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News :: Human Rights
Fox News and Terrorist Propaganda - Why Russell Brand is Right in his Youtube video
10 Jul 2014
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Comedian and movie star Russell Brand recently posted a video in which he played a segment by Fox News host Jeanine Pirro about the rise in Iraq of the terrorist group ISIS, and periodically interrupted the segment to respond to her remarks.

Pirro’s segment was a fear-mongering, wardrum-beating diatribe. Emphasizing each instance of the word “bomb” with a finger jab, she boomed:

“My resolution? Air strikes. Bomb them! Bomb them… Keep bombing them. Bomb then again and again!”

When she later referred to ISIS as a “fanatical terrorist organization,” Brand turned the accusation back on Pirro and Fox News, which he said is itself “a fanatical terrorist-propagandist organization,” more dangerous than even ISIS.

“That — I’m not being sensational — that is more dangerous than ISIS. That’s attitude. That’s far-reaching. That’s affecting millions and millions of people.”

Pundits like Pirro do play a big role in whipping up a war frenzy in portions of the public. And the U.S. government’s prosecution of its wars is indeed terroristic, as Glenn Greenwald recently argued in an interview with Shep Smith, another Fox News correspondent:

“When we invaded Iraq, we called our invasion ‘Shock and Awe.’ The purpose of it, Shep, was to do so much violence that we would terrorize the civilian population into submission, to surrendering. And we indiscriminately bombed Baghdad –we certainly didn’t try and kill civilians — but huge numbers of civilians were killed.”

The airstrikes Pirro calls for would surely kill civilians, not just ISIS fighters, as well.

And Obama’s “smarter, more targeted” foreign policy has been, in some ways, even more terroristic than Bush’s was, although not as murderous. In vast regions of the Muslim world, innocent people live under the constant threat of sudden attack. At any moment in the day, a drone strike might come from out of the blue, like a thunderbolt from a capricious Olympian god, and snuff them out. At any moment in the night, JSOC storm troopers might burst into their homes like vindictive Furies, and gun them down or disappear them into a secret prison.

The terror is heightened by the ominous distant hovering and the unnerving buzzing of overhead drones. The dystopian nightmare of trying to survive under the menace of robotic aerial manhunters is no longer merely the stuff of science fiction films and comics, like the The Terminator, The Matrix, and X-men: Days of Future Past. For many innocent people, the U.S. government has brought the nightmare to life.

Avoiding any involvement with insurgents or terrorists will not avail them, or allay the terror. Bad intel, unbeknownst physical proximity to targets, and “pre-crime,” no-ID, “signature strikes” have meant the dismemberment and death of countless innocents.

Of course, Fox News chickenhawks don’t actually prosecute such terrorism. They only espouse it, and get their twisted kicks by participating in it vicariously. So, rather than ISIS, a more apt analogy to Pirro and her fellow warmongerers at Fox News and elsewhere would be Anwar al-Awlaki, the pro-terrorism Muslim preacher that the Obama administration hunted and assassinated with a drone strike, even though he was an American citizen, and the administration has offered no evidence that he was directly involved in any actual terrorist activity. Awlaki gave incendiary speeches intended to motivate attacks that would kill innocents, including innocent children; but then, so do Fox News pundits (with a few exceptions, like the heroic Judge Andrew Napolitano). Awlaki was no more deserving of a drone strike than are government-terrorism-fomenters like Pirro, Bill Kristol, and John Bolton. Warmongering Fox News and talk radio pundits are the Anwar al-Awlakis of imperial terrorism.

One may object that, even if U.S. foreign policy has been tragic, the government’s terrorizing murder of innocents is less culpable than the jihadists’, because the former is “accidental,” whereas the latter is purposeful. For example, when the Obama administration also drone-bombed Awlaki’s completely innocent 16-year-old son Abdulrahman at a barbecue, officials tried to excuse it as an “accident,” because he wasn’t the actual target of the strike. Robert Higgs has refuted the fallacy that such “collateral damage” can be considered “accidental.”

“When U.S. forces employ aerial and artillery bombardment — with huge high-explosive bombs, large rockets and shells, including cluster munitions — as their principal technique of waging war, especially in densely inhabited areas, they know with absolute certainty that many innocent people will be killed. To proceed with such bombardment, therefore, is to choose to inflict these deaths.”

Think about it this way. If you take a drug, knowing the side-effects it will have, then you have chosen to take on those side-effects. You wouldn’t say that you “accidentally” made yourself drowsy when taking a Benadryl. The fact that the side-effects weren’t the purpose of the drug makes them incidental, not accidental. Similarly, if you launch a missile campaign that you know will cause collateral deaths, you have chosen, as Higgs says, to inflict those deaths. The fact that they weren’t the purpose of the campaign does make them collateral; it doesn’t make them accidental.

