The half-hearted “wars” on terror
FRANK ELLIS finds a chronicle of post-9/11 confrontations marred by postmodernism and wishful thinking
The 9/11 Wars
Jason Burke, Allen Lane, London, 2011, xxi + pp.506 + Illustrations, Maps, Notes, Bibliography & Index
What Jason Burke calls the 9/11 wars, with their prehistory of terror attacks in the 1990s, begin in the immediate aftermath of the spectacular assault against the USA on Tuesday 11th September 2001. The invasion of Iraq, the NATO mission in Afghanistan and the Islamic terror attacks mounted against the West are just part of what falls under the rubric of the 9/11 wars. Burke covers a lot of ground.
He begins with Afghanistan before and after the attacks carried out on Tuesday 11th September 2001 (Part One). From there he tackles the invasion of Iraq and the insurgency (Part Two). In Part Three he examines Islam and the 9/11 wars in Europe. He then returns to Iraq and the American surge (Part Four) and Afghanistan in Part Five, concluding with Part Six, what he calls Endgames.
In those parts of his book where Burke confines himself to historical facts and background information that can be verified, The 9/11 Wars provides a useful overview of the rise of aggressive Islam and the rejection of the West across a spectrum ranging from verbal denunciation, immigrant violence directed at the host nations of Western Europe to terrorism. Far less satisfactory is the way Burke constantly tries his very best to play down the threat posed to the West by Islamic terrorism, mass immigration and overpopulation. As an author, Burke is fully committed to the New Left’s assumptions about the nation state and its ideological narrative of multiculturalism.
All kinds of factors nourished the growth of al-Qaeda and its hatred of the West: the aftermath of the first Gulf War; sanctions against Iraq; the collapse of the Yugoslav federation; hatred of Israel; and a drive for religious-ideological purity. One of the major failings of this book is that Burke attempts to show what he calls the 9/11 wars as having many sources and strands so, according to him, resisting any simplification. The trouble is that beyond a certain level of complexity, invented or real, it is pointless to talk of 9/11 wars. If there is no central core the use of the term 9/11 wars is meaningless since we are then dealing with a whole series of wars unrelated to 9/11.
One element of the 9/11 wars is clearly not new in historical terms. Burke does not make the connection, but the destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan by the Taliban in Afghanistan is part of the same cultural war and physical war of destruction waged by the Taliban against those deemed to be unbelievers and heretics, adumbrating the attack on the twin towers in New York. There are clear precedents for these attacks on cultural artefacts in other political movements: Soviet destruction of churches; Nazi students burning books; and the middle-class Marxists that undermined Western universities in the 1960s and 1970s and who, in the 1990s, were screaming “Hey ho, hey ho, Western culture has got to go”.
I wonder whether I am the sole observer to detect something disproportionate and unbalanced in the US reaction to the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001. It is almost as if the US was not aware of the fact that terrorism had been a major global problem well before 11th September 2001. What had changed was that the US had been attacked. My first reaction was that this marked the end of IRA/Sinn Fein. No US president could call for a global war on terror and ignore IRA/Sinn Fein. American hypocrisy was glaring: compare the US government’s response to al-Qaeda with the way it responded to minor abuses inflicted on IRA/Sinn Fein terrorists by the British Army in the early 1970s. US politicians accused Britain of state terrorism and openly supported IRA/Sinn Fein. Yet major abuses and torture of Iraqi prisoners were encouraged in Afghanistan and tolerated in Iraq after the invasion. Not only is this grossly inconsistent with the US’s berating, say, the Russians and the Chinese over human rights violations but also wholly inconsistent with all the endless propaganda celebrating diversity.
One possible cause of the extreme violence and torture handed out to al-Qaeda suspects and Iraqi prisoners may well have been the ideological imposition of multiculturalism in the US. Soldiers recruited from a society in which the citizens are endlessly brainwashed about the joys of diversity – and bitterly, and for the most part, silently resent it – then find themselves in Afghanistan with the opportunity physically to attack non-whites, and under the pretext of a so-called “war on terror”.
