We may be at the beginning of a third world war.
Certainly the violence is now escalating in northern Iraq and Syria, and Australian troops have been deployed (under the leadership of the United States). Back home we are seeing an increase in violence on our own soil – an anticipated result of this latest foreign adventure – and a corresponding erosion of our cherished civil liberties.
The end-point of the trajectory that we have set ourselves on is entirely unknown at this stage but it could involve the deaths of countless numbers of people. As an Australian, as a citizen of this world, and as a father of four children, I am deeply concerned!
STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!
Those are the three words that I want to share with you today, and if they sound familiar it’s probably because you (like me) learnt them in kindergarten as a part of your road-safety education.
Before you run out on to a road where enormous vehicles are whizzing about you STOP, LOOK and LISTEN lest you get wiped out by a semi-trailer! And there are greater dangers awaiting us on the road we’re on now.
How did we get here?
Prime Minister Tony Abbott blessed our troops as he sent them back into Iraq, telling them that what they were doing was “good, just and necessary”. Is that how all Australian people see it? I don’t think we’ve had a chance to think this through, and the consequences of making the wrong decision here are potentially so grave!
We need to STOP and we need to take a good LOOK at what we are getting ourselves into, and most importantly of all we need to LISTEN.
We need to listen primarily to the people that we are trying to bomb and who we see as the cause of all our difficulties, and try to understand why they are doing what they are doing because unless we can understand the problem we are not going to come up with a solution. Indeed, we will almost certainly only make things worse!
We’ve been very disturbed by the violent threats and actions of the so-called ‘Islamic State’, and most especially by the images of the two American journalists brutally murdered by Al Baghdadi’s men. Of course we found those images disturbing. I found them very disturbing. They were terrible acts.
Those men were, mind you, by no means the first journalists killed by these people. Thirty-nine professional journalists have been killed in Syria since the start of the recent conflict there, twenty-two in Iraq, and a further one-hundred-and-twenty-two Syrian citizen journalists were killed over the same period, but Foley and Sotloff were indeed the first Western journalists killed, and I appreciate that the images of these men being brutally killed upset a lot of us – even to the point that we are ready to go to war with these people.
I can sympathise with that emotional response. What I think we need to think about though is that these same people that we want to go to war with are themselves a generation who have grown up looking at similar images that have made them want to go to war with us!
Did you ever see those images of the violation of Muslim men at Abu Ghraib prison? They are easily viewed on Wikipedia if you haven’t seen them (though I personally wish they were all taken off the Internet as I consider them pornographic). It upsets me to see these men humiliated and violated by US troops, and I suspect that if I were a young Arabic Muslim man these images would upset me even more!
There are lots of images like those on the NET because there has been a lot of violence perpetrated against Middle Eastern Muslim people by the US and its affiliates in the last few years – images of US soldiers urinating on the bodies of dead Afghan men, images of innocent Iraqi civilians being mown down by US helicopter gunships!
Do you remember the ‘collateral murder’ video released by WikiLeaks in 2007, courtesy of Private Manning? It was a video of innocent Iraqi civilians (including children) being shot at and killed by an American helicopter gunship. A whole generation of young Muslims have grown up watching videos like that, and they are angry – angry about what America has done in Afghanistan, in Libya, in Syria, and most obviously in Iraq!
Did you know that, according to Dr Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, as many as 3.3 million Iraqis, including 750,000 children, may have been killed by the U.S. and Great Britain and their friends (including Australia) in the last 22 years! 3.3 million! That technically amounts to genocide!
That figure includes:
- 200,000 Iraqis killed by President Bush Sr. in his 1991 Gulf War.
- 1.4 million killed as a result of the 2003 invasion ordered by President Bush Jr. and Prime Minister Tony Blair.
- 1.7 million killed as a direct result of sanctions.
You and I don’t normally give much thought to things like that, do we, because we are not Iraqis and we are not Muslims, and so we do not feel any direct affinity with these people or their grieving families, but there are a lot of people around the world who have been giving a lot of thought to these genocidal atrocities, and they are angry, and so when Al Baghdadi stands up and says “The Muslim world has taken enough! It’s payback time!” thousands of angry young men flock to him. Indeed, it’s surprising in some ways that there haven’t been more!
I think the reason there are not more young men and women gravitating towards Al Baghdadi is because most Muslims – young and old – are not easily fooled. They know Al Baghdadi does not speak for Islam and they know that this is not the way to stop more wars of imperial aggression. Even so, no one else seems to be standing up for Iraq, for Afghanistan, for Libya, or for Gaza, and that makes Baghdadi look pretty good to a lot of people!
Did you realise that when the US started bombing Syria recently that this was seventh majority-Muslim country that the Obama administration alone has bombed! Yes, seven: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Iraq and now Syria! Are you starting to understand why so many Muslim people are feeling violated by us white-Anglo-Christian types?
We have not been listening to the grievances of our Muslim brothers and sisters, and these are, in many cases, significant grievances that should be taken seriously!
