This is not a time to mince words. We should not invade Iraq, and we should not invade Syria. The situation in both countries is already disastrous. The West already bears significant responsibility for the catastrophic rise of ISIS in both countries. Western intervention will only make things worse.
Those who want war should always bear a heavy burden of proving that war is just. Mark Twain’s short story, “The War Prayer”, includes an illustration of what we really ask for when we urge war:
O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it – for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!
The problem is not just that a strong case hasn’t been made as to why we should invade Iraq again. It is that much of the discussion by politicians and the media of the issues involved shows appalling ignorance.
Let us start with the words of our Prime Minister. As in all wars, it is customary to demonise the enemy, and Tony Abbott clearly thinks now is not the time to stick to the factual record. Abbott has declared that ISIS is “nothing but a death cult”, and unfavourably compared ISIS to the Nazis.
Once again, an enemy of the West just happens to be comparable to the Nazis. The ideology and practices of ISIS are indeed extreme and gruesome, but it may be worthwhile trying to actually understand the ideology of ISIS and the basis on which it gains sympathisers, if one is to try to limit and resist its appeal in the Muslim world.
On another occasion, Tony Abbott declared that Muslims who join ISIS will be acting “against God”.
Tony Abbott, as is reasonably well known, is a Catholic who spent about three years in a Jesuit seminary. Does anyone think that he has appropriate qualifications or knowledge to tell Muslims what is and isn’t consistent with their religious beliefs?
Meanwhile, Attorney General Senator George Brandis proclaimed: “I don’t think it’s correct to describe what we are speaking of as a war in the first place…. It is a mission; it is essentially a humanitarian mission with military elements.” A “humanitarian mission with military elements” – savour the audaciousness of that phrase.
It didn’t take long for us to gain some clarity on our “humanitarian mission”: the Sydney Morning Herald reported a senior defence insider explaining that “You don't send in the SAS to run seminars and give white-board presentations back at headquarters…. These guys are our most highly-trained killers, and that's what they will be doing.”
The Defence Minister, David Johnston, offered his wisdom, explaining that “right-thinking nations sitting back doing nothing is going to moon [sic]a lot of innocent deaths in Iraq.” Apparently, he’s horrified at the thought of innocent deaths. Presumably, our humanitarian mission with military elements won’t result in any innocent deaths in Iraq, just as previous humanitarian missions with military elements in 1991 and 2003 didn’t result in any innocent deaths.
Johnston then offered this interesting claim: “We want to build the security forces in Iraq, both the Peshmerga and the Iraqi security forces”. Remember: after three days of fighting, 800 ISIS fighters defeated 30,000 Iraqi soldiers who were supposedly guarding Mosul. Does this sound like a credible force to defeat ISIS?
Johnston was also asked what evidence there was that ISIS was planning to attack Australia. He responded: “Well, I don't want to take the risk.” That’s right: we are invading Iraq, not because of any relevant evidence, but because our Defence Minister doesn’t want to “take the risk”.
The Treasurer also had an interesting take on the war. If he didn’t think the war wrong, stupid or foolish, he might at least balk at the price tag of $500 million a year, after the scalpel he so proudly took to social spending in Australia.
Nope: “Ultimately you can't put a price on protecting human beings and that's what we're doing”.
Some might suggest that you protect human beings by paying their medical bills, but evidently some are more enthusiastic about providing protection through bombs and armies. Hockey explained that “you can't put a price on doing what is right”, which I hope his critics remember next time he defends slashing Australia’s budgetary measures to help the less fortunate.
It may be said that there is a threat of terrorism posed by ISIS to Australia. So what has Abbott said?
The Government is raising the public alert level to high. I want to stress that this does not mean that a terror attack is imminent. We have no specific intelligence of particular plots. What we do have is intelligence that there are people with the intent and the capability to mount attacks – I want to stress that.
He has no specific intelligence of particular plots. He simply thinks one might happen. There are people who want to attack us. And there is no time like the launching of a new war to proclaim that terrorists want to kill us, we are unsafe, and we need to trust our leaders to defend us.
On Thursday, as if to further buttress the case for war, raids were launched across Sydney and Brisbane as part of a supposedly anti-terrorist operation. More than 800 police took part in the Sydney raids, and 70 took part in the Brisbane ones. The raids, at 25 properties, resulted in 15 people being detained. That’s over 50 police per detainee. Or 32 police per property.
It was alleged that there was a plot to behead someone in Sydney. They are entitled to a presumption of innocence, though it is possible that the detainees actually were involved in the alleged plot. The mass raids will undoubtedly help contribute to war fever, and if the detainees are found not guilty of the allegations, this will presumably be long after it is of pressing importance to the public.
