Notes On The News
By Gwydion M. Williams
There was probably a circular from al-Qaeda to the Iraqi resistance, to hold off during Bush’s visit to Britain because something big was planned. No doubt this leaked and caused the dire warnings about bombs in Britain. And of course they were looking in the wrong place. The Islamists have so far been thinking strategically, and running rings round Anglo-America. Everyone was watching Britain, so they hit British interests in Istanbul.
I had a strong feeling there’d be no bombs in Britain itself. Reaction to past IRA bombs in London has been to carry on and ‘tough it out’. The English norm is tougher, more brutal and much less flappable than the New York average. Britain not like the USA, where police, military and crime have all been subcontracted to ethnic minorities. In Britain, there is considerable racist resistance to letting them in at all to the police and military. And the population as a whole retains a highly military spirit. Maybe al-Qaeda know, or have been advised by people who know, in any case they have so far avoided doing anything that would damage their cause rather than advance it. Overseas British targets are another matter.
Turks are also extremely tough. But which side will they be on, if things go on the way they have been going? The idea of Turkish troops in Iraq has been dropped, the first meaningful exercise of authority by the Iraqi “Governing” Council. (Whose survival turns out to be thanks to their remaining in the stay in US secure zone, well away from the people they are supposed to be ruling.)
Tactics keep shifting. One ingenious attack using rockets mounted on a donkey-cart has led to deep suspicion of all donkey-carts from now on. Asses are now suspect, in fact everyone is suspect. The American troops dumped into an impossible situation no longer believe they have any trustworthy friends among the people they ‘liberated’.
I suspect also that al-Qaeda has picked up some more substantial allies. They were a rather small group whose actions had caused little trouble and were largely confined to the Taliban areas of Afghanistan. Their success on September 11th was based on the US being unready and unwilling to shoot down hijacked aircraft with US citizens on board. A more moderate and considered policy might have cut them off from their natural supporters among discontented Muslims. But for the Bush administration, moderation is weakness and grand gestures are everything.
Shouting ‘no surrender’ is rather pointless if you then do surrender. Since the Resistance got going, the Bush administration has given several big rewards to acts of terrorism. A few bombs got them withdrawing from Saudi Arabia. Being brutal to the weak and then backing down in face of those who hit back is the worst possible strategy.
Just now the US are revising their plans for Iraq, indicating a willingness to pull out much sooner than was planned. Which also implies a willingness to let power pass to the Shiite majority, who are mostly Islamist and anti-American and whose right to rule would be rejected by both the Kurds and the Sunni Arabs. Iraq is fragmented and has no natural majorities, except perhaps religious-based rule dominated by the Shiites. Multi-party politics is possible only when the electorate are homogeneous and don’t think party differences worth dying for. Iraq needs to be governed by consensus; the system that the West regards as normal will only confirm that Shiites are more numerous.
Perhaps anticipating this, a new mythology is being assembled: it is guerrilla fighters who are preventing the West from making life better in Iraq. The advocates of this line assume that the public will forget that there was a quiet month or two in which the West messed up comprehensively—beginning with allowing looting to give an appearance of popular support.
Bush in his visit made something of the freedom to protest. But he was making a virtue of necessity: the notion that you could protest at a war while your own country was fighting it is a relatively new one, established by the successful anti-Vietnam protests in the USA in the 1960s. It did not apply in either World War. Before that, USA did not suppress pro-Confederate opinions during the Confederate Secession, but that was maybe because it was too strong to be suppressed. The existence of a right of protest during a war is not luck, it’s a matter of popular protest and past popular disgust at blunderers who caused avoidable wars.
In Britain, one wing of the Liberal Party protested at the Boer War, facing harassment but no actual legal penalties. A century earlier, in the wars following the French Revolution, the law was manipulated to turn all anti-government opinions into ‘treason’. The British electorate was tiny in those days, excluding most of the middle classes. In terms of real power, a few hundred rich men controlled enough MPs to ignore even the bulk of the electorate. British power in the days of our struggle against Napoleon’s ‘tyranny’ suppressed any sentiment against the war. They had perhaps learned the lesson of the American War of Independence, when free expression of opinions did a lot to undermine the British position.
In World War One, Lloyd George went from being a pro-Boer champion to being part of the anti-German hysteria. And he became the very architect of British victory—a victory more damaging than most defeats, as it turned out. Lloyd George intentionally stuck to war rather than taking up the German peace offers of 1915 and 1916, which would have treated the war as a stalemate and gone back to the 1914 borders.
Also in World War One, the US Supreme Court decided that ‘free speech’ did not extend to Socialist protests at the war. To suppose that Constitutional guarantees mean anything is to misunderstand the system. The Supreme Court can twist them any way they like, and mostly do so in the interests of the privileged.
As of now, the Iraq war is unpopular enough to ensure we have a continued right of protest. ‘Anti-terrorism’ gets used to harass non-white and Muslim people, but not dissenters among the white majority.
