughout the ages of mankind’s history, there are catalogues of examples of the underclass rising up against an oppressive ruling class. Human beings by nature are tolerant beings, but pressed hard enough we are liable to break under the pressure and seek to find a way to freedom.
I think that the true reality of the Arab Spring is born in the roots of human history. Education and the modern capabilities of social media offered a unique opportunity for like minded individuals to call out for a change. The call echoed through the massed population and the seeds of a revolution were sown, the fight for freedom was born. No one specific conflict can be pointed to as the initiation of the Arab Spring. Personally I believe that the Arab people are far more capable and resourceful to have to wait for the West to show them the way. It is not impossible for a people of any race, capability, situation to come together in opposition to their treatment at the hands of a brutal regime. I do strongly believe that for this to be facilitated, there must be a channel of provision, a facilitation of capability for the uprising to take force, and I also have an inclination to believe that in many ways the West has chosen to allow the Arab Spring to gather pace in yet another attempt to gain power and influence in a theatre where they are desperate to gain control of the oil resources.
My reason for this conclusion lies in the African theatre, where we find ruthless, cruel and violently oppressive dictatorships that have been allowed to remain in power unchecked for decades.TunisiaandEgyptwere left to struggle through their revolution unassisted while the British were quick to rush to the aid of the Libyan rebels in order to protect their investments in Libyan energy reserves. Terrorism inSpaingoes unchecked. The Chinese treatment ofTibetis tantamount to extermination, and the genocide that continues inDarfurwith a complete unwillingness on the part of the powerful nations that called for the war on terror to fight in the side of the righteous is scandalous.
This two faced hypocrisy is something that so many Arab people have pointed too, and it is this very factor that totally discredits our actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and any other theatre that we enter into. Till we gain an understanding that we must win the hearts and minds first and foremost through due diligence and leadership by example we will never win this battle to gain understanding. In our daily effort to bridge the gaps of culture and religion, we struggle to be tolerant and accepting of different attitudes and points of view, yet on an international front we destroy the complete perception of being a multicultural and tolerant society.
As we reach the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, I look back and my heart screams for those who were stolen from our hearts and lives inNew York. As I sit and ponder the results of the war on terror my heart aches for the lost lives of the Arab sons and daughters that died for no fault of their own other than to be alive in a war torn country. Most of all my tears run for the lives of service men and woman that have been sacrificed for a futile cause. To learn that educated men today acknowledge that we can never win the war on terror, despite the fact that we have significantly weakened Al Qaeda and disrupted their capabilities makes me wonder how much it was all worth. Does this admission of incapability infact now mean that now that we have begun this struggle that we will always have to be vigilant and in a war ready state or actually at war in order to protect our way of life? Are we really safer today than we were on that fateful September morning? When does the tit for tat vengeful sting go out of the situation and two sides bitterly opposed through our actions lay down their arms and discuss their differences to seek for a realistic and logical solution? When do we stop loosing our loved ones and stop the bloodshed? These are the real questions we need to be asking our politicians. These are the answers we want from our leaders. But I guess more than anything, I would really love a frank, honest and truthful admission of guilt from the people that stormed into conflict without giving long and realistic thought to the consequences of their actions.
As a rule of thumb I believe there is one question that a politician should always ask himself or herself before making a decision to commit their nation to conflict. The question is very simple and is only two words long. This is the lesson we all need to learn, and the question that outweighs all other considerations: …..”What If?”