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July 28, 2005

Another Skunk at the Garden Party


Reactions to the RIIA report on Iraq

by Leigh Saavedra

It's almost tempting to breathe a sigh of relief. Raw, heads-in-the-sand stupidity is not limited to those who prop up the Bush agenda here in the land of polarized red and blue.

Last week the Royal Institute of International Affairs (RIIA) issued a report [.pdf] suggesting that Britain's backing for the war in Iraq had raised the dangers of a terrorist attack. The RIIA is a respected organization, but its conclusion that the UK's involvement in Iraq has resulted in boosting recruitment and fundraising for al-Qaeda was received angrily.

While interior minister Charles Clarke and opposition party leaders mulled over further anti-terrorism legislation to follow the London bombings, the RIIA report sat, apparently minimalized and unstudied.

From what this reader deduced, wagonloads of words were shuttled from room to room, from official to official, all dealing with how to fight the terrorists, without ever weighing in the root causes of terrorism.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman was quick enough with requisite words ("We all have to recognize where this perversion of Islam comes from"), but the RIIA report getting to these root causes seems to have been the skunk in the unhappy garden party.

The unwanted report read clearly that Britain had created problems by playing "pillion passenger" to Washington. Security experts Frank Gregory and Paul Wilkinson warned, "The UK is at particular risk because it is the closest ally of the United States."

If it went in one ear and out the other, the road most traveled by reports citing rising terrorism as a result of Anglo-American occupation, it stuck long enough for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to rebuff the report with familiar words: "The time for excuses for terrorism is over."

For inexplicable reasons, the West is peopled by an inordinate number of strategists who cannot seem to see the difference between "making excuses" and "seeking causes." I'm reminded of the little girl who sticks her tongue out at her classmates and tells them their shoes are ugly, then goes home wailing that they don't like her to a mother whose comfort we've all heard: "They're just jealous of you, honey."

Right. A little like telling a glassy-eyed audience that the terrorists are attacking us because they hate our freedoms.

Causes are a bit more complicated than those manufactured by the benefactors of the current war, yet they are not unfathomable. Terrorism, though a horror never to be defended, arises out of helplessness.

Men have fought since they had nothing but stones to throw at each other. It may be partly hormonal. But even when stones were state of the art, there were reasons for throwing them. There was a difference, whether it was over a source of water or a more comfy cave. There were reasons, and each side fought with what it had available, be it dirt, sticks, stones, then in time, bronze, gunpowder, AK-47s, or atomic bombs. If one side is underarmed, it must face either immediate defeat or use another tactic.

The terrorism that dominates the world today is Muslim terrorism, a movement that has little or nothing to do with traditional Islam. It is, instead, a result of the formation of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1928, a trend in the Islamic reform movement that attributed the difficulties in Islamic society to a deviation from the ideals and practices of early Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood was created as a direct result of the British occupation of Egypt.

With the formation of the state of Israel in Palestine, the Brotherhood grew, seeing Palestine now occupied by non-Islamic peoples.

Foreign occupation seems to always have been the root of the terrorism that grew from the early Muslim Brotherhood. The South Lebanon Shi'ite groups, Amal and Hezbollah, evolved into "terrorists" as a result of the 1982 Israeli invasion and occupation of southern Lebanon.

The very radical Muslim terrorism of Khomeini's Revolutionary Guard developed in response to the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew the last freely elected parliament in Iran.

Hamas is another case of terrorism resulting from occupation. Hamas is the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, and it turned to terrorism after being rendered helpless to fight the Israeli military occupation of Gaza.

Leading up to even more current difficulties, the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s generated the radical Muslim terrorism that unleashed precisely what we are seeing today. A chronology of that development leaves Washington with egg on its face. While terrorism was growing in response to Soviet occupation during the Reagan years, the CIA secretly sent billions of dollars of military aid to the mujahedin in a U.S.-supported jihad against the Soviet Union.

What resulted was Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. While bin Laden's big gripe later was the stationing of U.S. forces on holy soil in Saudi Arabia, it was the Soviet occupation that gave birth to the people who would later aim their stolen weapons at the Twin Towers of New York.

People don't like for their homelands to be occupied. Generally, under occupations, the natives feel pretty helpless. Throw in a few atrocities, a frequent byproduct of invasions and occupations, and things get uglier at an exponential rate. A boy sees his family blown to pieces by "shock and awe," and there it is: you have a terrorist before he's even trained. Well into the occupation, he may be willing to take a dozen people down with him.

It's there between Israel and Gaza, between Russia and Chechnya, between India and the Kashmiri Muslims.

There are those in the White House who like to soothe us by telling us that "we" are winning. Iraq is on the road to democracy. They repeat over and over their one point to support that contention: Elections were held last January.

Since those elections on Jan. 30, terrorist attacks in Iraq have more than doubled. Further, terrorist attacks around the world more than tripled in 2004, from 175 in 2003 to 655 in 2004. In Iraq itself, 2004 saw nine times the number of attacks as 2003. These numbers do not include attacks on U.S. troops.

The U.S. State Department has not released figures on the number of terrorist attacks and information on whether they are increasing. According to Jonathan Landay of Knight Ridder, the clampdown came when the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since it had begun tracking them. Former senior counterterrorism official Larry Johnson has said that the State Department balks at releasing the data because "It might lead to the public perception that America is losing the global war on terror."

Really.

In mid-April, Knight Ridder reported that the White House planned to withhold the terrorist attack statistics. Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman angrily responded:

"This is the definitive report on the incidence of terrorism around the world. It should be unthinkable that there would be an effort to withhold it or any of the key data from the public. The Bush administration should stop playing politics with this critical report."

Shortly thereafter, the BBC reported that it was more difficult for the U.S. to keep this data from the public due to Congressman Henry Waxman's having released the figures.

What matters in all the squabbling about whether to release the figures or the methodology for calculations is that terrorism has increased noticeably since the U.S. invasion of Iraq. What matters is that the piles and piles of dead bodies and the overflowing prisons have not curbed terrorism in any way whatsoever.

Angrily ignoring information such as the RIIA report is indirectly creating greater threats of terrorism than ever. American novelist Alexander Jablokov has written, "The road to truth is long, and lined the entire way with annoying bastards." If Jablokov is correct, we might wonder if the potential victims of terrorism have even a faint shot at survival.

 

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Leigh Saavedra has written for over thirty years as Lisa Walsh Thomas. A lifelong human rights and peace activist, a former arts columnist, and a gifted education specialist, she is the author of two books. So Narrow the Bridge and Deep the Water (Seal Press, Seattle) was the winner of the Washington State Governor's Award for Fiction. Her most recent book, The Girl With Yellow Flowers in Her Hair, a collection of dissident essays, is available here.

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