‘The entire world is appalled’ by the killing in Iraq of US journalist James Foley. President Obama was quoted by a number of news agencies, so I guess it’s probably true – that he said it, I mean. According to reports, the President was ‘visibly angry’ – and I can understand that. I haven’t watched the video of the ‘execution’ but beheading someone with a knife, filming it and posting the video online is pretty nasty. But then there’s a lot of pretty nasty stuff circulating on the web these days, so probably we shouldn’t be awfully surprised. I have a suspicion that what is making Mr Obama especially angry, in addition to the murder of one of his citizens, of course, is the fact that the killing was an act of defiance against the United States Government and its Chief Executive Officer. The guys responsible apparently made it clear that it was in revenge for the US’s bombing of their people.
Of course two wrongs don’t make a right. But you need to understand, in that part of the world the blood feud is an important aspect of traditional culture. Retaliation for a perceived wrong is intimately tied up with family honour and masculine self-concept. I know the USA is more civilised these days, but it’s not so long ago that George W Bush was justifying his destruction of Iraq by saying ‘This is the guy [Saddam Hussein] who tried to kill my dad.’ As far as I’m aware, no Islamic extremists tried to kill Barack Obama’s dad, but still, the man was angry, so it’s understandable that, in the heat of the moment, he may have been carried away by his own rhetoric.
Take a look at that statement again. ‘The entire world is appalled.’ It’s hard to get an exact count because at the moment of writing, the net increase today has been around 150 thousand, but according to worldometers.info, there are 7,255,485,065 people in the world. The twenty largest countries by population (in descending order) are China, India, The United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Russia, Japan, Mexico, The Philippines, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Egypt, Germany, Iran, Turkey, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, and France, among them accounting for seventy percent of the total. Now I want to ask you, in all honesty, how many of those people do you think care deeply enough about American news media to be appalled by this incident? How many of them have even heard of James Foley? I suspect most of them are too busy worrying about where their next meal is coming from; how they will feed the kids; or maybe dying from some dreadful disease caused by lack of access to clean drinking water.
I have in front of me an article from BBC News dated 5 June 2014 reporting that ‘Israel has advanced plans for 1,460 new homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank’. The West Bank, as you probably know, is a small land-locked territory established by international agreement as a kind of reservation for Palestinian Arabs after the creation of Israel in 1949. According to Wikipedia, ‘the international community considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, illegal under international law.’ In spite of this, the United States Government provides moral support, financial backing, military hardware and technical know-how to support the Israeli Government as it carries out a virtual genocide of Palestinians in Gaza for their effrontery in standing up for their rights. I wouldn’t presume to claim that the entire world is appalled by that, but quite a lot of educated, intelligent, sensitive people are – and I have to tell Mr Obama that his actions are not endearing America to the Muslim world, whose people make up around twenty-five percent of the global total.
A lot of people were actually appalled that the United States military bombed the living bejabers out of Iraq so that they could kill Saddam Hussein. They were appalled that the US did this on the pretext that Saddam Hussein was a threat to the world because he had stocks of WMDs – nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Quite a few people were appalled that the United Kingdom went in with them – and it turned out to be a big lie! And what’s more, those guys knew all along it was a big lie! According to what I heard, a fair number of citizens of the USA and the UK were subsequently appalled when they learnt the truth.
Now the US Government is back in Iraq again bombing people, and many of the world’s citizens are appalled again. For quite some time they have been appalled that the US President can murder anyone anywhere on the planet using unpiloted drones and guided missiles. He can invade and bomb the sovereign territories of other people without even declaring war on them – and without getting the go-ahead from his own people. Maybe some of those people are a little appalled too.
Much of the world is appalled that US spies have been using advanced technology to listen in on the conversations of leaders of allied countries – though Angela Merkel is not as appalled as she at first made out, since it seems she has been doing the same thing. Some people have doubts about the morality of President Obama’s offering $10 million reward for four Pakistani guys he doesn’t like. Apparently they are leading lights in yet another Islamic ‘extremist’ group (the Haqqani family) who have been organising strikes against American military personnel going about their lawful business in Afghanistan.
Like me, you may have been surprised when you heard that the US military was back in Iraq carrying out bombing attacks. Didn’t they pull their forces out at the end of 2011? Of course, as a friend rightly told me, we have a responsibility to interfere when innocent women and children are being murdered, wherever it’s happening. Unfortunately, such issues are rarely so black and white. Northern Iraq holds a large share of the country’s oil reserves and a majority Kurdish population, many of whom are adherents of the Yazidi religion. The United States Government, in a spirit of brotherly love (or whatever) has been supporting the Peshmerga (Kurdish freedom fighters) with military training and hardware for years. Their assistance is said to have been crucial in the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Some non-Kurdish Iraqis are apparently not happy with all this, and their forces, lumped together under the latest bogey term IS, ISIL, ISID or whatever, are the ones who have been besieging Yazidis on mountain tops, capturing dams etc, thereby attracting the bombs of US airplanes.
So who’s right and who’s wrong? America’s population, large though it be, is less than a half of one percent of the world’s total. And probably some of them have more on their mind than the fate of a photojournalist in Iraq. I’m not sure, for example, how high it would rank in the concerns of the good people of Ferguson, Missouri. And the world’s glitterati, though not large in number, seem more interested in pouring buckets of iced water over themselves and each other. I know he’s not a US citizen, but he did buy the most expensive house in America for his daughter a year or two back. World Formula One Grand Prix mogul Bernie Ecclestone just bought off the courts in Germany with a $100 million payout to avoid being tried in court for bribing a senior officer of Bayern LB (Bavarian State Bank) back in 2006 – and I suspect most of the transnational world citizens in Bernie’s income bracket are more concerned with making money for themselves than with who’s killing who in the Middle East, as long as the oil keeps flowing.
I was interested to read that James Foley had previously been captured by supporters of the late Muammar Gaddafi in Libya back in 2011. Apparently Foley is a good Catholic and he attributed his release after forty-four days in captivity to the prayers of folks back home in Milwaukee. So what happened this time? Possibly God and the people of Milwaukee felt that Foley was putting the Almighty to an unfair test by heading into the middle of the Syrian civil war. Anyway, it seems that Barack Obama is planning to give Divine Justice a little assistance in case it’s not up to the job. ‘No just God,’ he said in the same angry speech, ‘would stand for what they did yesterday or every single day.’ So we’re bombing them again. Wouldn’t you think it’s about time the most powerful and inventive nation on Earth came up with a more creative (and maybe less appalling) solution to the planet’s problems?