You find a good deal of unadulterated donkey droppings in most of the mainstream media these days on the (in their view at least) related topics of terrorism, Islam and the Middle East. So it was with feelings of surprise and relief that I chanced upon a balanced and insightful piece in our very own New Zealand Herald, beloved daily rag of my hometown Auckland.
Richard Jackson, deputy director at the National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Otago (nice to see that some universities manage to fund departments that probably don’t attract a huge amount of commercial sponsorship!), was speaking with a Herald reporter, Scott Yeoman. Mr Jackson said he was expecting more terrorist attacks on Europe and the rest of the world so long as world leaders continued to respond in the predictable and clearly unsuccessful ways they have been doing over the past fifteen years (and maybe longer). These responses include ‘increasing security, intensifying military attacks on areas of the world where we think the terrorism is coming from, increasing restrictions on civil liberties, increased surveillance and the targeting of Muslim communities, and the introduction of “draconian” legislation’ – ‘the only thing that has achieved,’ he said, ‘is more terrorism.’
Well, it’s not an original observation, but good on Richard Jackson for doing his best to keep the message out there in the public eye. We don’t hear so much these days about asymmetrical warfare – but it’s a concept we would do well to keep in mind. It’s fine and dandy for American Presidents to sound off about the cowardly nature of terrorist attacks – but when those presidents have the technology and the shameless gall to assassinate foreign citizens in their own countries without declaring war; and bombing those countries back to the Stone Age if they dare to object, it’s pretty clear that face-to-face combat in the traditional sense is only going to have one result. Check out what happened to Iraq after George Dubya’s ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ in 2003 if you have any doubts.
Despite George the Son’s continued belief in the righteousness of his nation’s actions, there are undoubtedly Iraqi citizens who believe just as strongly that they have grounds for taking revenge. Possibly some Afghans too, one or two Iranians and Palestinians, possibly a few Egyptians . . . who knows? They may even feel strongly enough to wrap some explosives around their waist and blow themselves to a better world, taking a few others with them. Even if we can’t see the logic in such actions, we should attempt to understand the desperation that drives human beings to such extreme measures. You may remember that the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ got under way in December 2010 when a young man in Tunisia torched himself in protest at his country’s dictatorial government. I can’t imagine the anger, frustration and helplessness that drove 26 year-old Muhamed Bouazizi to immolate himself in public – and I hope to God I never have to find out.
Why should we try to understand these people? Simply because, as Richard Jackson points out in the interview, it is extremely difficult to defend against attack by a human bomb, who doesn’t care if he/she lives or dies.
Sad to say, the overwhelming signals we get on mainstream news media, and from Presidential hopefuls in the lead-up to the US election later this year is that the message is not getting through. I’m not going to waste words addressing the mindless outpourings of billionaire Donald Trump. Even Republican Party members in the USA seem to be having doubts about the wisdom of turning him loose in the Oval Office.
But who’s Number Two for the GOP? I was astounded to read reports of a speech by Ted Cruz where he asserted that, as president, he would rip up the Iran nuclear deal ‘on day one’. ‘Hear my words Ayatollah Khomeini,’ he is reported as saying, ‘if I am president and Iran launches a missile test, we will shoot that missile down.’ Now that’s scary! Ayatollah Khomeini, leader of the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the Shah’s government, actually departed this world in 1984. Admittedly his replacement, Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei, has a surname that, to the ordinary culturally-deprived US citizen, may look confusingly similar – but political hopefuls aspiring to leadership of the free world have had 32 years to sort out the difference. After all, we lesser mortals are expected to distinguish between Teddy and Franklin D Roosevelt; not to mention the George Bushes, father and son. How difficult is it? At least those Iranian guys have plenty of other first names, and we don’t have to focus on a ‘Dubya’. Thank heavens Hillary Clinton is a woman, or we’d have serious problems.
While we’re on the subject of Iran, I see in the news that a young citizen of the world, Reza Zarrab, has been arrested in the United States on charges related to the evasion of US sanctions against that country. The actual charges specify money-laundering and bank fraud – but there can be little doubt about the real reason the US government is pursuing yet another foreign national (think Julian Assange, Kim Dotcom).
