Even though the “War on Terror” branding has somewhat faded away, the “war” it once alluded to remains the go-to justification for ever more U.S. military interventions abroad. What are the strategic, moral, and political lessons from this sustained deception?
The Geneva Conventions1 state that war should be waged for purely defensive aims and exclusively target military personnel and resources, not civilian populations. In other words, the act of war has to be justified in its intent as well as in its methods to avoid the risk of becoming a criminal adventure, bound to indefinite destruction and suffering.
From a military standpoint, this makes sense. The basis of the art of war is to incapacitate the enemy by strategically using the resources at hand, not to blindly wipe out human lives. Therefore, whether you consider war a legitimate option or not, civilian populations should remain immune as much as possible from its consequences.
Even though these moral and practical requirements might never be met by any war, they at least form the principles by which citizens can question the “War on Terror” still waged today in their name. The phrase itself, as everyone remembers, was coined by President G.W. Bush’s administration in the aftermath of 9/11. Many years later and at the time of this writing, the “War on Terror” is officially involving the U.S. in six different battlefields (Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan) as well as in numerous unofficial operations in several parts of the world. Not only is there no end in sight to this war effort but the vast majority of U.S. lawmakers are adamant it should continue to expand.
Aren’t they missing something?
Since hundreds of billions of dollars are spent each year for defense purposes in general and, officially, against terrorism in particular, it would seem that the number of battlefronts should eventually decrease, not increase. Yet, the U.S. military budget keeps expanding year after year.2 Arguing that it is because of the way terrorists operate only implies that they have been calling the shots all along. Simply put, a war that drags on for years and requires ever more resources is not a war that you are winning. In that respect and in regard to the financial bottomless pit it fell into since its inception, the “War on Terror” is then an absolute record failure in military history.
But this is just the money part. Beyond the fact that this money is missing for more constructive and much-needed purposes at home, one can only wonder about the millions of people abroad whose lives have been dramatically impacted by the “War on Terror” to this day. Were they all terrorists? And how to ensure a stable future for them, and consequently for us, when the “War on Terror” has toppled down their political and economic infrastructures in its wake?
On both counts of money and humanity, it is then fair to say that the so-called “War on Terror” comes at a very high price. The question is why. Three complementary aspects have to be addressed in order to answer it: Is the “War on Terror” a means proportionate to its end? What makes the public subscribe to its never-ending nature? What is the end game of a war that is not geared toward its eventual cessation?
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According to the National Institute of Justice—the research, development, and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice—“Terrorists are those who support or commit ideologically motivated violence to further political, social, or religious goals.”3 This, of course, immediately calls into question the predominance of a military approach in fighting terrorism. In the perpetual game of hide-and-seek played by small units of fiercely determined individuals, the involvement of regular troops can only be ill-suited. Fighting terrorism has to be based on intelligence work and, most of the time, be dealt with on an individual basis. By its very nature terrorism does not intend to defeat armies but to provoke mayhem in civil societies.
Terrorists see themselves as the fighting units of an ideological cause. They hope that it will eventually prevail thanks to a growing number of sympathizers, who will also see violence as the most effective way to convey their exclusive view of the world. To people in such a state of mind, violence is a purifying act against what they see as the world’s filth. There is no genuine rationale toward a positive goal on their part, but an absolute stance cutting them off from the rest of humanity in a purely nihilistic attitude. If and when this attitude translates into the seizing of actual territories and the persecution of populations, the case for military intervention can possibly be made with all due care. But dropping bombs and sending troops will never address the psychological twist through which acts of terrorism appear as a sacred duty to those who commit them.
Aside from the shortsightedness of the military option as an answer to terrorism, another important consideration to keep in mind is that war is not an end in and by itself. From a basic moral standpoint, war can only be a temporary segment of a broader solution toward lasting peace. That terrorists do not want peace is not relevant in the real scheme of things; sick and crazy people will always exist. What is relevant is that we have numerous allies to rely on for peace and security: all the people of goodwill who long for both of these in the countries we so casually bomb and invade. It all comes down to our faith in Humanity—or the lack of thereof. Violence may appear as the ultimate answer to those who do not share this faith, while the rest of us understand that war can never be a substitute for building peace and that violence for the sake of violence is counterproductive.
