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Talking Points

War On Terror

By AF Keck
Illustration www.mothi.biz

Do ideas shape reality, or does reality shape ideas? “Since the September 11 attacks, America is safer, but we are not yet safe enough.” – George W Bush, 5 September 2006 “Over the past five years, we have waged an unprecedented campaign against terrorism at home and abroad, and that campaign has succeeded in protecting the homeland. We’ve learned the lessons of September 11.” – George W Bush, 11 September 2006

Definition of sedition?
In this ‘Post-9/11 World’ in which we are living, it seems trite to say that few words are as politically or emotionally charged as is the term ‘terrorism’. Yet definitions vary widely. For instance, a study conducted in 1988 by the US Army found over 100 definitions of the word used throughout global media networks. With such a broad interpretation, many news sources (discounting the US president, his administration, Republicans in general, and FOX News) try and avoid using the term, opting instead for less accusatory words such as ‘insurgent’ ‘extremist’ or ‘militant’.

Terrorism is considered a crime in many countries and is defined by a respective nation’s judicial statutes. The so-called common principles among legal definitions of terrorism are meant to provide an emerging consensus of the term in order to foster cooperation between law enforcement personnel around the world. Among these definitions there are several which do not recognise the possibility of legitimate use of violence by civilians against an invader in an occupied country and would, thus, label all resistance movements as terrorist groups. Others make a distinction between lawful and unlawful use of violence, therefore the designation appears solely to be one of political judgement.

Currently in the US and Europe, the term is used to describe the systematic use, or threatened use, of violence to intimidate a population or government and thereby effect political, religious or ideological change. Acts of terrorism are not intended to merely victimise or eliminate those who are killed, injured or taken hostage but rather to intimidate and influence the societies to which they belong. Modern terrorism has come to be defined in part by the influential power of the mass media that terrorists co-opt in their efforts to amplify and broadcast feelings of intense fear and anger. As a type of unconventional warfare, terrorism is designed to weaken or supplant existing political landscapes through capitulation or acquiescence, as opposed to subversion or direct military action.

In November 2004, a UN panel described terrorism as any act “intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or non-combatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or compelling a government or an international organisation to do or abstain from doing any act”.

Don’t know, don’t care
On the 5th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in New York, George W Bush (never an aficionado of the art of subtle nuance) lumped all definitions and thereby various disparate terrorist and militant groups under one vast, doggone umbrella of evil. During the course of his week-long 9/11 memorial histrionics, he quoted extensively from Osama bin Laden and other ‘celebrity’ terrorist leaders to remind Americans that the threat from terrorism remains potent.

He described the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001 as “men without conscience but not madmen”. As “men who kill in the name of a clear and focused ideology, a set of beliefs that are evil, but not insane”. “Fanatics who are driven by a radical and perverted vision of Islam that rejects tolerance, crushes all dissent, and justifies the murder of innocent men, women and children in the pursuit of political power.” Bush went further still, claiming that the terrorist evil-doers’ ultimate goal is (and I quote) “To establish a violent political utopia across the Middle East, which they call a ‘Caliphate'”. Apparently, (according to Dubya) this Caliphate would be a totalitarian regime in which all of humanity would be ruled in darkness and fear, under an insidious, all-encompassing turban of hate. Thus he sent a message to the world that America was still committed to defeating terrorism and winning “the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st Century”. Hence, the continued occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequent terrorist attacks in London, Lebanon, Bali, Gaza, Madrid, etc.

The war on terror marches on terror
According to a recent survey conducted by the UK’s Independent on Sunday, this self-styled “war on terror” has directly killed a minimum of 62,006 people, created 4.5 million refugees and cost the US more than the sum needed to pay off the debts of every poor nation on earth. But this would appear to be a low estimate, for the study concluded that if estimates of deaths of insurgents and the Iraq military during the 2003 invasion (not recorded individually by Western media) or those dying from wounds were to be included, then the toll could reach as high as 180,000.

Unfortunately the numbers are continually growing, but at the date of the published survey, the numbers of lives confirmed lost were: 4,541 to 5,308 civilians and 385 military in Afghanistan; 50,100 civilians and 2,899 military in Iraq; and 4,081 in acts of terrorism in the rest of the World. The new figure on civilian deaths from Iraq Body Count, a group of British and US academics, is especially telling. Just two and a half years ago, its estimate of the number of civilian dead in Iraq passed 10,000. Today, it says, that figure has gone beyond the 50,000 mark, a huge leap largely attributable to terrorist acts and the breakdown of civil authority. Iraq Body Count’s careful methodology of recording a death only when it appears in two independent media reports almost certainly produces a substantial underestimate. Even the Iraqi Health Ministry reports a slightly higher figure, and President Bush’s much-quoted figure of 30,000 civilian dead dates from December 2005, when it tallied with the then IBC figure. Insurgent deaths are not included in the IBC figures, and neither are those of Iraqi police when engaged in combat-style operations. Estimates of the former are, together with the number of Iraqi military killed in the battle phase of the Iraq occupation, the biggest unknown of the conflict. One US news report guessed the insurgent dead in Iraq at 36,000 since 2003, while the number of Iraqi military killed during the invasion phase remains unknown and unknowable.

Therefore these numbers were not included in the Independent on Sunday’s figure of 62,006 confirmed directly killed. Nor does it include any figures for people later dying from wounds received, or the increased mortality owing to the wretched state of health care in Iraq. In March 2006, the campaign group Medact reported that 18,000 physicians have left since 2003, while an estimated 250 of those that remained have been kidnapped and, in 2005 alone, 65 killed. Medact also said that “easily treatable conditions such as diarrhoea and respiratory illness caused 70 per cent of all child deaths”, and that “of the 180 health clinics the US hoped to build by the end of 2005, only four have been completed and none has been opened”. In May, a survey by the Iraq government and Unicef reported that a quarter of all Iraqi children suffer from malnutrition.
In Afghanistan, the most reliable recorder of civilian deaths is Professor Marc Herold, whose latest figures range from 4,541 to 5,308. He does not include those who die subsequently from their injuries or in refugee camps. These indirect deaths have been put at anything from 8,000 to 20,000. In July 2006, the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants said there were 2.2 million Afghans who had fled abroad and at least 153,200 displaced internally. For Iraq, there were 888,700 external refugees, and 1.3 million people displaced inside the country. An estimated 40 per cent of the Iraqi middle class have left Iraq.

Cause and effect?
Winning hearts and minds?
This is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century?


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