The war on terror is a war on truth

The recent attacks in Norway laid bare an ongoing political discourse that is steering bigotry into mainstream political life. As news of the atrocity emerged suspicion instantly turned towards an Islamic group being responsible. When the truth emerged that it was in fact a right wing conspiracy theorist you could almost sense a palpable disappointment in security circles. Much was made of the bizarre ideas contained in the manifesto posted by Anders Breivik. Yet his ravings reflect a anti Islamic position that is pervading political life across Europe. This position is not merely traditional anti immigrant rhetoric being revamped. Rather it stems directly from a worldview that became legitimised in the mainstream on September 12th 2001.

In the wake of 9/11 any mature reflection of events would have shown that the perpetrators were a disparate group brought together by an extremist Islamic viewpoint and grievances with the actions of US imperialism in the Middle East. Instead they were presented as being foot soldiers in a global army of jihadists dedicated to the overthrow of civilization. The bush doctrine which can be summarized as the supreme right of the USA to flout international law and sovereignty when it sees fit became standard foreign policy. The bogeyman was to be Osama Bin Laden, a man allegedly in charge of a vast nexus of terror. As Jason Bourke has shown in his excellent study of Al-Qaeda this was pure fiction. The myth of Al Qaeda as an international and well structured terror group was created to facilitate charges being brought against terror suspects in US courts. Under US law if it could be shown that the individuals were part of a conspiracy then convictions did not need substantive evidence. This presentation of Al Qaeda became standard practice.
In reality Al Qaeda was not a well structured coherent organisation. Rather it was one group amongst many vying to strike against Western Imperialism, Israel and other governments or groups that it viewed as responsible for a war on Islam. Bin Laden was certainly no mastermind of attacks. Rather as Bourke has shown his role was that of a financier. Individuals or groups planning their own attacks independently could go to him for financial or material aid. He was in essence a venture capitalist for Islamic groups. This became irrelevant as the military industrial complex saw an opportunity for a new war with no real target or end. The potential for weapons contracts and for increased budgets ensured that all intelligence agencies now had an imperative to maintain this myth of global terror.

However there was also a political and cultural dimension to this new campaign. It began to be presented in stark terms as a war between two ideals. The supposed western ideals of democracy, freedom and rights versus the Islamic fundamentalists backward ideas. This was a gross distortion of reality. It ignored for example the fact that the taliban and Bin Laden’s group were two distinct organisations both in political and cultural origins as well as membership. The taliban were primarily pashtun tribesmen with no interest in pursuing any international agenda who followed a strict local interpretation of Islam. Bin Laden and his followers were for the most part well educated Saudi and Egyptian radicals who had a very different outlook. This initial distortion of reality was used to gloss over the invasion of Afghanistan. The invasion of Iraq was supposedly justified by Saddam’s links to Al Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction. Hussein ran a secular country and was regarded with absolute disdain by Bin Laden and his supporters who had volunteered in 91 to act as a barrier for the Saudi government against Hussein’s expansionism. The introduction of US troops in lieu of supporting this plan led to his estrangement from the Saudi elite and ultimately he left the country.

However he now served an important function as a figurehead both for the American government and for the Islamic extremists who were gaining increasing support in occupied Iraq and Afghanistan. It also ensured government’s around the world had an excuse to launch repressive action against their own internal problems. Suddenly Chechnya separatists became a branch of Al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah likewise were represented by Israel as fellow travellers of Bin Laden.
Yet the truth soon became apparent. It became clear to anyone following what was developing in Iraq and Afghanistan that the resistance whilst being multi stranded was primarily local forces, or in the case of Afghanistan pashtun recruits from Pakistan. The cultural discourse in the “war on terror” however accelerated. In America the supposedly controversial “ground zero mosque” showed that stupidity and bigotry were fed by the right wing media. The fact that it was neither a mosque nor at ground zero became irrelevant. Rather this was part of a wider war of culture. Those who laughed at this “typical American response” began to look bashful as anti-Muslim legislation found favour in France, Switzerland and elsewhere. In Britain the tabloids rarely went a day without screaming headlines about the Muslim community being a fifth column aiding a terror network. Academics, security experts, journalists and many others fed this narrative. A self perpetuating industry of books, documentaries and opinion pieces all analysed the alleged cross roads for multiculturalism.

To any student of history this all seems awfully familiar. Be it the witch hunts of McCarthyism against communists or the demonising of the Irish community in England in the 1980s the process always bore the same trademarks. A community of suspects quickly becomes a community to demonise, then a community to target. The growth of the EDL and similar groups across Europe might be condemned by the politicians uncomfortable with their uncouth image, but it is the political programs and rhetoric of these same politicians that is feeding into this phenomenon.
The events of the past few days in Norway are the logical culmination of this frenzied debate about a war of cultures. For the likes of Sky news to cover the tragedy as if the perpetrator is a lunatic is to gloss over the fact that his warped ideas are not too far removed from those presented by them on a daily basis. If anything is to be taken from this tragedy it is that the challenge to Islamophobia must take a stance as militant as that presented to fascists and racists. The war on terror is a war on truth and tolerance.


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