Facilitate the power of love - confront the love of power

Mon, 01 Aug 2005

Reaping the whirlwind

- the  London bombings
The London 7/7 bombings and the 21/7 failure, lend impetus to this enquiry into the naturalness or otherwise of domination. I was touched by the number of people who called to check that I was OK and surprised at the less than visceral shock evoked in me by the images and reporting of these close at hand events. Was this perhaps because I had taken care to try to keep in touch with the parallel atrocities in Iraq and occupied Palestine? Maybe... I certainly felt that some kind of blowback from the Iraq and Afghanistan attacks was inevitable. Not a dissident view this, since police chiefs have been talking up the possibility of a UK attack for some months.

What surprised me more was that, in the media I see—excepting Robin Cook in the Guardian and Tony Benn, BBC Newsnight—there was barely a voice that asked the obvious question about  7/7, why would anyone want to end their life in this way, as a suicide 'smart bomb'? Was this a question that, out of undue respect for the victims and their families was unaskable? Was the UK going to repeat the denial of culpability that was prevalent in the US ?

Since a) I wasn't finding answers to this line of questioning and b) prompted by blatantly dominationist writing in a couple of the publications I have access to, I started to look for myself.

On Tuesday July 26th Mark Steyn begins a piece in the Daily Telegraph:

According to his cousins back in Pakistan, Yorkshire lad Shehzad Tanweer decided to become a "holy warrior" because of "US abuse of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay".

There is, of course, no "US abuse of Muslim prisoners in Guantanamo Bay". Newsweek's story about Korans being flushed down the toilet turned out to be a crock; minor examples of possible disrespect of the holy book are outweighed by multiple desecrations of their Korans by the detainees. One man was exposed to Christina Aguilera CDs played very loud in an attempt to break him, which I can't say I'd care for. Another had large chunks of Harry Potter read to him, but don't worry, it wasn't the new one.

None the less, to avenge the brutal torture of having Harry Potter read to you by a woman, Shehzad Tanweer self-detonated on the Underground and killed seven people. Ted Kennedy, Newsweek and the British press might like to ponder that before they puff up the next shameful torture technique (insufficient selection of entrées?) into front page news.

Steyn ignores, or hasn't seen the Jane Mayer's article, New Yorker July 11-18, which details the torture and ill treatment of Guantanamo prisoners (and the role of psychological and medical professionals in devising it). As she tells it, even FBI agents complained to their superiors about Guantanamo interrogations:

"On a couple of occasions I entered an interview room to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor,with no chair, food or water,' he wrote. Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves and had been left there for 18 to 24 hours or more." The agent related that he had also visited an " almost unconscious" prisoner in a room where the temperature was "probably well above 100 degrees, "There was a "pile of hair next to him." (He seemed to have pulled out his own hair.)

How do you suppose, coupled with the Abu Ghraib images, Steyn's blatant denial of the torture of prisoners in Guantanamo reads to an adherent of Islam in the UK or the rest of the world?

The Steyn article led me to another article, in the Spectator, The myth of moderate Islam where Patrick Sookhdeo pilloried a Pakistani writer Abid Ullah Jan for having apparently applauded the London bombings. 'The gist of the article', Sookhdeo claimed:

... is that Muslims should strive to gain political and military power over non-Muslims, that warfare is obligatory for all Muslims, and that the Islamic state, Islam and Sharia (Islamic law) should be established throughout the world. All is supported with quotations from the Koran.

Sookhdeo goes on to argue that:

...the Koran is like a pick-and-mix selection. If you want peace, you can find peaceable verses. If you want war, you can find bellicose verses. You can find verses which permit only defensive jihad, or you can find verses to justify offensive jihad.