Even if one factors out the revenge motive for multiculturalism, massive abuses are inevitable if the opportunity to exercise unfettered power and control over others is granted to soldiers. That this fed the insurgency hardly needs to be stated. Interestingly, Burke, who pulls no punches when describing American behaviour in Afghanistan and in Iraq, is somewhat reticent when confronted with the sadistic violence inflicted on individuals by gangs controlled by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Victims were tortured and killed by being tied to burning tyres, boiled alive and having their limbs drilled full of holes. Inhibited by his politically correct relativism and presumably because terrorist movements like Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) also liked killing people with burning tyres, Burke cannot bring himself to characterise this sort of behaviour as barbaric, savage, sub-human, degenerate or, God forbid, medieval. No, according to Burke this sort of violence is to be seen as merely and innocently as ‘baroque’.
Turning to the presence of Islamic terror front organisations in London which led to London’s being dubbed Londonistan, Burke makes the point that MI5, too focused on Irish terrorism, failed to realise what was happening in the UK. It seems to me that the case for believing that some kind of deal was done between Islamic groups in London and MI5 is strong and convincing. To quote Burke:
British officials and politicians have always denied coming to any arrangement with any activist [sic]. “They were told their rights and the legal position was explained, nothing more”, said one senior British police officer.
Bear in mind that this is the same police force whose police officers, even those such as now ex-Detective and incarcerated Chief Inspector April Casburn working in counterterrorism, were subsequently found to have colluded with tabloid papers and passed on information for money. The assurances of the source cited by Burke are worthless. The other problem that would have inhibited a firm response was the outcome of the Macpherson Report in 1999. Islamic terror suspects and their lawyers could now, in response to any countermeasures taken by the security services, cite Recommendation 12 and secure protected-species status.
A great deal of The 9/11 Wars is devoted to the author’s attempts to talk down the threat posed by radical Islam, and to highlight Western attempts to impose democracy. Here, for example, is what Burke has to say about the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Iraq:
The mission statement of the CPA was a wish-list drawn up by people who were absolutely certain that their values and models were applicable and attractive to other societies and cultures whatever the circumstances. The latter qualification is of critical importance as it traces a path between essentialist arguments that ‘Muslims’ or ‘Arabs’ cannot ever be receptive to ‘Western’ ideas of democracy, free-market capitalism, human rights and so forth and the equally problematic argument, favoured by so many in the Bush administration, that such ideas were a universally applicable panacea. In fact, as the 9/11 Wars were to demonstrate again and again, any culture, taken to mean the totality of values, norms, learned behaviours and worldviews of any community, is infinitely flexible and dynamic all while evolving within inherited boundaries set over time.
Having denounced the undoubted democratic fundamentalism inherent in the CPA mission statement, Burke then reveals his fanatical belief in the Marxist notion that nations are social and political constructs that can be endlessly moulded to suit some multicultural agenda. The obvious absentee from Burke’s list of factors comprising culture is race. Race is not a social and political construct: it is biological. Cultures created by people with a different genetic and evolutionary past will not only, not be identical or infinitely transposable from culture to another, but will also set limits to what can be imposed upon them by politicians in a hurry. The Taliban resent Western notions of human rights, feminism and democracy because they correctly identify these things as alien and as posing a direct threat to Afghanistan. In a country which is based on tribal loyalties abstract notions of the rule of law, intellectual freedom and democracy are meaningless. Tribal societies, be they in Afghanistan or Africa, are inherently unsuited to liberal democracy, never mind feminism.
Afghanistan confirms that racial and cultural homogeneity are valuable assets. As Robert Putnam has demonstrated, trust and cohesion fall as racial and cultural diversity increase. For Western multiculturalists and NGOs, trying to impose liberal democracy on a country long accustomed to tribal diversity and difference is a doomed task. Such are the racial and cultural diversity in Afghanistan that one has to ask whether it is meaningful to talk of a nation called Afghanistan. Racial and cultural diversity in the same country also explain the scale of corruption and nepotism. Loyalty to one’s own tribe or racial group trumps loyalty to some Western abstract ideal according to which an official must treat people the same regardless of their tribe. In conditions of tribal and racial diversity, stealing money given by gullible aid donors is not corruption but sensible and consistent with the norms of that group of people. Moreover, where is the evidence that Arabs and Muslims are capable of achieving democracy? Where is the belief in free speech and intellectual freedom? Burke is too frightened to acknowledge the obvious: that Islamic fundamentalism which recognises no lay principle is the problem. Islam, like Marxism-Leninism, arrogates to itself the final and supreme authority in all matters, temporal, secular and spiritual.