To put it another way, if Dick Cheney saw a quail behind his friend, and intentionally shot through his friend to get the quail, that would be attempted murder, and not an “accident.” A non-corrupt court wouldn’t let him off just because he only wanted to eat the quail, and not his friend.

Fatal collateral damage, is, as Wikileaks has termed it, “collateral murder.” And therefore, state terrorism is no less culpable than non-state terrorism. Furthermore, warmongering punditry is no less despicable than preaching non-state terrorism, and the latter is no more criminal than the former. Neither are criminal, but both are despicable.

In fact, imperial warmongering punditry is actually more deplorable. It is less surprising, although it is absolutely no excuse, when individuals who have seen their people, and even their loved ones, murdered, starved, crushed, and humiliated by a brutal empire to become so desperately vengeful that they endorse retaliatory acts of criminal brutality. Again, this is absolutely no excuse, and does not in the slightest justify what they call for.

But when media elites, living in the lap of luxury and security and nowhere near desperation, vindictively call down hellfire upon the heads of innocents abroad, it is gratuitously malicious to an incredible degree. Awlaki was a bad man, but imperial warmongers are beyond the pale.

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The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - Did Bin Laden Win?
10 Jul 2014
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Osama Bin Laden’s goal in 9/11 was to suck the US into Afghanistan and Iraq, sparking a regional conflagration that would sweep away the imperial legacy and establish a new caliphate. Over a decade later, this plan is still on track. As he led his jihadists triumphantly into Mosul and declared an emirate on Iraq-Syrian territory, ISIS ‘caliph’ Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced that the 1916 secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between Britain, France and imperial Russia was at last being dismantled.

The US and Saudis now face an intractable dilemma.

For the US, allowing the local al-Qaeda rebels to consolidate their hold on Sunni Iraq and northern Syria means the complete failure of their post-9/11 strategy of creating a new Middle East under their hegemony. For the Saudis, it means risking the very existence of the Saudi state itself.

Sykes-Picot and Saudi Arabia

All of the Middle East states, including Saudi Arabia, were founded as a result of the disintegration of the Ottoman Caliphate at the end of WWI and the Sykes-Picot Agreement that effectively abolished the Ottoman caliphate (Turkey’s new secular leader formalized this in 1924), dividing it into British-French “mandates” and eventually nation states. The prickly Saudis did not suffer the humiliation of direct occupation, but they followed the imperial agenda.

Saudi control of the Arabian peninsula was not what the British had in mind. The British had hoped that the Hashemites could consolidate power over the holy cities Mecca and Medina. They nominally ruled Mecca at the time—Hussein as Emir of Mecca (1908–1917) and his son Abdullah, as deputy for Mecca from 1909–1914 in the Ottoman legislature. In 1917 Hussein was internationally recognized as king of the Kingdom of Hejaz.

Against all odds, the Saud tribe, followers of the ultraconservative Wahhab, defied the British and occupied Mecca in 1924, using an elite corps of jihadists—the Ikhwan—which Saud leader Abdul Aziz organized in 1912 for this purpose (not to be confused with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood founded in 1928). The British had no choice but to accede to this fait accompli, and abandoned their original plan involving the more westernized Hashemites.

However, the Ikhwan jihadists were then betrayed by Abdul Aziz and his new patrons—yes, the very same British—in 1929. The Ikhwan were not happy with Sykes-Picot, which the Saud leader accepted, as it allowed him to establish a tribal monarchy (under imperialist hegemony) to govern the Muslim world.

The Sauds and even more so the Ikhwan were the ISIS of the day—ruthless fighters who slaughter their enemies as ‘unbelievers’, determined to impose their Wahhab-inspired austere Islam on all Muslims. The Sauds were known for their thorough plundering and merciless killings, their raids being “deadlier than traditional Bedouin raids, which usually avoided killing for fear of triggering a blood feud,” according to historian Vernon Egger.

For almost a century now, the Sauds have been able to square the circle, reconciling their role within the empire with their primitive Wahhabism. But they have had their day. Al-Qaeda and now ISIS find their inspiration not with the compromised Saudis but the Ikhwan rebels (followers of Wahhab, but with his militancy restored, and as such dubbed “neo-Wahhabis”).

Just as the first Saudi King Abdul Aziz, supported by the Ikhwan, swept away the more complacent Hashemites and Ottomans/ British, Bin Laden/ ISIS would sweep away the now complacent Saudi royal family, grown fat on its oil wealth, and its US sponsors. Saudi control of the holy cities provides a poor echo of the once powerful Islamic civilization, and the “neo-Wahhabis” know it.