Almost all elected representatives in the U.S., unfortunately, just see in terrorism their opportunity to compete on who will appear the toughest on crime. Instead of a genuine vision constructively framing a way out of the issue, all we get from them is a motto saying “As long as there are terrorists, we will be out there fighting them!” As if by some supreme decree, the “War on Terror” is allowed to break free from any basic requirement of intellectual honesty and moral integrity, equating terrorism to a pest that simply needs to be eliminated. Quite logically, then, questions regarding the deeper and broader genesis of terrorist organizations are brushed away. Yet, holding dear some self-satisfying moral indignation rather than trying to understand why such organizations came into existence is not part of a sound strategy against them.“Everybody's worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there's a really easy way: stop participating in it.” (Noam Chomsky) tweet it!
Most importantly, this empty-headed stance against terrorism bears two very worrying consequences. Intellectually, the scope of action is implicitly broadened to everything and anything that might suggest even the slightest suspicion of terrorism. It is an all-out war that deserves all possible means to be used in all directions. Morally, war is not only being seen as a solution—how dubious that might be in regard to addressing the real causes of terrorism—but as the absolute and definitive answer against an absolute evil. The “War on Terror” is a crusade as much as it is an effort to defeat an enemy.
As a matter of fact, where conventional conflicts always end up with the realization that building peace is far more effective and far less costly for populations to be secure, the “War on Terror” deliberately takes the reverse course. Breaking free from both reason and rationality, the less it works as a military answer the more we are supposed to go at it. Said otherwise, the very reason why this strategy should be questioned is masqueraded as proof that we haven’t done enough of the same yet. All with little or no consideration for the human cost. What is the inner logic of such an attitude?
Many wars have depicted the other side as evil; it is the oldest trick in the book of warfare. Killing people is not a natural thing to do; dehumanizing them is for that reason almost unavoidable and is most conveniently done by referring to them as the “enemy”. As a category, the enemy is an indistinct and diffuse mass where no individual can shine as a person with a name, a life, a family, or projects. They all deserve to be eliminated—the sanitized expression for killed—if that’s what it takes to get rid of their threat.
The “War on Terror” adds a twist to this already debilitated take on humanity. In its narrative, we are confronted with individuals whose mindset is to kill us for the sole purpose of doing so, not for any political or territorial gain in particular. Though correct to some extent, this assertion is nevertheless superficial and can only reinforce the mental depiction of the enemy as intrinsically bad. By its sole name, as many people have noticed, the “War on Terror” doubles down on this sense of moral outrage and the emotional blindness that goes along with it. In contrast to wars of the past, the “War on Terror” overtly asserts its abstract nature. Our enemy has no specific identity because it is “Terror” itself. The call to human fear and ignorance used in this way has proven to be a masterful feat of propaganda, delivering its poison and allowing business as usual in the alleys of power like no other in modern history.
How stupid are we supposed to be? Evil does not stand on its own and, as die-hard and crazy as they might be, terrorists do not suddenly appear out of nowhere. All of them belong to a singular context of life that, at one point or another, opened them to eventually be prepared to commit the unthinkable. We all perfectly know, however, that we can leave it to human madness as such, not exclusively to so-called terrorists, to commit the unthinkable. Opposing the forces of good against the forces of evil in an abstract and absolute way may be relevant in movies; in the real world it is an insult to human intelligence. But so goes the contemporary narrative by which the “War on Terror” justifies itself, the implicit message to the public being that the purpose is not to go from war to peace with actual people but to indefinitely fight against the forces of darkness.
