Of the many sociopolitical expressions that have worked themselves into our language and our fears, practically all come from American interpretations of phenomena in parts of the Islamic world. Terms ranging from “fundamentalism” to “terrorism” have come to be effectively equated with Muslim countries, or with dubious movements in them. Some are invariably used in tandem (“Islamic fundamentalism”) to essentially imply a third term (“terrorism”).
The latest term to conquer even the most mundane conversations is “weapons of mass destruction” (or its abbreviation WMD), which everyone now understands as being synonymous with Iraq’s supposed threat to civilization, courtesy of the convenient panic-spreading, tailor-made descriptions of the US government and its understudies. The American president has now described Saddam Hussein as a “homicidal dictator addicted to weapons of mass destruction,” but he failed to elaborate on how such obsessions originate.
The Middle East is a dangerous region indeed, but laying the blame at Iraq’s feet is forgetting that the world’s most lethal weapons are made by America and its allies, distributed at their discretion only to those deemed truly worthy of their technology (like Israel) or foolish enough to become their temporary mercenaries (like Saddam Hussein).
The end result is the same: Whether through Israel or Saddam, through conventional or other weapons, the US and its allies have not only caused tremendous hardship to innocent people (especially in Palestine and Iraq), but have also introduced weapons of mass destruction to the region. Using the concept of WMDs as a sudden validation for military intervention is thus not only irresponsible, but also adds to the acrimony that is swelling dangerously in an Arab world that understands only too well the real issues at hand.
Saddam’s madness is not new. It was apparent two decades ago, when he agreed to become the West’s proxy in the region, an opportune new pawn to supplant the deposed Iranian shah.
Saddam’s brutality increased throughout his popular years with Western powers as he fought (for them) today’s other Middle Eastern “axis of evil” component, Iran. Arming him to the teeth, the West used Saddam to wage war on Iran with chemical and other weapons -é although the US handled some jobs itself, namely when it downed a civilian Iranian aircraft with 290 people on board shortly before the Lockerbie bombing.
Unsure of how to achieve control of the oil-rich region and showing typical lack of foresight before eventually settling on a policy of “dual containment,” America had initially fueled the conflict by arming the two opponents simultaneously (as was revealed by the Iran-Contra affair) before focusing on helping Saddam. One result of this deception was a prolongation of both Iraqi and Iranian peoples’ suffering and a toll of well over a million victims on both sides.
As the US (with its allies) molded Saddam, it was also training and arming its future public enemy No. 1, the then-obscure Osama bin Laden, rationalizing that the supposed Soviet threat justified the espousal of an organized resistance, even an Islamic one. With such precedents, one can only recoil in fear at the identity of America’s “terrorists” of tomorrow, probably being trained at this very moment by CIA operatives.
America and Britain’s sudden pretense of horror at the use of gas, war on Iran or supposed weapons of mass destruction is appalling, if only because the WMDs in the region were implanted by them long before Saddam’s own crimes. American weapons of every kind have already killed, maimed and wounded countless people from Lebanon to the Gulf, leaving true destruction in their wake and having long reduced to ashes the illusion that the US could ever be an honest broker.
The US has bombed over 20 countries since the end of World War II and it has intervened and led operations changing the destinies of people in many others, but nowhere have American hypocrisy and duplicity been so blatant and so dangerous as in the Middle East. For every UN resolution that Iraq has ignored, Israel has flouted 10, and for every resolution condemning Iraq to more sanctions, countless others attempting to rein in Israel have been vetoed by the sole superpower. More Iraqis and Palestinians have died pointlessly under the patronage of the US and its Security Council allies.
Still, most people fail to appreciate the impact of such biased actions on the populations they touch. In view of the interminable Israeli occupation of Arab land and people, the latter are not only upset by the flagrant double standards applied to Israel and to Arabs, but also by having been reduced to seemingly defend the hated Saddam while an attack on Iraq is being prepared.
Some experts consider that long-term repercussions to such belligerence are overestimated, playing down the invisible Arab street’s power or even willingness to object to military interference in the region, let alone to Arab regimes’ acquiescence thereto. This is a grave mistake, as the Arab world has been simmering for a long time, with regional leaders and superpowers alternating the intensity of the provocative flames at their fancy, oblivious to the nearing boiling point. With each additional injustice, units are ticking off the time bomb.
The Iraqi predicament cannot be judged within limited parameters or be separated from other issues in the region, foremost of which being the Palestinian question. As they mark two years of the most violent period in the history of their lone struggle against Israeli occupation, many Palestinians have affected fervor and put on a brave front, pretending to welcome “martyrdom” and encouraging sacrifices of all sorts. In reality, however, most remain desperate people frantically calling for help and urging the supposed defenders of human rights to come to their rescue, only to see their dignity smashed over and over again. This constant humiliation has bred bitter frustration, precariously stirring emotions of resentment that dig deeply into the Arab psyche.
With autocratic regimes and de facto US collaborators in practically all their countries imposing severe consequences on those daring to challenge them, Arabs are fully aware of their own limitations. Therefore, many are trying to convince the West that its support of Israel is immoral, its disregard of Palestinians unjust and its harassment of Iraq baseless, wondering why they even have to explain that these issues are related to supposedly rational people living in a freedom and democracy for which they yearn.
The Bush-Blair duo’s marketed Iraqi WMDs are not the real threat in the region. Israel has and is itself a far greater WMD. Ultimately, the supreme WMD is the facilitation of tormentors’ enduring destruction of potential, of dreams of a better life, and of entire peoples’ hopes. Nothing provokes revolt and extremism like despair, and nothing has created despair in the Arab world like the actions of the US and its allies. The only question mark that remains is assessing which injustice, be it in Palestine, Iraq or elsewhere, will finally tip the balance and turn mass despair into mass response é and true mass destruction.
Rime Allaf is a writer and specialist in Middle East affairs. She is also a consultant in international communications and new economy business.