Red Tide Rising: Ignorance and Agony in the Terror War

Another fatal day in the 'war on terror' (The Independent)

The truth keeps tumbling out, and everybody in the world knows it – except the leaders of the West, and great swathes of the American people, who are kept ignorant of what's being done in their name, and the real effects of the so-called "War on Terror." Nothing is allowed to break the ironclad self-righteousness and belligerent sanctimony that imprisons America's public discourse – and the private worldview of a great many individual citizens as well.

But the red tide is rising all around this prison, and will soon overtop the walls. Every day our politics carries us further away from reality. George W. Bush now lives entirely in a world of fantasy; the Democrats only slightly less so. Public life is given over to gassy rhetoric and caricatures, Punch-and-Judy puppets bashing each other with toy sticks. Meanwhile, real power surges through subterranean realms (sometimes literally so, in the case of the Cheney-led "secret government" housed in underground fortresses), in the world of secret murder, torture, terror, mayhem, corruption and theft.

Patrick Cockburn has become one of the great witnesses of our time. His latest report in The Independent nails several unpalatable truths. Here are some excerpts:

Yesterday was another black day in the "war on terror". Across the Middle East, wave upon wave of violence engulfed the region and paid testament to the new, bloody reality five years on from 11 September. The focus of some of the violence yesterday, the victims of attacks in Iraq, in Afghanistan and in Jordan, were Britons. Be they military or civilian, British citizens are increasingly at risk everywhere in the area because Britain is seen as the closest political and military ally of the US…

To Tony Blair, due to visit Israel next weekend, the problem is very straightforward. Speaking in Los Angeles last month he produced a terrifyingly over- simple view of the Middle East saying "the Iraqi and Afghan fight for democracy is our fight. Same values. Same enemy." He claimed that "we have to empower Moderate, Mainstream Islam to defeat Reactionary Islam". The American and British governments will apparently decide in future just who belongs to the latter strand of Islam and go to war with them. They will have their work cut out. The Britons who were killed yesterday in attacks across the Middle East died at the hands of very different people. The suicide bomber in Kabul was almost certainly sent on his mission by the Taliban, who are fundamentalist Sunni Muslims. The Taliban might not even recognise as Muslim the men, almost certainly Shia in the south of Iraq, who planted the roadside bomb that killed two British soldiers north of Basra.

I have spent most of my time since 2001 in Afghanistan and Iraq. The reason for the rise of radical Islam is foreign occupation. Iraq had a secular tradition. Fanatical Islamic groups made little headway under Saddam Hussein not only because he persecuted them but because they had little popular support….

One of the most extraordinary aspects of Tony Blair's analysis of militant Islam is his blindness to the extent to which foreign invasion and occupation has radicalised the region and legitimised militant Islam….Across the Middle East secularist and nationalist regimes are being discredited by the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon. Most governments in the region are corrupt patronage machines backed by brutal security services. They are close to the US but have little influence over it. All are becoming unstable in a way not seen since the 1960s.

The attack by a lone gunman in Jordan holds another dangerous message. At the end of 2001 I was able to stroll through the streets of Kabul and Kandahar without fear of being attacked. I drove between the two cities in a taxi. The same was true in Baghdad under Saddam Hussein and during the first months of the occupation. In 2003 I drove down to Basra in southern Iraq and up to Mosul in the far north without incident. If I tried to repeat any of these journeys in Iraq or Afghanistan today I would certainly be killed. The rest of the Middle East is becoming more dangerous by the day.

The real reason of the increasing violence in the Middle East is the return to imperial control and foreign occupation half a century after the European colonial empires were broken up. This is the fuel for Islamic militancy. This is why fanatical but isolated Islamic groups can suddenly win broader support. Governments allied to the US and Britain have no legitimacy. The attempts by America and Britain to crush Islamic militancy across the Middle East are making sure it will become stronger.