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For what results? After having determined that military conflicts are not the proper answer to acts of terrorism and understood the deeply deceptive nature of the “War on Terror”, one could only assume that, at least, some goals have been achieved in the fight against of terrorism. It is a matter of perspective. Terrorists have been killed, but primarily chasing an abstraction is something very different than achieving well-defined and legitimate goals.“War does not decide who is right but who is left.” (George Bernard Shaw) tweet it!
On the ground, the “War on Terror” battlefields have by and large nothing to do with preventing terrorist attacks. Let’s just take three major examples. Very few Afghans can make sense of the U.S. military presence on their soil for so many years and the bombing of so many villages. No Yemeni has ever been part of a terrorist plot abroad; nevertheless, they collectively suffer the wrath of the “War on Terror” in unimaginable ways. If most Iraqis do not regret Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, they certainly do that they once had a country functioning at the highest modern standards in all other respects. The “War on Terror” doesn’t care. For a very long time now it has proven to be above any strategic accountability, as well as above right and wrong as ordinary people understand it.
Ironically enough, the metaphysical deception of supposedly fighting terrorism as a war against some “Axis of Evil”, as Bush senior and junior would have said, contradicts the very definition of terrorism given by the National Institute of Justice itself. Stating as it does that “Terrorists are those who support or commit ideologically motivated violence to further political, social, or religious goals” specifically leaves open the terrorists’ ideological background. Practically speaking—since this is exclusively how acts of terrorism should be looked at—what unhinged individuals believe in is not the issue; that they resort to violence to further their cause is.
As opposed to this practical approach, using “Axis of Evil” and other PR concocted abstractions to seek its justification defines the “War on Terror” itself as an ideological endeavor. Going after terrorists as some kind of pest to annihilate furiously looks like a bad excuse for casually bombing entire innocent populations on the pretext that it is worth the cost. Since they need an ill-defined enemy, ideological wars cannot have focus; they thrive on the opposition of good against bad, not on being an adequate, self-restrained, and temporary answer to an ill.
Knowing to whose benefit this ideological vehicle is being propelled is another question that we will get into later. For now, let’s just acknowledge that this gives leeway to proclaiming as it goes who the “War on Terror” should strike next. Anyone, or any country for that matter, may end up on the terrorist list for no other reason than they are a convenient target. Contrary to the defensive goal of preventing the blind violence of terrorist attacks, which counter-terrorism is about, the “War on Terror” ideological banner makes us the lunatics.
The effective answer to terrorism, on the other hand, is necessarily two-fold. One aspect is counter-terrorism itself, led in a professional way toward precisely and legitimately defined targets. The other relates to the conditions that breed or help terrorism. In its principle, the first aspect is no more subject to questioning than police work in our streets to keep everyone safe. The second requires to define a specific strategy. How counter-productive is the “War on Terror” in this regard?
First, pretending to stop actual terrorists by bombing the whole neighborhood where they are supposed to be hiding may not be the most efficient to go. It could be said, on the contrary, that in its own twisted way the “War on Terror” wins by making sure that enough people will be tempted to retaliate because of their accumulated resentment and desperation. And where to turn, other than toward those who are already organized and have a doctrine giving credence to the idea that we are the evil ones? The “War on Terror” victory is not one for peace but it is a victory indeed. One for the fake legitimization of the trillion of dollars spent in its name.
The intelligence work has to go all the way in individually determining who, where, how, and when. Yet, when considering the dozens of people killed and maimed almost daily4, it seems that the “War on Terror” decision process in choosing a target lies more often than not on a “just in case” or “you never know” basis. The indiscriminate spying of American citizens by their own government proceeds from that same logic of casting a broad net of suspicion instead of following leads. But there again, the real goal is internal: convincing people that a surveillance state is the only solution for their security.