Moving off Ullah Jan's text, Sookhdeo says that in the Qur'an:

You can even find texts which specifically command terrorism, the classic one being Q8:59-60, which urges Muslims to prepare themselves to fight non-Muslims, ‘Against them make ready your strength to the utmost of your power, including steeds of war, to strike terror into (the hearts of) the enemies’ (A. Yusuf Ali’s translation). Pakistani Brigadier S.K. Malik’s book The Quranic Concept of War is widely used by the military of various Muslim countries. Malik explains Koranic teaching on strategy: ‘In war our main objective is the opponent’s heart or soul, our main weapon of offence against this objective is the strength of our own souls, and to launch such an attack, we have to keep terror away from our own hearts.... Terror struck into the hearts of the enemies is not only a means, it is the end itself. Once a condition of terror into the opponent’s heart is obtained, hardly anything is left to be achieved. It is the point where the means and the end meet and merge. Terror is not a means of imposing decision on the enemy; it is the decision we wish to impose on him.’(my emphasis)

Sookhdeo argues that the notion that 'Islam is peace' doesn't stand up to close inspection of the Qur'an, an often quoted verse does say that ‘If you kill one soul it is as if you have killed all mankind.’ but he goes on, the full and unexpurgated version of Q5:32 states:

‘If anyone slew a person — unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land — it would be as if he slew the whole people.’ The very next verse lists a selection of savage punishments for those who fight the Muslims and create ‘mischief’ (or in some English translations ‘corruption’) in the land, punishments which include execution, crucifixion or amputation.

Hmm. All the Muslims I have met have been notably gentle, kind and caring, so what is it that has got up the noses of those who see their destiny as suicide bombers?

That something is up the nose and more, of Abbid Ullah Jan, is easily apparent from even a casual dip into some of the writing helpfully listed here.

Rage is what first comes to mind, the rage of a lightning conductor, someone who is trying to channel the huge emotional charge of oppressed subordination so that it reaches the ears of  dominant ruling classes. A tough role, Al Jazeera is another example, and one likely to damage those who hold it.
In the first piece I came to, The "Death Cult" or Superfascism Ullah Jan answers my question of why anyone would want to end their lives as a suicide bomber. It's nothing to do with Islam.

What made the young Muslims, raised in this society, do this?

...Bush, Blair and their fellow war lords have a pre-conceived answer for this question: Muslims are “in the grip of a dangerous cult” of the “poisonous misinterpretation of Islam.”

We are told: “No, Islam is a great religion. They act like misinterpretation.”

...Is it that blowing themselves [up] irrationally, and killing women and children and all innocent people for no reason at all is dear to Allah and He will reward Muslim with
70 virgin in heaven after their successfully blowing themselves from
limb to limb?

Ullah Jan dismisses any suggestion that there is a message within Islam, misinterpreted or not, that requires this martyrdom. He goes on:

An impartial analysis reveals that it is not some kind of inspiration due to misinterpretation of Islam, but depression and desperation as a result of the lies and double standards of those who have exploited freedom and democracy to the extent of turning it into something worse than a death cult. Cult leaders die with the rest of cult members. They don’t kill those who are not part of the cult. But the super-fascists of the our age live peacefully while putting the future of humanity at stake.

Unlike the cult phenomenon, the super-fascists prefer to live and rule
the world. For realizing their totalitarian designs, they don’t mind lying, cheating and killing their own people at home as well as through sending them abroad for invasions and occupation. Killing hundreds of thousands of aliens, who do not share their religious faith, culture totalitarian ideologies, is not even as much as a pinprick for their dead conscience.

Since Islam doesn’t approve killing of innocent civilians and no sane
person can ever leave all his own loved ones behind and go on a mission to kill innocent loved ones of others, it must be something far more serious than the myth that these individuals are suffering from “a poverty of dignity and wealth or rage.”

The perpetrators could be Muslims. But they are definitely not inspired
by religion or its misinterpretation. They are the product of a reaction to the super-fascism of their age.

And so I was returned to my theme of domination. Ullah Jan distinguishes in this article between jihad and jihadism:

Jihad is always for self-actualisation, eradication of mischief and eliminating oppression with a focus on spiritual aspect at all levels.

He sees jihadism as a label:

that the US uses as a bogyman to criminalise resistance to its illegitimate occupations and to justify the policy of total domination through its “war on terrorism.”