Interestingly, anti-government fanatics in Turkey have apparently taken to their beloved social media offering rewards to the American judge who refused bail to Mr Zarrab. Well, it’s not easy to find out what’s actually going on in the world these days, if it ever was, with all the conflicting stories. Certain background information, however, seems to me necessary for an understanding of this business. First, those trade sanctions were imposed in 1979 after an Islamic revolution overthrew the government of Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, who had been re-installed 27 years earlier by a CIA-sponsored coup d’état. Oil-poor, NATO stalwart Turkey especially suffered economically from those sanctions, which they had loyally and selflessly supported for 30 years. There have been suggestions that Turkey’s AK Party government was involved in shady dealings with Mr Zarrab – but of course, if those dealings were aimed at evading morally questionable US trade sanctions, they would, of necessity, have been conducted out of the public eye – and would have required transactions in some medium other than US dollars.
Well, I have neither the time not the interest to pursue further the case of Mr Zarrab. I would like to turn briefly, however, to another surprising news item: the announcement by Russian President Putin that he would be withdrawing his military forces from Syria. Russian planes have been bombing the bejabers out of Syrian opposition troops that have been waging a civil war for five years against President-for-Life, Bashar al Assad. Now, I have mixed feelings about Vladimir Putin – but you can’t deny that the guy does what he thinks best for his country. In this case, he apparently felt the need to make a point that no one has the right to overthrow a country’s government other than the citizens of that country themselves – and it’s hard to dispute that, whatever arguments United States administrations may advance to the contrary. You assassinate Saddam Hussein, and what do you get in his place?
But I began with the subject of terrorism, and to that subject I wish to return. Another rumour the anti-government gossip-mongers in Turkey have been putting about lately is that Mr Erdoğan and his people are somehow working with the terrorists. They claim that they knew about the recent bombing in Ankara, but did nothing to prevent it. Which begs the obvious question: why would a democratically elected government connive in the murder of its own innocent citizens? I know some Americans believe George W Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks – but can he really have been that evil? In fact, it seems that Turkish police were expecting an attack on the Prime Ministerial HQ in Ankara, and turned back a suspicious-looking vehicle – whereupon the occupants decided to cut their losses and detonate. More plausible, at least to anyone not totally committed to blackening the AK Party government.
More interesting, it seems to me, is the news that two cabinet ministers in the Belgian government offered their resignations after it was announced that Turkey had arrested and deported a DAESH militant who turns out to have been one of the suicide bombers involved the March 22 attacks. Turkey had done its job, as requested by EU countries, to turn back militants trying to cross into Syria. They had returned Brahim El Bakraoui to his country of origin, with a warning that he was a militant, and apparently he had also ‘broken terms of his parole from a nine-year sentence for armed robbery’. In spite of Belgian Justice Minister Koen Geens’ admission that ‘we missed it’, his boss, Prime Minister Charles Michel, has decided not to accept the resignations.
I would have thought that, in the circumstances, ordinary Belgians would be baying for the resignation of PM Michel – but on the contrary, it seems that everyone is full of sympathy. Not much sympathy for Turkey, however, I gather. The tourism sector has already been hard-hit by Russia’s decision to keep its citizens at home in their frozen wasteland rather than allow them to take their customary shopping trips to Istanbul, or sunshine breaks on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast; and European warnings that Turkey is now a dangerous place for its citizens to visit.
Not only tourists, it seems. On Wednesday the Dutch government announced that it was ‘temporarily’ closing its consulate-general in Istanbul because of a ‘possible terror threat’. Well, pardon me for saying, I think that’s pretty pathetic! I would expect high-level foreign diplomats to show a little more backbone – especially when nothing’s actually happened to them yet. Turkey’s own diplomatic HQs abroad were targeted in a sustained campaign of terror by Armenian fanatics in the 1970s and 80s – but as far as I know the Turks toughed it out, and kept their offices open.
Still the Dutch are following a precedent set by the Brits in the early years of the millennium. After a couple of bombings in Istanbul in 2003, in which their own consul-general was unfortunately killed, the Brits built an impenetrable wall around their palatial consulate, and permanently ceased carrying out any of the normally expected consular services: visa issue, passport renewal, etc. I’m curious to know what they do there these days. The British Council, purveyors of English language teaching to benighted heathen the world over, also closed their Turkish operation in sympathy, leaving the Turks to get on with the job in their own inimitable fashion.
Well, at least the Turks retain their sense of humour. A couple of local newspapers, possibly in retaliation, advised their readers, I assume with tongue in cheek, ‘Don’t go to Europe’. But as far as I am aware, Turkey’s embassy in Brussels remains open for business.