Second, why not drying up terrorists’ finances as much possible? It has long been established that 9/11 had entirely been paid for by officials and members of the royal family in Saudi Arabia5. As a matter of fact, their strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam has led these affluent individuals to support terrorist groups for decades, all over Africa and the Middle East as well as in other parts of the world. Still, for some reason that makes sense only to people in power, Saudi Arabia is held as our main ally in the region against terrorism. That not only adds insult to injury for the families who directly suffered 9/11; it also keeps money flowing in for various terrorist groups. By this measure alone the “War on Terror” is a sad joke.
Third, local populations plagued by the presence of extremist groups in their midst would be significantly helped by encouraging the democratic evolution of public life in their country. Rather than bombing them or toppling down their government, diplomatic action could work wonders by favoring international connections with actors of good faith. If they saw us as allies against a common threat—which, by the way, takes a much higher toll in these populations than it does in western countries—such collaboration would certainly deprive would-be terrorists of the passive resignation they locally benefit from. This would require, of course, that we believe ourselves in the universality of democratic values.“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” (Malala Yousafzai) tweet it!
Finally—though this is far from a complete list—why not tackling terrorism at its root? For the trillions of dollars that the “War on Terror” has cost by now, how many schools have been built? If we truly thought that terrorism can and must be defeated, why do we not start where everything begins: Education? Sending girls to school is surprisingly inexpensive in all countries where we are waging the “War on Terror” in such a formidable way. If we had started to help to do so a generation ago, there is no question that the conversation about the threat of terrorism could be very different today. But as it might have become clear by now, this not what the “War on Terror” is about.
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From a strategical standpoint, the “War on Terror” sold to the public is nothing but a sham. Invading and bombing countries can hardly prevent the planning of terrorist attacks by a loose web of highly motivated individuals, let alone address the psychological, historical, and ideological roots of their motivation. The official justification of chasing evil, moreover, can only allow for all and any war crime on the pretense that our cause is right. Finally, and in total contradiction with its alleged end, this fantasized crusade forbids working on effective solutions to uproot terrorism. By ignoring the real context of things, the “War on Terror” shows that terrorism is just its pretext.
What is, then, its end game? The quick answer is the Military-Industrial Complex’s financial profits. This is certainly a valid one, but there is more to power than just the practical aspect of greed. Since Christopher Columbus, the drive of Western “civilization” to ruthlessly assail “savages” has found its moral justification in seeing the world as “Us” vs “Them”. This fundamental form of ignorance naturally leads to having a judgment about all and any difference with “Them”. For those with the best technology, the Europeans, this has translated into a sense of superiority and the long-held belief of an innate right to treat other fellow human beings as property.
Most importantly, the pernicious logic of “Us” vs “Them” does not stop at the white man’s feet like an obedient dog. Its fearful streak of dominating or being dominated pervades all collective and personal interactions, and this is what the “War on Terror” is primarily about. Started on the farce of Irak’s WMDs, its genius—for people in power—is to exert domination over the American citizens themselves.
The “War on Terror” is, in effect, a contemporary variation of a process notably theorized by George Orwell in his famous 1984 novel. Based on the credible background of terrorism, the message is that we ought to be scared because we are facing “evil”. And since “evil” is not by itself a precisely defined military target, it seems to make sense that the more forces we put out there, the more we will have done what needs to be done for our security. This prank works like a charm in any war but, unlike conventional wars, the “War on Terror” has no definite national or political boundaries. Its lie, then, is not just expedient; auto-perpetuating itself, it signs the intent of a totalitarian state. Understand: a form of government where people are being kept fearful, ignorant, and indoctrinated without having to coerce them. To break free of these three distinct mental traps, we have to lay out their inner mechanisms.
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In 2006, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young set off on their Freedom of Speech Tour in support of Living with War, a Young solo album written in response to the Iraq War. That they got a mixed reaction from some of their audiences is an understatement. When exiting concert halls, many people were seen yelling their disgust and contempt at what these talented and otherwise beloved musicians had dared to do against the sacred cause of the “War on Terror”. “Our country is in grave danger!” was the common rallying cry of that anger, expressed on the background of the 9/11 collective trauma. That Iraq had no connection whatsoever with what had happened on this day was obviously irrelevant to the upset public.
