Scarcely a month after the World Trade Center and the Pentagon attacks in 2001, Newsweek, the second highest circulation newsmagazine in the US, ran a provocative and evocative front cover, “Why they hate us”. The text, with thick, full capitalisation, imposed itself just above a picture of a child at a rally in Islamabad, Pakistan. Wearing a traditional headdress and wielding a toy gun, already, the cover suggested, he was full of murderous rage.
Fareed Zakaria’s accompanying 7,000-word piece identified reasons for the rise of radical Islamic fundamentalism, almost all of which were intrinsic to the Arab world. “Islam is being taken over by a small poisonous element”, he wrote. “… if Muslims do not take it upon themselves to stop their religion from falling prey to medievalists, nothing any outsider can do will save them.” The US had sinned in the Middle East, he admitted, but its greatest error was in neglecting “to press any regime there to open up its society”.
The article was shameful, a combination of wilful blindness – to the Western forces that had shaped the region, attacked and destroyed movements with democratic content and kept populations under the rule of pliant despots – and motifs about Arab backwardness and enlightened imperialism.
Thirteen years later the West has heaped humiliation upon degradation. And the ruling elite in the Middle East has brutally put down the democratic revolutions, fostering sectarianism to that end. Afghanistan, a centre of great power manipulation for generations, remains devastated. Iraq has been almost completely destroyed and the Sunnis marginalised. The Israeli colonial project has intensified. Democracy activists in Cairo have time and again been subject to teargas bursting from canisters labelled “Made in the USA”.
It would be an affront to both decency and logic, then, that the same narrative that Zakaria nefariously constructed be repeated today. But of course it is.
The Islamic State (IS) is declared medieval because it espouses dogmas formulated by 13th century Sheikh, Taqi ibn Taymiyyah. Yet its state construction project contains more than an echo of modernity and its social media strategy seems second to none. And the group hasn’t matched in scale the barbarism of the “modernising” elites in Syria and Israel, let alone the US war machine. A couple of severed heads on front pages is all it takes to prove a point, however. You can only wonder when we’ll be allowed into prison death chambers to get the shots of black prisoners being fried alive in the land of the free.
Australian governments have given 110 percent political backing to the project of subordinating the region’s people to US imperial objectives. Militarily, the commitment has been substantially less, but nevertheless significant. Muslims here are instructed to distance themselves from the IS, to prove their allegiance to Western barbarism under threat of becoming enemies of the state. Fighting in the Israeli military is not a problem, however. And dual citizenship with that state, which has carried out ethnic cleansing and genocide on a larger scale than the IS, is perfectly acceptable.
Now, with the terror alert raised to “high” and confirmation that, again, troops are to be deployed to Iraq, Muslims are under a state of siege. “War on our way of life” screamed Brisbane’s Courier Mail on Saturday – despite the admission of ASIO that there is no imminent threat of a terrorist attack, nor any known plans. Sensation is all that can be mustered. No such headlines from the Murdoch stable about a budget that aims to decimate pensioner living standards over the course of decades. We can predict that that, and other budget measures, if passed, would result in unnecessary deaths in future years. Poverty kills in a more civilised way, apparently
Call the government and media line what you want: hypocrisy, cant or duplicity. You only have to think back to Cronulla’s 2005 race riot to understand just how brazen. The riot occurred, we were told by people who were sympathetic to it, because Arab men were disrespecting “Aussie” women on the beach and someone had punched a lifeguard several weeks prior. For the sake of argument, allow that those charges were true. Mainstream radio shock jocks in Sydney thought such trivial acts sufficient justification for mass racist violence.
Think now about the fact that white Australia has never been occupied by a foreign power; it has never been an oppressed nation. Hypothetically, what then would have been the response to the reality of hundreds of thousands of Australians killed under foreign occupation, or under dictators supported by foreign powers? Anyone with any degree of honesty knows exactly what the response – on the street, online, in the non-pliant papers – would have been. It would have made the extremism of the “death cult” appear trifling by comparison.