In support of this he points to evidence suggesting that the Russians were seduced into invading Afghanistan by the CIA's promotion of jihad and the information that the generation of jihadis that Bin Laden orchestrates were nourished by vast amounts of US produced educational material:

The Washington Post's Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway report about this process of spreading, what the US now labels as “Jihadism”:

"In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation. The "Primers", which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books..." [2]

Unlike the ongoing efforts to eliminate the Islamic concept of Jihad from school curriculum around the Muslim world, Stephens and Ottaway identify how the US governmental and educational organizations were involved in actually developing Jihad-focused textbooks. They write:

"Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the textbooks were developed in the early 1980s under an AID [Agency for
International Development] grant to the University of Nebraska-Omaha and its Center for Afghanistan Studies. The agency spent $51 million on the university's education programs in Afghanistan from 1984 to 1994."

Under this Jihadism project, the images and talk of resistance to occupation were craftily intermingled with regular education: "Children were taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles and land mines, agency officials said.

"One page from the texts of that period shows a resistance fighter with a bandolier and a Kalashnikov slung from his shoulder. The soldier's head is missing. Above the soldier is a verse from the Koran. Below is a Pashtu tribute to the mujaheddin [sic], who are described as obedient to Allah. Such men will sacrifice their wealth and life itself to impose Islamic law on the government, the text says." 

The United States’ Jihadism successfully transformed Afghan children into true freedom fighters. None of the present analyst, obsessed with using the word Jihadism and Jihadists, wrote a single word to condemn the US ways to promoting violence. Many of the presently labeled “Jihadists” live on from that period to join or morally support the
resistance against new occupations.

Now that the US comes to reap the whirlwind, many Americans consider attacks on US occupation forces a shocking and unsettling crime.

I begin to feel hooked by two narratives here. One story says that the 'terrorism' in London, Madrid, Bali, Sharm al Sheik and Israel is due to an insane distortion of Islam which seeks by these means to bring a sharia law caliphate to the presently non-Muslim world.

The other story tells us that the extremity of self-immolation of suicide bombers can only be accounted for as the coming to focus of a reservoir of rage due to 80+ years of imperial and colonial oppression of Muslim peoples by western governments through military force and the privileged promotion of corporate interests.

Following C.S Scott's highly recommendable notion of dominant and subordinate political narratives that are often unable to hear each other, let alone empathize with the other story, this sounds promisingly like such a pairing.

The dominant narrative can't/won't hear the subordinate narrative, partly because it is perceived as coming from a 'barbaric', or 'primitive' culture but mostly because to accept it all would fatally undermine the politics of the dominant story. (if hostage takers empathize with their captives, they are much less likely to be able to kill them)

The subordinate narrative, with neither the assets nor the power to negotiate with the narrators of the dominant story, tells its tale through welding whatever spiritual imperatives that are to hand to the indigenous ingenuity of the suicide bomb.

Through doing this, the oppressed of the worldwide muslim communities, finding a smart weapon that upstages the smart weaponry of the dominant, reproduce in the streets of Baghdad and London and Bali and Madrid, the domination of the oppressor. Non violent direct action doesn't (yet) seem an option.

Paradoxically, this matching of resources compromises the subordinate storytellers' cause, since it enables a curious perversion of blaming and media collusion in the re-telling of the dominant story.  Prime Minister Blair labels the violence and damage of the London bomber's actions as 'evil', or 'criminal', shutting down consideration of the oppressed muslim world's bombings as a subordinate voice, with something to tell us that we need to listen to. In doing so he endorses the US in its denial of culpability  and joins the 'war on terrorism', the transparent subtext of which is the licencing of US  'full spectrum dominance' worldwide.

And so I get back to my beginning question, how come so few people seem to ask why the London and other bombers would do something so extreme?

I'm inclined to conclude that we don't ask this question because we inhabit cultures of domination where the stories we are told, and that we are licenced to tell ourselves, are sharply restricted to those that don't unduly disturb the narrators of the dominant story i.e. ourselves.

The answer we would find, as I seem to have found, is that for hundreds of thousands of people in the middle east this, and this, and this, and this, is the subordinate story they presently inhabit. Such stories of pain, hurt, grief and suffering are hard to bear, and if we can avoid them, we do.

After all, who except suicide bombers, would want to be a lightning conductor carrying the emotional charge of a 100 years of oppression, betrayal and exploitation of the Middle East?

Abbid Ullah Jan is a regular contributor to media-monitors network-canada.