This was many years ago. Since then the “War on Terror” has moved to so many places other than Irak that it has, at the same time, left the front scene of mainstream media. Like a smoldering fire, the raging fury of its heydays has been replaced in the public’s mind by the passive acceptance of its mere necessity. With or without its fancy label, however, the “War on Terror” has kept recklessly expanding and expensing. How is it that so many people still do not question where it’s going and why?
It only takes to blow on the ashes to see the fire flaring up again and to get at least part of the answer. The first mental trap alluded to earlier is that the less an idea is questioned, the more, paradoxically, it can gain emotional strength and appear as a valid one. Certitude is a feeling, and this is why the “War on Terror” bears its own evidence beyond rationality. Most of us have simply been accustomed to just reacting in fear and anger when it comes to terrorists and terrorism.“After all, without understanding yourself, what basis have you for right thinking?” (Jiddu Krishnamurti) tweet it!
A healthy state of mind, by opposition, is to effectively question what we believe, aware that the mental images and their emotional connections our brain provides us with might just be that—images and conditioned feelings. If we do not educate and train ourselves to do better than just following the easy trend of reactions most familiar to us, all hell can break loose. Fear and anger are powerful emotions. Let’s just ponder here, as an example, that no crime is ever being committed without its perpetrator thinking he is justified to commit it.
This delusional state of mind is, unfortunately, the norm rather than the exception for the human psyche. It takes time and dedication to learn how to pay attention to the very making of our mental storytelling and its emotional roller-coaster. But if detaching ourselves from our own emotions in order to cultivate the capacity to witness them is not easy, it is nevertheless simple. Most of all, it has the resulting benefit of putting things back in their true perspective and ourselves into rationality.
When looking deeper into it, the emotionally charged “War on Terror” mantra reveals its logical fallacy. The absolute reality of “evil” that it implies only stands if one takes the statement that bad is bad at face value. The word becomes the thing simply by ignoring the effective and complex conditioning of bad actions in real life. For this reason, the simplistic narrative of inherently good people against inherently bad ones—raising bad, or evil, as being its own principle—is not only morally questionable but also plain stupid. What shape, form, or identity “bad” as an absolute reality can have? If you honestly ask yourself this question, you will soon realize that the answer is none. By the sole virtue of willful ignorance and as we daydream it, bad is supposed to exist in and by itself on the mere fact that we can spell the word.
This is no small matter. This is all the difference between sanity and insanity. Indulging in the demonization of others is all we need to eventually feel that it is ok to wipe them out of the face of the earth. Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn wrote to that effect in The Gulag Archipelago “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” Sanity requires making ourselves available to our own humanity, and this sometimes amounts to a feat of genuine heroism. Insanity, even though miserable, is easy.
Solzhenitsyn’s direct rebuke of the logic at play with the “War on Terror” comes from a man who suffered long years of imprisonment in Siberia and witnessed the mass deportations and absurd deprivation of freedom imposed by the communist regime on the Russian people. When he secretly wrote these lines, he was physically and morally enduring what the Soviet apparatus was designed for, from Stalin’s callousness to the daily brutality of the guards in the detention camp. He saw this madness for what it is: a call to deepen our understanding of its roots in all human hearts. By giving space to humanity, his own as well as that of all actors in the command chain of the Soviet dictatorship, he set himself free from the suffering caused by the sterile contemplation of his own predicament. Nelson Mandela also took this deep and vital spiritual path. This was happening at a time when, ironically, Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were considering him to be a terrorist.6
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Abdicating our critical judgment and letting ourselves be convinced of absolute truths that don’t exist is a dangerous path. We may easily come to believe in the evil nature of whoever we don’t like, simply because we don’t know them and do not want to. But letting our emotional reactions speak for us and condemn others has only one net result: making us the criminals. Even if we do not personally commit war crimes or condone them, we will be prone to passively accept that they are being committed in our name. Solzhenitsyn and many others have shown the way out of this mental trap, which is to reflect on our common human nature. As opposed to indefinitely convincing ourselves with fearful generalizations that hurt us, opening up to intellectual knowledge and moral compassion—which are both at the exact opposite of excusing actual crimes—is the only way to sanity.“Education can, and should be, dangerous.” (Howard Zinn) tweet it!
