Belaboring the Obvious

Monday, May 29, 2006

Memorial Day Musings...

... on the tendency of the United States to foster war when it can't have peace on its own exclusive terms.

It's not something Americans like to admit, but for a country which professes through its politicians a great love of peace, we do a whole helluva lot of fighting around the world. We also seem to have a penchant for keeping the fighting going until we can obtain, in George Bush's simplistic terms, "total victory." Sometimes this has been interpreted as total surrender of the enemy.

We've been hearing this off and on for a long, long time. At Versailles, on the USS Missouri, but most particularly in the last few years regarding terrorism. Expecting "total victory" against such opposition will probably work to extend the problem, rather than solve it. (It may be, given human nature, that the best that can be done with terrorism is to minimize it, and to make it more difficult for terrorists to act.)

And, I wonder, if that's the whole point of doing so--extending the problem. That's what we did--or tried to do--with the Soviet Union. By 1980, as a kind of anti-detente backlash, the neo-conservatives had concocted the general notion that the roots of all terrorism worldwide could be traced to the Kremlin, with the help of a book written by Michael Ledeen (despite the acknowledged fact within the CIA that the basis of that belief--and the evidence offered in Ledeen's book--stemmed from black propaganda inserted into, principally, the European press by the CIA itself). Then, when the Soviet Union imploded, the neo-conservatives, led by the writings of Laurie Mylroie, determined, poof!, since the Soviet Union was gone, that the seat of all worldwide terrorism resided several thousand miles to the south, in Baghdad. (One wonders how the transfer of those responsibilities occurred--was it like turning over the keys to an apartment?)

The latest variation on that theme is the one proffered by Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney, Bush, et al, that world terrorism is a monolithic construct, spanning dozens of countries, with terror cells all reporting back to the shadowy figure of Osama bin Laden, with a military organization chart, full of #2s and #3s and "lieutenants."

It's necessary to think of terrorism in military terms if one wishes to justify the use of the military--rather than law enforcement--to counteract the problem, and to justify larger and larger military budgets, along with more and more military influence in and/or control of society.

If the problem of national defense has become more and more clouded and indistinct, it may be that U.S. leaders have made it so, intentionally, and Bush has done so more than any other. That may be due to his own ineptitude in understanding it, made more complicated by a Manichean outlook on everything in life, or it could be that Bush is simply the carnival barker for neo-conservative ideas which have been seeking the forefront of policy for sixty years.

One thing is certain, though. The approach the Bushies have been taking over the last several years will perpetuate and spread terrorism for many years to come, and there's some history to suggest this is so. In the late `50s, Sayyed Qutb was a founder of what is now known in Egypt as the Islamic Brotherhood. Gamel Abdul Nasser, sensing the threat in the Brotherhood, had Qutb imprisoned. While there, he was tortured. At one point, animal scents were spread on him and he was locked in a cell with dogs. The dogs attacked him and in the struggle, he had a heart attack.

After this event, his writings changed. He had always blamed the West for debasing Egyptian and Muslim culture, and for propping up dictators such as Nasser. Now, he felt that Western spiritual corruption had infected Muslims and had led them to engage in torture of other Muslims. The books he wrote in prison, then smuggled out, reflected this change in his thinking. It convinced him that the corruption was so extensive that it would be permissible to kill Muslim leaders who spread it.

Nasser had Qutb tried and convicted of treason, and Qutb was executed in 1966. But, Qutb's torture-induced philosophy had affected a young Egyptian doctor, from a well-to-do and influential family. That doctor would go on to spread Qutb's ideas, become influential in the Islamic Brotherhood, and would, in 1980, be one of hundreds of people imprisoned and put on trial after members of the Brotherhood in the Egyptian military assassinated Anwar Sadat.

While in prison, this young doctor, too, was tortured by the Egyptian police, and, likely because of that, would come to expand on and refine Qutb's views. He would see the West as the sole source of the corruption, would decide that when Egyptians did not rise up against their government after Sadat's assassination, the masses, too, had become too corrupted to even recognize their debasement. Because of this, he would take his revenge on the West, and on ordinary Muslims who did not embrace an Islamist state.

The doctor's name is Ayman Zawahiri, the so-called #2 to Osama bin Laden. I say "so-called" because intelligence in this country continues to think of bin Laden as the leader, which may be the result of a longstanding and imperfect understanding of the relationship of bin Laden and Zawahiri, an imperfect understanding which works well to perpetuate the myth of terrorism with a military org chart.

But, what binds together the notions of Islamic revolution and Western corruption in the minds of terrorist leaders is torture.

To the torturer, the practice is merely an efficient means of extracting accurate information (a delusional belief, if scientific research is to be believed), but to the tortured, it damages the very soul of the person. To a devout Muslim, the typical practices employed force the individual to confront so many different fears and shames that the end result is truly consciousness-altering, and as with the influential members of the Islamic Brotherhood who were tortured, it forever altered their thinking.

So, what has the United States done in its attempts to obtain "total victory" over terrorism? It has tortured hundreds, perhaps thousands of devout Muslims. Dick Cheney has sought to legitimize the practice and to ignore law prohibiting it.

Somehow, it seems to me that, in that desire to torture are the seeds of our neverending "war on terror." We are doing the precise things required to perpetuate that war, rather than to bring it to a swift end. Moreover, I have come to the conclusion that the politicians pushing the use of torture know what the result will be. More terrorism.

So, on Memorial Day, a day we remember our war dead, we should also realize that we will be remembering a greater number war dead in the next year, and the year after that, and so on, until we realize that the people we torture today will go on, to avenge their shame and their humiliation and to justify their hardened opinions, killing the soldiers our politicians put in harm's way.

Our politicians use soldiers in this "war on terror" to convince us that it can be won militarily (a notion which is suspect, to begin with, and has never been properly debated). Then, they order those soldiers to torture their prisoners, and if experience is to be appreciated, that torture perpetuates the terror on which "war" is being waged.

It's not just a self-fulfilling prophecy. It's a strategy.


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