To give another very significant example, do you know what it is that unites Muslim people around the world?
There is no Pope or great Archbishop in Islam – no central figure who exercises any sort of authority over all Muslims across the different nations – and yet there is one thing that unites all Muslims everywhere. Do you know what that is? Perhaps you do but most non-Muslims I speak to tend to be blithely unaware of the fact that the one thing that unites Muslims worldwide is their common opposition to the Palestinian Occupation, which is indeed, in my view, a terrible injustice!
We recently commemorated the 13th anniversary of ‘9/11’. Why did they do it? ‘Because they hate our freedom?’ No! Those hijackers made it quite clear why they did what they did, recording video testimonials before they carried out their terrible deed. Their primary motivation was the unquestioning US support for Israel and hence their complicity in the Palestinian Occupation. It had nothing to do with ‘our freedom’ but we didn’t hear that.
Likewise with the ‘Bali Bombing’ of 2002 where a number of Australians were killed. Why did they do it? Most of us Australians have no idea and put it down to religious fanaticism with no discernible motive beyond irrational and misguided zeal, and this despite that fact that these killers, again, made it quite clear at their trial what their motivation was. Again, it was the complicity in the Palestinian Occupation – Australia’s in this case. We didn’t hear that, did we?
And when the Australian Prime Minister now says publicly that Al Baghdadi’s ‘group as ‘pure evil’ he is making it very clear that he is again closing his ears to what these people have to say. He doesn’t seem to want to know what is really causing this latest crisis, and the bottom line is that if we don’t listen we won’t understand, and if we don’t understand the problem we won’t be able to solve it! Indeed, the American (and Australian) response – that what we need to do is to kill more Muslims is absolutely guaranteed to make things worse, as even if that’s not what the current response is intended to be, that’s exactly how it appears to a large part of the world!
Let me cut to the chase here! If you want to stop an outbreak of malaria you don’t accomplish that by killing mosquitoes. I appreciate that you have to deal with the mosquitoes that are biting you but no amount of swatting will ultimately solve the problem. To stop malaria you have to clean up the swamps where the mosquitoes breed. And if we want to stop international terrorism we are not going to accomplish this by killing terrorists – not while the swamps that breed terrorism still exist.
From what I’ve seen over the last dozen or so years we’ve been doing nothing to clean up these swamps and everything to create new swamps and deepen the existing ones (in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Libya, and around the world) and this latest military in Syria action can be guaranteed to breed a whole new generation of jihadists!
If we truly want to stop terrorism we must stop creating more swampland across the Middle East, and clean up the existing swamps, and there are A LOT of steps that we in the Western world could take in that direction!
A guy named David Swanson (of warisacrime.org) recently published a whole series of suggestions that I thought were excellent. For instance:
- Apologize for brutalizing the leader of ISIS in Abu Ghraib and to every other prisoner victimized under U.S. occupation.
- Apologize for destroying the nation of Iraq and to every family there.
- Begin making restitution by delivering aid (not ‘military aid’ but actual aid, food, medicine) to the entire nation of Iraq.
- Apologize for the US role in the war in Syria, and start delivering real aid to Syria.
- Announce a commitment not to provide weapons to Iraq or Syria or Israel or Jordan or Egypt or Bahrain or any other nation anywhere on earth and to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from foreign territories and seas, including Afghanistan.
- End economic sanctions.
- Send diplomats to Baghdad and Damascus to negotiate aid and to encourage serious reforms.
- Launch a communications campaign in the United States to replace military recruitment campaigns, focused on building sympathy and desire to serve as critical aid workers, persuading doctors and engineers to volunteer their time to travel to and visit these areas of crisis.
- Work through the United Nations on all of this (actually listening to other nations we you go).
- Sign the United States on to the International Criminal Court and voluntarily propose the prosecution of top U.S. officials of this and the preceding regimes for their war crimes.
Those are some of Swanson’s suggestions, and they are good ones. I can think of some more, including getting serious about ending the Palestinian Occupation, and I think if we put our minds to it we could come up with a comprehensive plan that would indeed address the issues that have led to this current crisis, take away any claim to the moral high-ground that radical jihadists like Al Baghdadi might feel entitled to, and so disempower international terrorism by bringing healing and hope instead of death and destruction! Yes, it is possible!
Now I appreciate that it’s a lot harder (in some ways) to go the path of diplomacy and cooperation than it is to just start killing everybody we don’t like, but it’s actually a lot less costly (especially in terms of human lives) and more effective in the long term to go the diplomatic route, and, if I might address the Christian community specifically for a moment (and most of our political leaders do claim to be Christians), let me ask ‘what would Jesus do? Which path would He take?’ It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it!
STOP! LOOK! LISTEN!
You know, I found a road-safety website based on this theme and the headline was “STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! and the bruises you’ll be missing”.
If only it were a few bruises that were at stake here!
Come on, sisters and brothers, we need to call on our government now to STOP, LOOK and LISTEN before it is all too late!