By the same token, words matter. The way we phrase a reality or categorize people makes them become, in our own mind, what we say they are. A choice of words, therefore, is never neutral or innocent, especially when these words are delivered publicly. In that sense, the “War on Terror” slogan is not just a fan branded over the flames of fear and anger, it is also the weaponization of ignorance. Let’s look at the specific workings of this second mental trap.
When a “War” is declared on human scourges (war on drugs, war on poverty, etc.), the primary intent is to have a self-satisfactory and broad catchphrase under which everybody can rally. Yet, on its own the reference to war does not hold anything aside from a martial stance. It carries the image of a wiped-out field but says nothing about what should come next, why, and how. Using this image in a slogan, then, is deliberately distracting from the real nature and context of the issue to be dealt with, as well as from its effective means of remediation.
Most of the time the purpose of slogans is simply to mobilize people’s attention, and they might prove useful or even necessary in that regard. But when falling for the “war” seductiveness, they subvert their own cause. There is a difference, in that sense, between a slogan that invites to consider a specific issue in a specific way—such as, for instance, “Divest from fossil fuels” about climate change—and a “war” slogan. The former leaves open the question of the relevant actions to be taken in order to achieve its declared aim; the latter buries the specifics under the empty notion of “war” as being itself the solution.
Unfortunately, a “war” slogan is not just ineffective; it has also dire consequences when it comes to actual weaponized endeavors. Operating in denial of the specific causes and conditions that created the issue in the first place, the reference to “war” used so lightly can only serve one purpose: giving comfort in the idea that it is ok to wipe out the field where the problem stands. If that includes wiping out actual people who happen to be on that field, well, they had it coming. There are, more particularly, three characteristics that make “war” slogans so effective at enticing this type of moral and intellectual abdication.
First, what is at stake is to allow emotions to auto-justify themselves and run wild. The reference to war is used to mean the entire rejection of something unacceptable and virtually dangerous. After all, why would you ever try to give the issue of drugs or terrorism a context and to understand how they came to be? Isn’t it good enough to know that they cannot be tolerated?… With such mindless logic, obviously, the more you denounce the “bad guys” without having a clue of what you are talking about, the more you feel entitled to join the crusade against them.
Second, even though running high on emotions, a “war” slogan has no real target. What is “terrorism”? If it is about terror and blind violence for political purposes, the U.S and its allies are the terrorists in chief. Almost 10 million (!!!) people facing starvation in Yemen in 20187 remind us of this fact every day, or so they should. The word “terrorism” is so vastly expansive that the Nazis were not shy of using it as one of their main propaganda tools. Thrown in the air independently of any valid context, it is meaningless. The same deception is at play with the “War on Drugs”. Pharmaceutical companies have knowingly caused a heroin usage epidemic in the U.S, subsequently to the forceful lobbying for pain killers. Shouldn’t they be prosecuted at least as harshly as pot dealers? Where is the so-called “War on Drugs” in that instance when, by now, millions of people need help and reparations from a criminal industry?
Third, and as a consequence, a “war” slogan necessarily turns into an excuse to discriminate entire categories of populations, who become the necessary targets of the so-called “war” righteousness. Without any other specifics than “terror” or “drugs”, the enemy is flagged based on highly visible but loosely relevant criteria. This is how all Muslims end up being potential terrorists in the public’s mind, or black and brown people drug dealers.