One of those raided alleged that he was assaulted by police, which also warrants investigation and scrutiny.
It is strange that so shortly after Abbott declared that he had no specific intelligence of an attack, massive raids were launched. Perhaps he was not aware of these plots, and decided we should go to war in Iraq anyway. If the plot is genuine, it would seem that we didn’t need to invade Iraq to respond to it effectively.
Abbott also took the opportunity to claim: “These people, I regret to say, do not hate us for what we do, they hate us for who we are and how we live. That’s what makes us a target, the fact that we are different from their view of what an ideal society should look like, the fact that we are free, we are pluralist, we are tolerant, we are welcoming, we are accepting”.
By now, there is a rather extensive literature on this subject. To take one example which actually is based on reality, Glenn Greenwald cites a Donald Rumsfeld era study. It noted that the “underlying sources” of threats to the US are “negative attitudes and the conditions that create them” in the Muslim world.
The report observed that “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom’, but rather, they hate our policies.” Specifically, the “overwhelming majority” oppose the US’s “one-sided support in favour of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.”
Claims about bringing democracy to the Muslim world is seen as “no more than self-serving hypocrisy”, and Muslims think the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have only brought “more chaos and suffering”, and was “motivated by ulterior motives”, with concern about “American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.”
All of this is significant. If people in the Muslim world hate us because of how amazing we are, then plainly, we cannot ever reach out to them or negotiate the terms of our surrender. If, on the other hand, extremist groups arise because of legitimate grievances in the Muslim world caused by Western foreign policy, it might be prudent to change those policies, if merely doing the right thing wasn’t a good enough reason.
One might hope that the Federal Opposition, or the corporate media, would make up for the shortcomings of the claims of the federal government. They have not come close to doing so.
Tanya Plibersek wrote an incoherent article for the Guardian, arguing that ISIS in Iraq and Syria is like the genocidaires in Rwanda. Yet whilst she thinks Australia should prevent an alleged genocide in Iraq, she is happy to not intervene in Syria.
She claims that not intervening “could condemn innocent Iraqis to the same fate as the 800,000 Rwandans brutally murdered in just 100 days”. How exactly this might happen – or how our intervention will avert this impending genocide, Plibersek does not bother to explain.
The Australian, our national broadsheet, has demonstrated its sensitivity and expertise on the Muslim world on numerous occasions. A representative example is this article, which, after explaining the ISIS flag has the shahada on it, reports “Monash University terrorism expert Greg Barton said the Shahada was the central statement of faith in Islam.”
This is roughly analogous to a paper citing a terrorism expert to explain that Christians believe that Jesus was the son of God. We will leave aside the blatant dog-whistling involved in consulting a “terrorism expert” on such matters.
Then there was the Sydney Morning Herald’s editorial, which came out in support of another Western war on Iraq. It displayed similar levels of knowledge and sensitivity to Abbott. For example, it wrote “Mr Obama will be hoping that the Muslim world was listening when he stressed IS was not Islamic”. Why would the Muslim world care what Obama thinks is Islamic?
The editorial then argued that the US would need the support of others in the Muslim world. It observed that “The Iraqi government, which needed to be less Shia-dominated before the US would act against IS”, apparently not realising that the Iraqi government is exactly as Shi’ite dominated as before, notwithstanding its replacement of one Shi’ite Prime Minister by another.
The editorial goes on to claim that “Even Saudi Arabia, a nation of Sunni sympathisers who harboured al Qaeda supporters, is reportedly committed to a program to train and equip anti-IS forces”.
Saudi Arabia is not made up of “Sunni sympathisers” – 85-90 percent of its population are Sunni Muslims.
The official state religion of Saudi Arabia is a puritanical, extreme and intolerant brand of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism, which is pretty similar to the ideology of ISIS, if it is not entirely identical as some have argued.
It is not just “supporters” of al Qaeda who are Saudi – 15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi, as was Bin Laden himself.
The editorial proceeded to claim other partners Obama would seek in the war on ISIS were “more problematic”, like Assad. They did not explain the basis on which Assad was “more problematic” than Saudi Arabia, though Saudi Arabia has a long record of supporting jihadi terrorists, including ISIS itself.
The dangers of another war on Iraq are serious and grave. They also pose the risk of increasing the demonization and marginalisation of Muslims in Australia and elsewhere in the Western world.
It is important that Australians are exposed to knowledgeable discussion of the issues. However, a brief survey of our major political parties and media outlets reveals this is rather unlikely at the present time.
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