Getting the People who didn’t do that thing in ‘A War about civilisation’

A squad of US marines was patrolling a road in Iraq in their armoured vehicle. Suddenly they struck a road-side bomb laid by insurgents. One marine and many nearby Iraqis die in the explosion. Then insurgents opened fire from nearby houses and a fight began which the marines won. The marines hold a funeral ceremony for the dead and take the Iraqi bodies to a nearby hospital.

That was the initial report made by the unit. However the autopsies at the hospital showed the Iraqis weren’t killed by an explosion but by gunshots to the head and chest – and survivors – including a young Iraqi girl – and other witnesses say that the US troops, furious at the death of their friend, went to the nearest houses they could find and started shooting everyone in them.

The marines now claim that they came under fire from these houses immediately after the bomb or ‘Improvised Explosive Device’ (IED) went off and killed those firing on them, with the rest dieing in the crossfire. If that’s the case it’s strange they didn’t mention it in their initial report – and stranger that women and children were shot in the head and chest if they weren’t being deliberately targeted.

This is not the only incident of random acts of ‘revenge’ being investigated either. Iraqi police accuse another unit of US troops of killing 11 civilians including 5 children in an ‘execution’.

The killings were a microcosm of the Iraq war as a whole – taking revenge on people who weren’t responsible. A recent poll by the US polling firm Zogby internationalshowed that 85% of the American troops in Iraq still believe they are there because of Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s involvement in the September 11th attacks – as announced for instance in Bush’s ‘end of the war’ speech on May 1st 2003. Yet even the9-11 Commission Bush appointed say the only ‘link’ between Saddam and Al Qa’ida was that a Kurdish Islamist group linked to Al Qa’ida and opposed to Saddam existed in Northern Iraq. However the propaganda had already done its job.

Even the war in Afghanistan which is widely held to have been ‘justified’ by the September 11th attacks has killed thousands of civilians who had no connection to Al Qa’ida or September 11th whatsoever in bombing campaigns. The major media mostly supinely sent memos to all their staff instructing them not to treat Afghan civilian deaths as news since the ‘real story’ was still the thousands of dead of September 11th not the thousands of dead Afghans. Human Rights Watch reports show that Afghan civilians have been tortured and killed in large numbers in ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’.

This echoes the bizarre justifications given by Israel’s Prime Minister Menachim Begin in 1983 for ordering Israeli troops to break an agreement to allow Palestinian refugees safe passage out of the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut, Lebanon. Instead, on Begin and Ariel Sharon’s orders, Israeli forces withdrew and let paramilitaries from a Lebanese militia move in and butcher unarmed men, women and children in much the same way the Yugoslav regular army used Arkan’s Tigers and other militias to commit their war crimes for them in the Bosnian war (1). Begin’s justification was to continually call on the world to remember the holocaust as if the Nazi’s atrocities against the Jewish people absolved all members of Israel’s government and military of any crime they might want to commit till the end of time (2) . The same mentality allowed Presiden Yitzakh Rabin to order the shelling of Lebanese villages in Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1993 and again in 1996 – an operation which directly targeted civilians in order to produce a refugee crisis and force the Lebanese government to crack down on Hizbollah guerrillas terrorist attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians (3).

Now the same mentality pervades the Bush administration, the Blair government and their dwindling band of supporters – whether the crime is torture, indiscriminate bombing, unprovoked attack on another country that poses no threat or kidnapping and jailing people without trial their answer is the same – “remember September 11th” – as though crimes committed against one group of innocent people, or the threat of more, give them the right or moral credits to commit the same or worse against other innocent people.

Blair claims that the war on terror isn’t a clash of civilisations – it’s a clash about civilisation. He’s right – but neither Bin Laden nor Bush nor Blair employ the methods of a decent civilisation – they all employ terrorism whether carried out by regular militaries or terrorist organisations, they all show total contempt for civilised values by defending torture and indiscriminate attacks which kill civilians, by holding people without a fair trial and by torturing and killing those they kidnap. Civilised people avoid violence except where absolutely necessary – Bin Laden, Bush and Blair turn to it as their first option – and the violence of each supports the other. Bush would not still be President if it wasn’t for the atrocity that killed 3,000 people on September 11th. Blair would be gone as Prime Minister already if it hadn’t been for the July 7th bombings. Bin Laden and Al Qa’ida would have faded into relative obscurity or gradually have been caught and tried as the mere criminals they are if the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the resulting atrocities against and deaths of many thousands of Muslim civilians hadn’t provided them with a growing flood of recruits, funding and supporters.