The lesson behind so righteously declared “wars” is, therefore, that they are meant to function in the exact opposite way than the one told to the public. Their ill-defined targeting opens a window for established powers to do on the side—be it inflicting terror on people or turning them into drug addicts—the precise thing that they so emphatically condemn officially. The main benefit of these PR stunts is, obviously, that they foster the bigotry and prejudices needed to perpetuate among the public a deeply flawed perception of the issue at stake.
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A slogan is not supposed to inform people or make them brighter, but to be a mental tool inciting the crowd to move in a certain direction. The alternative is clear: or we make use of our critical mind and find the reasons why we would follow that direction, or we let our ignorance petrifies itself under a seductive but empty formula. All dictators and demagogues know that ignorance is slavery. This is why they love it so much and enshrine it in these little words artifacts that slogans are; it saves them a great deal in their fight against a debating space.
We are on our own, so to speak. No one can make us free but ourselves, by painstakingly committing time and effort to a critical approach of the truth. This is good news since, as rational beings, we have no choice but to be free. The “bad” news is that we have to walk the walk and reach the bottom of our ignorance in order to be able to shine some light on what we do not know and, from there, decide on what is valid or not. Critical thinking is not for sissies.“The corporate grip on opinion in the United States is one of the wonders of the Western world.” (Gore Vidal) tweet it!
There are, therefore, two types of ignorance. One that knows itself and is the very principle of knowledge building, and another which substitutes emotions and mental images to any attempt of making sense of the words it uses. In our contemporary public space, the latter feeds itself off of two things: slogans and mainstream media. Encapsulated dumbness and propaganda.
It might sound a little harsh to equate mainstream media to propaganda tools but let’s simply remember, for instance, that in 2006, at the time when Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young went on their Freedom of Speech Tour, 43% of Americans8 still believed that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11. This speaks volumes about the utter disregard for professional journalistic standards in mainstream media. That 43% of people would still believe, years later, a blatant lie that had been immediately contradicted by each and every armament expert outside the Bush administration amounts to a genuine feat of propaganda, even if only by default. Propaganda is, consequently, the third mental trap to be examined about the “War on Terror”.
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Far from pointing at them as “Fake News”, according to the slogan in vogue to delegitimize journalism as such, we need to constantly assert the necessity of the media’s investigative work and their duty to speak truth to power. The point, precisely, is that either journalism works this way or it becomes an objective ally of the powers in place.
As for the term “propaganda”, there is no need to see one day from your kitchen window brown shirts parading in the street to grasp what it means. Propaganda is the ordinary train of things for mainstream media. Namely, making sure that the narrative delivered to the public remains in line with political or economic interests. What matters is that an echo chamber is being created, through which facts and data are either distorted, ignored, or downright invented to make room for talking points that are repeated ad nauseam. This is how skills and resources are used in mainstream outlets to bow to powerful interests or to perpetuate outrageous cultural prejudices and have the rest of us following suit. By and large, the “War on Terror” has been a masterclass in propaganda. If you regularly watch the news (?) on TV, brace yourself, then, for some actual facts.
The majority of victims of terrorist attacks worldwide are Muslim.9 And although most of these attacks occur in Muslim-majority countries, there has also been in recent years an increase in attacks targeting Muslims in Europe, in the United States, and in other countries. Crackpot zealots come from anywhere. The two consecutive mass shootings that occurred at mosques during Friday Prayer on 3/15/19 in Christchurch, New Zealand, are just but one of the most dramatic examples.
Aside from terrorist attacks, Muslims endure a steady onslaught of hate crimes in many parts of the world. The fate of Rohingyas in Myanmar made headlines in 2017 because it amounted to a genocide attempt. But who knows that in Germany more than 3,500 (!) aggressions on refugees, largely Syrians, and refugee hostels were perpetrated in 2016 alone?10
Regarding specifically terrorists attacks, journalists are actually much less likely to cover those not committed by Muslim perpetrators. As illustrated by a study published online in January 2019, researchers at Georgia State University and the University of Alabama found that attacks committed by Muslims get 357 percent more media coverage than attacks committed by other groups.11
And still… The Jewish organization ADL, among others, reminds us that “over the last decade, a total of 73.3 percent of all extremist-related fatalities can be linked to domestic right-wing extremists, while 23.4 percent can be attributed to Islamic extremists [in the U.S]. The remaining 3.2 percent were carried out by extremists who did not fall into either category.” adding that in 2018 “right-wing extremists have been linked to at least 50 extremist-related murders in the United States”.12 For their part, Islamic extremists scored 0 fatalities in the U.S. that same year, fortunately. The Hate Map put together by the Southern Poverty and Law Center organization illustrates these numbers plainly and simply.