A rump caliphate

The yearning for a revival of the caliphate is predominantly a Sunni one. Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT, Party of Liberation) was founded by Palestinians and Jordanians in 1953, advocating the revival of the Ottoman Caliphate. It was/is supported by Saudi Arabia (though it does not openly operate in Saudi Arabia).

The whole nineteenth century reform thrust in Islam appeared to be Sunni, though reformer Jamal al-Din al-Afghani was himself Shia and his Sunni Egyptian ally Muhammad Abduh was nonsectarian, campaigning for an end to the Sunni-Shia animosity. After the Caliphate was abolished in 1924 and replaced by colonialism, Shia and Sunnis cooperated in the revivalist Khilafat Movement. Iraqi Shia ulama supported the Sunni rebellion against the British, and Persian religious scholars went to the Caliphate Conference in Jerusalem in 1931.

Sunni extremists like ISIS accuse Shia of being American agents, supporting the US in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is hardly fair. Shia parties opposed these invasions but really had no alternative, and accepted the occupations as faits accomplis, naturally attempting to improve their lot under the circumstances. The charge of being agents of imperialism is belied by the fact that Iran is the only outspoken Islamic critic of imperialism and is the subject of unrelenting subversion for its trouble.

However, the imperial strategy of divide and conquer has worked, and Sunni-Shia sectarianism has been consolidated to the extent that to achieve their goal of a new caliphate, ISIS is collaborating with their secular foes of yesteryear, Baathists and former military personnel, who operate as the Iraqi Islamic Army and the 1920 Revolution Brigades.

Such a strategy will achieve at best a truncated caliphate—roughly ISIS’s current territory—surrounded by hostile Sunni and Shia states, which will soon be the scene of further conflict as the ex-Baathists struggle for control. Their tactical alliance with ISIS can’t last. At that point, ISIS will be forced to look to their Saudi foes for support, but this again is not a stable alliance, as the Saudi betrayal of the Ikhwan in the 1920s reminds us.

This caliphate revival, the goal of Bin Laden, of HuT, and stretching back to the Ikhwan in the 1920s and Afghani in the nineteenth century, should have ended with the US invasions following 9/11, which aimed at destroying al-Qaeda and consolidating US hegemony in the region. However, the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq proved to be a boon to these “neo-Wahhabis”, and all Obama’s horse and all of his men now look quite helpless.

By backing the Syrian insurgency, the US gave at least free rein (if not actual support) to ISIS, who presumably were only supposed to be spoilers, weaken Assad, possibly split up Syria and Iraq, but certainly not to gain power and keep it. With that now a possibility, the US is panicking, as well it should. So far, the Saudis aren’t panicking, presumably counting on using their oil wealth and anti-Shia sectarianism to let them co-opt leaders of some future Sunni Iraqi-Syrian state.

Perhaps they count on the US to drone ISIS out of existence and replace them with pro-US Sunnis. But this no longer looks like an option either. ISIS types are prepared to die in their jihad, like the Ikhwan insurgents a century ago, and it is unlikely that ISIS will be seduced by either the empire or a bankrupt monarchy.

Acceding to a rump caliphate would be the equivalent of the British making peace in the 1920s with the Ikhwan, an impossibility in terms of empire strategy. Now, as then, Saudi hegemony must be preserved. Now, as then, Saudi collapse would mean an end to imperial control over the vital region.

A new regional alignment

ISIS’s sectarian success is prompting calls for a nonsectarian alliance between governments in Syria, Iraq, Iran and possibly Turkey opposed to this scenario. Turkish support for the insurgency in Syria is already being seen as a mistake, encouraging Kurdish separatism, and Turkey’s Islamists have no truck with ISIS. A proposal by Diako Hosseini of the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Institute for Political and International Studies is the establishment of a rapid deployment force by the neighboring countries of Iraq, centered on Iran and Turkey, which would act on the request of the Iraqi government.

What role can the US play here? Not much, as its support is the kiss of death to Iraqis seeking to extricate themselves from a decade of US occupation, and the return of its forces would be a blow to the regional powers, who should be the actors responsible for solving the region’s problems.

Such a regional alliance would stabilize the US-installed regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, though no longer under US hegemony. The rapprochement between Sunni and Shia that it implies would bring Muslims together in a way that ISIS and its sectarian caliphate cannot do. Neither the Saudi Wahhabis nor the ISIS neo-Wahhabis are capable of making this ‘leap of faith’.

Eric Walberg writes about the Middle East. He can be reached through his website.

A shorter version of this appeared at Middle East Eye