The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, May 25, 2003

Anatomy of conflict
Shelley Walia

Unholy Wars 
by John Cooley. Pluto, London. Pages 268. 'A313.99.

Unholy Wars "GOOD shall overpower evil." "We will smoke the barbarians out of their holes." These are George Bush’s utterances after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers and before the Afghan war, liturgical yet predator-like. The meanings attributed to words can never have a one-hundred-percent guarantee, being always contaminated by their opposites. Structuring and categorising reality is not all that simple. Can we really attain a more realisable view of things in this world of mere representations underpinned by nothing but the non-transparency of language? Thus we distrust the very notion of reason, and the idea of the human being as an independent entity. This deep-seated skepticism burns away the intellectual ground on which Western civilisation is built.

Can one say that one type of terrorism is not another type of martyrdom? Is slavery or apartheid not white terrorism? The air attack by the Allies during World War I on Dresden killed thousands sleeping in their beds. The hooliganism of Israel in the Middle-East is another example of the American-backed unleashing of the blood-dimmed tide. If five, 500 innocents are dead in America, what about the deaths of 50, 000 infants in Iraq who perished because of the embargo on the sale of life-saving drugs? The crusades in the Middle Ages were not very different from the present-day genocide.


September 11 is as much a blemish on human history as any of these macabre and horrendous events, and has touched many people quite deeply. But what have the governments in different parts done to counter such violence that has been the cause of the devastation of complete societies and the extermination of millions of citizens all over the world? Rhetoric from America is extremely belligerent. There is practically no mention by the American state of why some people become so aggrieved with the US as to turn ‘extremist’ and willing participants of such attacks. Even if military action does go ahead, without a clearly definable enemy when do ‘we’ know that ‘we’ve’ won? The problem can only be addressed by taking the world as a whole, by finding the cause, by talking and thinking, and not by heading straight into foolhardy military genocide repeatedly which will be a catastrophic mistake at a critical moment. It must be remembered that terror invokes terror.

In this painstakingly and systematically researched book, John Cooley locates Islamic militancy not only in the conservative and oppressive societies of the Third World, but, in the words of Said, places it within the context created by "powers like the United States, which has tried to have and eat its cake in all ways, manipulating the militants one day, abandoning them the next, inadvertently keeping them in business, then attacked by and finally going to war against them." To fight the Russians in Afghanistan, the US trained Islamic militants, "using the intelligence services of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan." Such are the ‘one-night stands’ in international relations, or as Said emphasises "strange love affairs that go disastrously wrong" and that inadvertently move towards creating an enemy as antagonistic as the Soviet Union or the Islamic world.

The resentment felt against the USA would hardly disappear, argues Cooley, if it’s foreign policy was liberalised—the World Trade Center could have been Canary Wharf. I hope that one positive thing that this terror might generate is the realisation of the interdependency of the world—if they want market liberal democracy in the West, this is going to be at the expense of the South, and they then either have to consider themselves at war constantly with less fortunate countries as their anger erupts (which would be for absolutely no one’s benefit). Poverty could be one of the central causes of escalating terrorism.

The book draws attention to the ugly events of imperial high-handedness that are often put across as false illustrations of benevolence and high ideals of bringing democracy to these fanatical followers of Islam. The nature of American institutions seems to give her the license to intervene whereas a country like Iraq could never be permitted to do so. Rumsfeld can be nonchalant about looting in Baghdad, but is unable to imagine similar attacks on museums and the White House in Washington. Limits to what the outsider can do in the affairs of another country are never understood. Vietnam, Bosnia, or Somalia is no lesson to the framers of foreign policy.

Ironically, when one American enemy disappears, a search for another begins. With Russians unthreateningly mute, it is now the turn of international terrorism, Hispanic narcotrafficers, Islamic fundamentalism, or Third World instability. Respectable scholarship refuses to show its concern and remains subservient to the standard doctrinal camouflage of America’s real motives. The hard fact the USA and other NATO members have to face is that acts of terrorism, atrocities, and a generalised culture of violence arise from and are shaped by their way of life and by what at least some of them believe in. Jorge Luis Borges is not far from truth when he writes, "I foresee that man will resign himself each day to more atrocious undertakings; soon there will be no one but soldiers and bandits." To this end America has a bigger hand than any other oppressive regime.