This apocalyptic war of civilisations is a monumental con. People are being killed, homes are being destroyed, lives are being shattered; but all of it is shadow boxing, none of it really matters as far as the protagonists are concerned. The real war is elsewhere.
This is the ultimate post-modern war. The actual theatre of operations is the realm of symbols, and the target is people’s minds — their very innate capacity to reason and question. In every modern war, propaganda has been deployed in the service of military objectives. In this war, military operations are not even in the service of propaganda: they are the propaganda.
And in this sense it is a truly global war, “a sustained, comprehensive and relentless operation” to make blithering and bloodthirsty idiots of the greater part of humanity — at least that part covered by the three great monotheistic religions.
Latin America, I might qualify, is largely, and blissfully, immune to the polarisation: its bona fide claim to “Westism” — both geographically and in terms of cultural descent — is made dubious by its “Southern” identity as an object of imperial hegemony. Besides, it is, to borrow from a highly enjoyable American novel I’m currently reading, just too “vivid.” There is no room for “vividness” in the all-pervasive black, white and gray of the good-vs-evil, God-vs-the Devil battlefront between the “Judaeo-Christian West” and “the Islamic nation.”
The objective of war is victory, and both sides promise us that, with God’s help, they will ultimately prevail. “We will fight them with everything material we have, and with all our faith in God we will be victorious,” vowed Al-Qa’ida spokesman Suleiman Abul-Gheith. “We will not waver, we will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail. Peace and freedom will prevail,” vowed George W as he announced the attack on Afghanistan. “We will continue to act, with steadfast resolve, to see this struggle through to the end and to the victory that would mark the victory not of revenge but of justice over the evil of terrorism,” pledged America’s “staunch friend” and occasional PR man, Tony Blair.
Yet unless one totally surrenders one’s mind to CNN and its expert generals (rtrd.), the faintest hint of scepticism would reveal to the simplest-minded among us that the one clear objective of this war is its perpetuation ad infinitum — even if Infinite Justice has given way to Enduring Freedom (whose?).
The accent everywhere is on “sustained, comprehensive and relentless,” to quote Bush’s opening volley again. More ominous still, in the same statement he promises: “Today we focus on Afghanistan, but the battle is broader. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground.” Two days later, British Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon, in Moscow, assured BBC that “the prime minister has made it clear we will root out international terrorism wherever it arises, so it could follow that once we have dealt with the situation in Afghanistan we could turn our attention elsewhere.” Meanwhile, Air Force General Richard Myers has discovered that “his early assessments that the Taliban and Al-Qa’ida had very little in the way of valuable material and infrastructure were being born out.” He went on to make the utterly bizarre statement: “We’re not running out of targets, Afghanistan is.”
We have, Hoon tells us, “just started the very first part of the military campaign.” No terrorist leaders have been killed or captured, as far as we know; but hurrah, “essentially,” the US and Britain believe they have “air supremacy over Afghanistan right now,” as US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has told us. The anti-terrorist allies are now able “to carry out strikes around the clock, as we wish,” he pointed out. The world can sleep better now that 20 ancient Taliban Mig fighter planes are effectively out of operation.
And, according to CNN, senior US officials are now “playing down the prospect of any major deployment of ground forces… after the initial air assaults.” The earnest network quoted a Pentagon official as saying that “there will be a first wave, then an assessment and very possibly a pause before further action is taken.”
Can any of this be serious? The US and Britain, with their gigantic intelligence bodies, spy satellites, cutting-edge spook technology, tons of shared intelligence from allies throughout the world (even Sudan) and long experience in fighting as well as sponsoring, aiding and abetting terrorism (not least Bin Laden’s) must have known from the start what anybody with any sense seems to know: 1- there is very little valuable material and infrastructure in Afghanistan and, 2- you do not use Tomahawks, B-2s, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers to fight an underground movement with bases of support in almost every country in the world (including the US and Britain), whose most bloody and devastating act of terrorism was enacted via the use of “knife-like instruments.”
Qa’ida training camps have been destroyed, but what are these? Rumsfeld tells us that “this is where they have their classrooms… firing ranges.” What kind of “valuable infrastructure” is necessary for a classroom or a firing range? No spy satellites needed here: the answer is an open space and a few mats. A dilapidated two-room building is optional.
The truth is, neither side has any hope, or indeed serious intention, of defeating the other. Meanwhile, as “the allies” go on with their sustained and infinitely roving war against the enemies of “our values,” and “the believers” search for new “storms of planes” to unleash against the infidel, the absurd monoliths of Western civilisation and the Islamic nation are solidified. More people die. Reason, and our very humanity, are trodden underfoot. A triumph, indeed, for our values.
Mr. Hani Shukrallah is Managing Editor of Al-Ahram Weekly.