These facts should not in any way exempt from closely monitoring organizations such as ISIS or their remnants, but they as clearly offer another perspective on the fight against terrorism than the one commonly given by mainstream media. So, don’t blame yourself if you are somewhat surprised by these ratios; you are probably not someone in charge of broadcasting the news. At a deeper level, and like all other military aggressions in history, the “War on Terror” needs to justify itself to posterity. It is then no wonder that more or less subtle arrangements with the truth about terrorism will take place. No propaganda, no war. This has been well understood since WWI.
As of today and given the dire consequences of the “War on Terror” for so many people, pushing its narrative requires a high level of cynicism as well as a genuine indifference to human suffering on the part of law-makers, journalists, and armament industrialists who do so.
True cynics are rare, though. This is why they do us a great favor by provoking the rest of us—and especially those in charge of being a public voice—to face the moral filth of our own lies when looking for an excuse to resort to violence. Great criminals in history like to consider themselves as a special kind of heroes, namely those who dare to tell the truth that nobody else has the courage to accept. Not only do they confront the natural moral leaning most of us refer to, however hypocritical it might be, but when they act criminally they do not shy from their deliberate responsibility in the demise of others.
To illustrate the point, let’s ask a cynic who was not afraid of his cynicism. This is the confession that Gustave Gilbert, the prison psychologist during the Nuremberg trials, received from Goering, Hitler’s Reich Marshall:
– “Why, of course, the people don’t want war,” Goering shrugged. “Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”
– “There is one difference,” I pointed out. “In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the United States only Congress can declare wars.”
– “Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country.”
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[To be continued]
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- A clear introduction to the Geneva Conventions can be found at: https://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/geneva-convention
- See as well: U.S. Military Spending/Defense Budget 1960-2020 For an overview of the war on terror financial cost, year by year: https://www.thebalance.com/war-on-terror-facts-costs-timeline-3306300
- Link: https://www.nij.gov/topics/crime/terrorism/pages/welcome.aspx
- Excellent overall information source on the human cost of the war on terror: https://watson.brown.edu/costsofwar/
- Intelligence Matters – The CIA, The FBI, Saudi Arabia, And The Failure Of America’s War On Terror, by Bob Graham and Jeff Nussbaum. See also: Read the long-classified ’28 pages’ on alleged Saudi ties to 9/11
- Why Nelson Mandela Was Viewed as a ‘Terrorist’ by the U.S. Until 2008. https://www.biography.com/news/nelson-mandela-terrorist-reagan-thatcher
- More than 80,000 Yemeni children may have died from hunger, aid group says
- Poll: Iraq war could wound GOP at polls: http://www.cnn.com/2006/POLITICS/09/06/iraq.poll/index.html
- Source: https://www.statista.com/statistics/236983/terrorist-attacks-by-country/
- More than 3,500 attacks on refugees in Germany in 2016: report. https://www.dw.com/en/more-than-3500-attacks-on-refugees-in-germany-in-2016-report/a-37719365-0
- Why Do Some Terrorist Attacks Receive More Media Attention Than Others? https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07418825.2018.1524507
- Right-Wing Extremism Linked to Every 2018 Extremist Murder in the U.S., ADL Finds. https://www.adl.org/news/press-releases/right-wing-extremism-linked-to-every-2018-extremist-murder-in-the-us-adl-finds