When he examines the terrorist attacks in Europe – Madrid (2004) and London (2005) – Burke would have us believe that Europe, or as he prefers ‘Europe’, is some kind of political fiction. Thus he claims:
…there exists no consensus among its infinitely diverse communities as to what being a ‘European’ actually entails.
That this is a ploy adopted by Burke is clear from the following:
Equally, though the ‘Islamic world’ is supposedly defined by faith, the definition of ‘Islamic’ varies so fundamentally as to almost invalidate the very concept of a global community of Muslims.
Burke’s assertions about Europe are based on the ideology of militant relativism. Note here that at no stage does Burke ever demote Afghanistan, India or Pakistan to the degrading and insulting use of inverted commas.
If Burke has no understanding of whence he came he is in no position fully to understand what he calls the 9/11 wars. Europe is defined by terrain, climate, geography, languages, art, music, genes, biology, evolutionary history, religion and wars. As an Englishman, I am conscious that I have far more in common with the people that gave the world Galileo and Goethe than I do with the cultures that have arisen in the Land of the Two Rivers.
By pretending that Europe does not exist because it is so ‘infinitely diverse’ and then trying to have us believe that the very concept of a global community of Muslims is almost invalidated Burke is purveying the idea that Europe, Muslims and the Islamic world are interchangeable. In other words, what we are being sold here is the same old neo-Marxist evasion and distortion that races and cultures are social and political constructs that can be infinitely moulded.
Burke provides further evidence of his evasive and relativist agenda when he writes:
It is thus also inevitable that readings of the last 1,300 years of relations between these two already poorly defined and largely imaginary blocs are so often highly subjective and politicised.
The Spanish and Charles Martel understood all too clearly the nature of the threat posed by Islam, and so did the southern Europeans who experienced the piratical raiding and slave trading of Islam. Showing still further historical ignorance and lack of understanding, Burke would have us believe that instances in which Western Christian rulers have sought the assistance of Muslim rulers in their struggles against Christian rivals is evidence that any differences between Europe and Islam are of no consequence. This betrays a woeful and grossly superficial understanding of the way states behave and pursue their interests. That Francis I of France concluded an alliance with Sultan Solemn the Magnificent to fight Charles V, and that Queen Elizabeth I of England sought assistance from one of his successors to combat the Spanish Armada tells us nothing at all about the fundamental differences between Christian Europe and Islam. What it does tell us is that, whatever their religious allegiances, states have no permanent friends, just permanent interests, and that all states will seek temporary alliances when expedient. Burke’s naïve attempt to make something of the fact that Britain and France allied themselves with the Ottomans to defend Constantinople against Orthodox Russia also reveals that he does not grasp the nature of Realpolitik. In the 19th century Britain viewed Russia as a threat to her imperial possessions and an alliance with the Ottomans was just one way to thwart Tsarist Russian ambitions. It tells us absolutely nothing about the state of religion in Britain or anywhere else. The twentieth century provides us with examples of alliances which are driven by brutal expediency: the Soviet-Nazi Non-Aggression Pact; the alliance of two capitalist, liberal democracies in alliance with Stalin’s totalitarian and monstrous Soviet Union against National Socialist Germany; and Nixon’s rapprochement with China.
A turning point in the US response to the insurgency in Iraq was the adoption of a counterinsurgency manual, Field Manual 3-24, largely inspired by General Petraeus. In the manual it is stated that culturally specific differences have to be recognised and taken into account in operations if success is to be achieved. This is not, as Burke claims, any evidence of a culturally relativist approach being adopted but evidence that the democratic fundamentalism, feminism and free markets cannot be imposed on, in this case, Iraq; that fundamental cultural differences have to be recognised; that there are limits to what can be achieved.
There was some British input into the new thinking that eventually gave rise to Field Manual 3-24. Burke points out that a British officer, Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, in an article on counterinsurgency which was published in a US military journal accused the US military – wait for it – of institutional racism! This was picked up by the Guardian and gloatingly reported. Here is the original passage from the Aylwin-Foster article:
Many personnel seemed to struggle to understand the nuances of the OIF [Operation Iraqi Freedom] Phase 4 environment. Moreover, whilst they were almost unfailingly courteous and considerate, at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism. To balance that apparent litany of criticisms, the U.S. Army was instrumental in a string of tactical and operational successes through the second half of 2004; so any blanket verdict would be grossly misleading.
