Convenient Untruths


You know that faint feeling you get when you unknowlingly walk through a spider’s web? As you try to untangle the silk threads from your eyelashes, you become disoriented.

A similar disorientation is now taking place around the world as disillusionment about the War on Terror sets in.

That we’re disoriented is no wonder. The web of lies that led to our current state of affairs dates back over a decade. Samuel Huntington’s 1993 paper ‘The Clash of Civilisations,‘ which mapped out a bloody clash between Islam and the West, was as compelling as it was controversial. But it was the apocalyptic fall of the Twin Towers and the global fear of Islam that it gave rise to that rendered Huntington’s thesis as ‘accepted wisdom.’

We were led to believe that the enemy was the antithesis of ‘us.’ The word ‘Muslim’ evolved from an adjective for describing people of a particular religious orientation, to a noun for defining their identity, to a verb for determining their evil actions. Ostensibly, Muslims were intrinsically predisposed with terror cells in their DNA to jihadist martyrdom and a counter-Crusade against the civilised world. More like machines than humans, Muslims were genetically programmed to hate and kill.

The propagators of this simplistic analysis depicted terrorists as driven by their faith and because the Qur’an is not the Western centre of gravity, this move rendered the enemy incomprehensible and made dialogue futile. If terrorists were void of any logic, cause or injustice, any negotiation became taboo, akin to dealing with the devil. The only response befitting this enemy was a military one.

But we were too entrapped by fear and Islamophobia to see the web being spun around us. Instead, we worried about the web of global terrorism al-Qaeda, HAMAS, Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiya, Taliban as if they were legs on a monstrous spider, with all threads leading to the same centre: Umma Islamiya or Mother Islam.

We were programmed to view the war through a religious-centric prism rather than through the naked eye of our common humanity. Yet for so many of these enemies who end up sacrificing their own lives, the catalyst for their decision is inhumanity and injustice. The 2005 book Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, by University of Chicago Professor Robert Pape, debunked the myth that linked religion with terrorism. Instead, he demonstrated that most terrorists are driven by the desire to expel Western military forces from their territory. (New Matilda has carried two excerpts from Pape’s book: here and here.) And the hub at the centre of these wheels of discontent is the plight of the Palestinians.

This disillusionment is gaining momentum. A recent video manifesto titled ‘Stop the Clash,’ by online-based progressive campaign group Avaaz, dismisses the ‘clash of civilisations’ as a lie, challenging loaded labels such as ‘friend’ versus ‘enemy’ and ‘liberated’ versus ‘violated’ with images from the War on Terror. In the lead up to the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, this multilingual message insists that ‘the first step [to ending the myth]must be [resolving]Israel/Palestine.’

A poll conducted late last year of 28,000 people in 27 countries found that 52 per cent of those surveyed perceived political and economic interests as the underlying cause of violent conflict in the world today, compared with 29 per cent who blame religion and culture. According to Market Focus International, the company that conducted the poll in Australia, only 28 per cent of Australians believe violence between Islam and the West is inevitable compared with 56 per cent who believe that a ‘common ground can be found.’ Again, the web of convenient untruths about religious polarity has been discarded in favour of human dialogue.

The recent declarations of Independent Jewish Voices in the UK and Australia share a common thread with this survey, with the commitment to a ‘just peace,’ ‘human rights for all’ and ‘Palestinians’ right to a homeland.’ The controversial new book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, by former US President Jimmy Carter, has also advocated a ‘free and balanced discussion of the facts.’ Carter describes ‘the abominable oppression and persecution in the occupied Palestinian territories’ and the ‘enormous imprisonment wall snaking through what is left of Palestine.’

Once the myopic view from within the web has been challenged, we can move from antipathy, to sympathy, to empathy, and we can face our common humanity. We move from seeing a bearded or veiled ‘other’, to seeing someone’s son or mother.

To end this religious-centric world view, the web of lies needs to be lifted. More than the hawks of war or the doves of peace, what we need are the owls of wisdom who can see over their shoulders and whose eyes are wide open.

Once the convenient untruths are exposed dialogue is not only possible, but inevitable.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.