“Cruelty is part of their strategy”, complanied Mr Bush after the Istanbul bombings of 20th November. Perhaps he knows of kindly act of war? There did used to be some standards, but US strategy since 1991 has eroded a lot of them. They uphold the principle of ‘save-a-soldier-kill-a-child’ with their use of cluster bombs.
The anti-war protest at the start of 2002 drew in two million Britons, there was no way such a thing could be suppressed short of armed force. The anti-Bush demo achieved 300,000.
It is however pointless to have the right to protest if the system gets short-circuited by massive lying and a biased media which reflects business opinion rather than public opinion. Bush is the most powerful man in the world, thanks to the oddities of the US electoral system and from a great deal of distortion of the popular will in Florida. The UK was very much divided on the war, despite the lies that were told about weapons of mass destruction. Spain was solidly against, but were ignored by their government.
It is lucky for us that the Iraq war is going so visibly badly and getting criticised even within the military-security camp. Bush and his backers probably did have something much more ‘radical’ in mind—radical in this context meaning the rich doing whatever they please and often reversing decades of reform to return to systems that had been tried before and failed before. But the Iraq situation is such a mess for the US that further action is inhibited.
Consider the US as a two-fisted monster that has got one fist stuck solidly in Iraq. They can still strike one more terrible blow at another foe—but they have more than one possible foe and dare not get stuck in two wars simultaneously.
When I heard that two Japanese had been killed soon after seven Spaniards, my immediate conclusion was that the Resistance had switched strategies yet again. I’ve no way of knowing what US intelligence thought about the matter: they definitely failed to prevent the subsequent killing of two Japanese, two Koreans and a Columbian. Of course it was Sunday: very unsporting of these Muslim enemies not to respect the Christian day of rest.
Even before this, the ‘kill ratio’ had tilted way against the Americans. They cannot really afford to trade one-to-one against Iraqis: Iraq is a small nation, but they are fighting for their whole way of life whereas America now doubts if it should be fighting at all.
According to the BBC, the US lost 79 troops in November, and allies 26, with maybe 64 Iraqis killed by the coalition troops. That’s not including the 54 supposedly killed in the Samarra ambush: local people say eight or nine, not all of them actually involved in the attack.
Meantime the Shiites are trying to bargain for a quick election and ‘majority rule’, which would mean Shiite rule and guarantee civil war. But why should they settle for anything else? Either all of Iraq, or unchallenged power in their own bit of Iraq, along with effective partition. The three provinces that Britain ripped out the Ottoman Empire do not really belong together: with the destruction of Saddam and the Baath, there is no effective force for unity any more.
The USA built up Muslim extremism to undermine various left-wing forms of secularism, not realising that they were ruining the only forces able to modernise that society. In Turkey, Ataturk was not so different from Saddam, the big difference being that he had time to hammer secular patterns into the society and leave it secure enough for democracy to be tried without immediate disaster. Turkish secularism includes an assumption that the West will let them in on equal terms. And that isn’t going to happen, regardless of how much Turks may suffer for upholding Western interests.
The Synagogue bombs of 15th November were done by Turks, not foreigners. At least one of them was linked to a right-wing group of the sort that did the USA’s dirty work during the Cold War.
The second wave of suicide bombers, the people who hit British interests, were ethnic Kurds who presumably found a new identity within hard-line Islam.
“These two men – so good, so calm, say friends – were no strangers to hardship. From early on they had known suffering, first as ethnic Kurds who inhabited the heavily militarised badlands of Turkey, then as Muslim fundamentalists.
“Ekinci, who would ram his explosive-laden truck into the British consulate, saw his father, Idris, shot dead by Turkish nationalists when he was two.
“’Idris was a good man who led a workers’ union at Bingol’s town hall, but Turkish nationalists shot him because he was a prominent member of the PKK [the outlawed Kurdish rebel group],’ said Ridvan Kizgin, who heads the local Turkish Human Rights Foundation. (Guardian, 27th November).
Hostility to Western values is still a minority reaction, even though an Islamist party is now in power. Turks still hope that they will be admitted to the European Union, but this seems doubtful, much more doubtful than it was in the Cold War. West European voters are still substantially racist in their outlook and do not want huge numbers of foreigners with a different culture, religion and skin colour. East European nations are let in, Turkey is permanently kept waiting.
Besides, admitting Turkey would give the European Union a common border with Iran, Iraq and Syria, not a formula for peace or stability. Also a common border with Georgia and Armenia, who would be logical candidates after Turkey, but with serious geopolitical consequences. Under some circumstances, even Israel might want to join.
Had history gone differently, Turkey might have been absorbed peacefully into a European Community that was less stressed and hence less racist. That is not the way history went, and Turks would be wise to look back to their roots.
[What actually happened was that Turkey settled down by electing a conservative Islamist government]