In the Guardian article which is Burke’s source, the accusation of institutional racism is presented as follows:
A senior British officer has criticised the US army for its conduct in Iraq, accusing it of institutional racism, moral righteousness, misplaced optimism, and of being ill-suited to engage in counter-insurgency operations.
Having separated the accusation of institutional racism from the primary source and used it for headline-grabbing propaganda effect in the article title and introductory paragraph, the journalists then, in the fourth paragraph, present further extracts:
American soldiers, says Brig Aylwin-Foster, were “almost unfailingly courteous and considerate”. But he says “at times their cultural insensitivity, almost certainly inadvertent, arguably amounted to institutional racism”.
This whole citation process clearly calls into question the reliability of Guardian journalists with their obvious anti-Western platform. Furthermore, by his illogical and incoherent application of such Marxist terms as ‘institutional racism’, derived from the fallout of the publication of the Macpherson Report, Aylwin-Foster has perversely and gratuitously slandered the US Army, even if he rather disingenuously claims that ‘any blanket verdict would be grossly misleading’ (← thoughtfully omitted by the Guardian duo). Aylwin-Foster adds to the confusion by stating that the US soldiers were “almost unfailingly courteous and considerate”, providing no explanation of how it is possible to be “almost unfailingly courteous and considerate” and guilty of ‘institutional racism’ at the same time. Furthermore, he then concedes that “the U.S. Army was instrumental in a string of tactical and operational successes through the second half of 2004”. So, in the scheme of things what really matters?
It is far too soon to say whether the risk of Islamist terrorism in Europe has been avoided. MI5 has achieved some major successes but the weak link in Western defences, certainly one of them, is uncontrolled mass immigration from the Second, Third and Fourth Worlds. During the Cold War the mass expulsion of Soviet diplomats in 1970 made the task of MI5 surveillance of Soviet agents that much easier. Mass immigration will overwhelm the ability of MI5 to monitor Islamic terrorism in the United Kingdom. There are signs of resurgence. That al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), more or less written off by Burke, was responsible for the terrorist attack on the gas plant in January 2013 shows that the threat can subside and then reappear.
Despite the disastrous outcome of the invasion of Iraq and the multiple failures in Afghanistan and the ongoing chaos in Egypt and Syria, Burke remains full of optimism:
As stressed previously, there is nothing in the norms, customs and values of Muslim majority countries that is essentially incompatible with any given political system.
This is pure, unadulterated and dangerous wishful thinking. Democracy is essentially incompatible with Muslim majority states because there is no lay principle. Everything comes under the control of Islam. (Ask the remaining Christians in Egypt, Pakistan and Iraq what it is like). The popular will cannot trump the interpretation of the holy texts. In the Soviet Union the will of the people was at all times subject to the will of the party and its leading role. All the talk of democracy was a sham. It may well be that in another thousand years Islam will have been demoted to the margins and that some form of democracy can emerge but there are absolutely no signs that this is happening. When Burke says that democracy does not mean Westernisation “but simply the freedom to chose [sic] one’s own government”, he merely confirms his complete lack of understanding (and naïveté). Given that democracy is a uniquely Western political concept, democracy is inherently Westernising with all that that entails. It is a Trojan horse. The hard core Islamic leadership and the Taliban understand all too clearly that the Western import of democracy poses a direct threat to Islamic rule since with democratisation will come all the other manifestations of the West which is why they resist the imposition of democracy. Westerners like Burke who cannot see the threat to the ancient way of life are either useful idiots or the worst kind of imperialists who wish to impose democracy or a version of it on Islamic states in the name of equal opportunities, women’s rights and other politically correct causes.
Naïve wishful thinking is compounded by more of Burke’s by now familiar relativism. On the elections in Egypt he notes:
Given the choice between the ‘flat’ globalised pan-Islamism of the extremists, with its almost total lack of local specificity, and the ‘nation’, the choice of the vast majority was clear. The Muslim Brotherhood, Jamaat Islami and other ‘classic’ or ‘moderate’ political Islamists had long recognised this and junked – or at least postponed – the universalizing ‘pan-Islamic’ project in favour of nationally based political and social activity.
