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Jihadis, Godly Hypocrites - Which Side Are You On?

Jihadis or Godly Hypocrites - Which Side Are You On?

By Steve Weissman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Monday 17 January 2005

The ICRC reminds all those involved in the armed confrontations in Iraq that international humanitarian law prohibits the killing or harming of civilians who are not directly taking part in the hostilities.
International Committee of the Red Cross, 9 November 2004.

Give Mr. Bush credit. However simplistic his black-and-white, good-versus-evil views, he forced the world to confront one of the defining questions of our time: Do political grievances, no matter how severe, give anyone the right to maim and kill innocent men, women, and children?

How the world answers the question will determine the outcome of Mr. Bush's "War on Terror," but not in the way he might think.

Whether at a restaurant in Tel Aviv, a nightclub in Bali, or the World Trade Center in Manhattan, terror attacks on civilians challenge one of the hard-won gains of human history - the insistence that we protect innocent life, even in the midst of war.

The civilized world enshrines the principle in treaties and law. The International Committee of the Red Cross constantly warns warring parties to observe it. Our global press and television, however flawed, shame those who do not with unwanted attention, while huge numbers of people claim to believe that no political cause, no matter how just, ever justifies the shedding of innocent blood. The ends do not justify the means.

Jihadis - the holy warriors of a radically politicized Islam - vehemently disagree. Though generally rejecting the terrorist label, they laud terror tactics against civilians. Well-known Muslim clerics offer their religious blessings, while millions of people around the world praise skyjackers and suicide bombers as freedom fighters, and applaud their "martyrdom missions" as the weapon of the weak against overwhelming military power.

Morally, the battle lines seem clearly drawn. But don't be fooled. Especially in holy wars, the moral choices are rarely as clear-cut as the warriors on either side would like us to believe.

With the first bomb that U.S. forces dropped in Afghanistan, Mr. Bush's stand against terror began to give away whatever moral force it might have had. No matter how many American generals insisted they would never target innocent civilians, too many innocent civilians ended up dead or maimed. Call them collateral damage.

Choosing to invade Iraq shredded the moral argument even more. Mr. Bush might talk of liberating the Iraqis and bringing democracy to a troubled land. In some strange and convoluted way, he and his Neo-Con advisors might even have believed what they said. But too many not-so-smart bombs, rockets, and boots in the face killed and maimed more innocent civilians, while torture at Abu Ghraib and beyond made America's moral claims completely suspect.

Add Washington's less lofty agenda - grabbing Iraqi oil reserves, building military bases, and awarding multi-million dollar contracts to Halliburton, Bechtel, and other Republican fat cats - and even to mention morality smells of rank hypocrisy.

As America's moral failure becomes ever more blatant, even the term "terrorist" takes on new shades of meaning. Remember Washington's initial Shock and Awe bombing campaign? Or American GIs breaking down doors and shoving whole families to the floor? Or the president's authorization of torture from Abu Ghraib to Guantánamo to his gulag of secret detention centers around the globe?

Whether as a primary purpose or only a side effect, these and other American efforts thoroughly terrorized the immediate victims, their friends and relatives, and others who later heard the stories magnified in endless re-telling. Clearly, our military planners understood the terrifying impact they were having, especially on civilian populations.

Witness the devastation of Fallujah in the days following our November election. American forces began with a massive air and artillery barrage that demolished homes, a medical warehouse, and the city's small Nazzal Emergency Hospital, which was funded by an Islamic charity from Saudi Arabia. Officers described the hospital as a headquarters for insurgents and a center of anti-America propaganda.

Soldiers also stormed the Fallujah General Hospital, closing it and confiscating cell phones from the doctors. An American officer told The New York Times the hospital was another "center of propaganda."

American forces turned away the Islamic counterpart of the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, deprived residents of water and electricity, and forced nearly half the city's people to flee. Much of what the Americans and their allies did clearly violated the Geneva Conventions, as did the actions of the Sunni insurgents.

Claiming to create greater security for Iraq's coming elections, the American military now wages what is largely a war of terror against civilian populations. An anonymous Pentagon official quoted by Michael Schwartz in "Fallujah, City without a Future?" made the thinking clear:

"If there are civilians dying in connection with these attacks, and with the destruction, the locals at some point have to make a decision. Do they want to harbor the insurgents and suffer the consequences that come with that, or do they want to get rid of the insurgents and have the benefits of not having them there?"
In other words, can we terrorize the civilians more than the insurgents do?

Blessed by godly clerics like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell and a majority of American voters, this is the competition Mr. Bush has forced our country to enter. Hopefully, we will never win it, whether against nationalistic Iraqis trying to drive out a foreign invader or Islamist jihadis intent on creating a world in which clerics rule, women wear veils, and suicidal killers go to Paradise.

Jihadis or America's terror-using hypocrites? If we are truly to stop the terrorists, the world must take sides against both.


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France, where he writes for t r u t h o u t.

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