Wars do not produce civilisation or democracy – they produce atrocities, hatred, revenge on the innocent, fundamentalism and nationalism which weaken support for democracy. Soon we will be called on to support another war on Iran which supposedly would use nuclear weapons if it had them.

Yet Iran’s fanatical President Ahmadinejad – whose election was a result of a surge in nationalism and fundamentalism produced by the invasion of Iraq and threats by Bush of war on Iran – does not have nearly the same powers as an American President or British Prime Minister. Ahmadenijad had three of his candidates for oil minister turned down by the Iranian parliament and however much the Iranian ‘Guardian Council’ and the ‘Supreme Leader’ Ayatollah Khamenei – who hold the real power in Iran – may advocate martyrdom for others they have never shown any inclination to martyr themselves. Like the Bush administration they restrict their war effort to living well from far more than their fair share of their country’s oil wealth. Khamenei and his Council are almost as opposed to Ahmadinejad as the parliament due to his suggestion that oil wealth be redistributed to benefit the whole country. This is not a government likely to commit mass suicide by starting a nuclear war with nuclear armed countries in which they would die along with the rest of their country. Nor are they friends of Al Qa’ida who are an extreme sect of Sunnis who consider the Shia regime of Iran to be ‘apostates’ rather than true Muslims.

In any case what would any government gain by taking WMDs which they control (and can use as a deterrent against attack by other countries’ militaries) and handing them over to terrorist groups who they have no control over? - Nothing. Which is why it’s never been done – even by Saddam Hussein in the period from the 80s to 1991 when he did have US supplied chemical and biological weapons (4).

So why does Iran want a nuclear programme? The Iranian government denies it wants to develop nuclear weapons claiming it only wants the civilian nuclear power the EU and US are developing. Some scepticism on this claim is warranted. It may well be that Iran wants nuclear weapons – but it wants them for the same reason our governments want them – as a deterrent against attack by their enemies – notably the US which has just invaded its neighbour Iraq and Israel which is demanding regime change through war in Iran next. The US and Britain organised a military coup in Iran which overthrew their first elected President in 1953 and imposed the Shah’s dictatorship for 26 years – creating the Islamic fundamentalist backlash of the 1979 revolution (5). Then our governments gave Saddam military aid, funds , gas and anthrax to invade Iran in the 80s. Iran is now next on the ‘Axis of Evil’ list. Which is why they want a deterrent against attack. Their attempt to get one may help the Bush administration get its excuse to invade – but what is the alternative for Ian? It could comply with UN and IAEA demands and let in the weapons inspectors but Iraq showed that compliance didn’t stop the US invasion – so why would should Iran comply ?

There are genuine democrats in Iran like former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami but threats of military attack on Iran only weaken support for democrats and increase support for fanatics like Ahmadenijad

Invading Iran and installing a puppet government will not provide democracy– it would only turn future Iranian governments against us and towards fundamentalism just as the 1953 coup led to the 1979 Islamic revolution – and sooner or later Iran will develop a nuclear deterrent anyway. Air strikes as threatened by John Bolton, the US envoy to the UN, would be just as pointless – they would make Iranians rally behind their government just as Americans rallied behind a previously unpopular President Bush after September 11th, there would be no guarantee we could identify targets correctly or destroy all nuclear facilities and at most it would delay the nuclear programme. All this for what? To stop Iran from having the same guarantee against foreign invasion we and Israel already possess?

So if you’re told of the ‘threat’ from Iran’s nuclear programme in the light of September 11th , the need to ‘defend civilisation’ by going to war on Iran or the ‘threat’ that Iran might supply Al Qa’ida with nuclear materials you could be forgiven for being sceptical. If we want to defend civilisation , get the people involved in September 11th and the July 7th bombings and prevent such attacks in future it will require policing; good human intelligence in the form of contacts in Muslim communities and countries ; and infiltration of Al Qa’ida and similar organisations. Wars can only increase the threat and take revenge on people who didn’t do these things – and that in the end is terrorism by any other name.


(1) = New York Times 21 Sep 1982 ‘Evidence Suggests Israelis Were Aware of Killings’

(2) = Robert Fisk (2001) , ‘Pity The Nation – Lebanon at War’, Oxford UP , Oxford, 2001 (3rd edition) esp pages 390-391

(3) = Roy Gutman & David Rieff (1999), ‘Crimes of War – What the Public Should Know’, W.W. Norton, NY & London, 1999 , p 85-86

(4) = Nye , Joseph S. & Smith , Robert K. (1992) , ‘After the Storm’, Madison Books , London , 1992 , p211-216

(5) = Stephen Kinser (2003), ‘All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror’, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken , New Jersey, 2003