Here we see further evidence of Burke’s ideologically duplicitous presentation and confusion regarding the interaction of nationalism, Islam and democracy. Events in Egypt clearly compel Burke to recognise that Egyptian nationalism was decisive yet as a person committed to the notion that nations are endlessly malleable and do not, in effect, matter he cannot bring himself to grant this brute political fact full recognition. So instead of nation we get ‘nation’. His use of ‘nation’ is meant to imply that there is no such thing as a nation but since the deluded Egyptian majority actually do believe in their nation (not ‘nation’) he has to use the word nation but used in such a way that it conforms to the postmodernist, relativist narrative: ‘nation’ not the delusion of the ignorant and deluded Egyptian masses. Burke uses the same verbal disarming when he tries to confront the problem of the differences between moderate and fanatical Muslims. Clearly, if he uses moderate without the obligatory, relativist inverted commas he is conceding that some Muslims are indeed moderate and that others are not. In other words, there are differences: people are not the same.
References to moderate and extreme Muslims pose the question of how to respond to the threat of extreme Muslims. The obvious and apparently logical solution would be to target the sources from which extremists arise: their radical leaders, non-existent immigration controls from Third World states such as Pakistan, terror cells and literature. Unfortunately, this fails to take into account that moderate Islam provides the breeding ground and sanctuary for the extremists. Without moderate Muslims there can be no extremists and indeed all talk of extremists is meaningless. Moderate Muslims not only provide something against which the nascent extremists can react on the way to becoming complete extremists but also provide the necessary day-to-day cover to hide their activities. Moderate Muslims might not like the violence but only because it attracts the hostile attention of the indigenous population, so making them feel insecure and threatened. Publicly, their self-appointed leaders will condemn it but psychologically they approve. Moreover, the very existence of so-called moderate Muslims implies a tacit threat of extremism since if the government takes certain actions which the moderates do not like, they can move towards the extreme end of the spectrum.
It seems to me that the significance of The 9/11 Wars lies not in the assembly of factual information about the rise of al-Qaeda and the demise of Osama bin Laden and the grand narrative of the 9/11 wars but in Burke’s own attitude to what has happened since Tuesday 11th September 2001.
My reading of the evidence tells me three things. First, the invasion of Iraq was illegal and has turned out to be a disaster for all concerned, especially for the Iraqi people. When I think of Iraq I think of stick-thin little Iraqi boys and girls suffering from malnutrition. What is worse for these children, to be denied parental love because their parents have been turned into collateral damage or constantly to suffer the cruel, unforgiving pangs of hunger? Who knows how this misery and mayhem will eventually end. Second, the NATO mission in Afghanistan has nothing whatsoever to do with making the streets of Britain safe (or streets in the USA, Germany, Canada, Estonia, France, Poland and Denmark for that matter). A rational and firmly applied population and immigration policy would take care of that. Afghanistan has turned out to be a ghastly laboratory in which every possible opportunity has been given to dangerously deluded, Western do-gooders, NGOs, security guards, mercenaries, unscrupulous soldiers and politicians, above all Blair and Bush, to ply their megalomania at the expense of the Afghan tribes. All the undoubted insight that has gone into the making of Field Manual 3-24 counts for nothing if the reasons for being in Afghanistan are not explicit and just: the reasons for being there are not explicit and just, so they are surrounded with lies and evasions to hide the illegality: keeping the streets of Britain or Boston safe. Again, what the future holds for Afghanistan is anybody’s guess. Third, for me, as a person who is concerned with England, The 9/11 Wars confirms that the main threat to England is not Islamic terrorism whether brought about by Muslims legally or illegally resident in Britain or directed from the Maghreb or Swart valley. It is the ideology of multiculturalism and globalisation being inflicted on the indigenous populations of Europe.
© Frank Ellis 2013. Dr. FRANK ELLIS is a former soldier and academic, and a military historian. His latest book is The Stalingrad Cauldron: Inside the Encirclement and Destruction of the 6th Army, pp.544, 44 photos, 50 tables, and appendices, University Press of Kansas, June 2013, ISBN 978-0-7006-1901-6, $39.95