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OpenDemocracy Interviews Arun Kundnani on the Ramifications of the “War On Terror”


via. OpenDemocracy

“In this interview, he unveils and critiques the ramifications of the ‘war on terror’, from the conservative and liberal rhetoric of the intellectuals and commentators who have emerged, to the theories of ‘radicalisation’ which have fuelled counter-terrorism programmes in the west.”

Is everywhere a war zone now? How does this connect to the rhetoric of the ‘war on terror’? 

The promise of the ‘war on terror’ was that we would kill them ‘over there’ so they would not kill us ‘over here.’ Hence mass violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Palestine, Yemen, and Somalia – in the name of peace in the west. The “Authorization to Use Military Force” that the US Congress passed in the days after 9/11 already defined the whole world as a battlefield in the ‘war on terror’. President Obama continues to rely on the authorization to give his drone-killing programme a veneer of legality. This is the old colonial formula of liberal values at home sustained by a hidden illiberalism in the periphery – where routine extra-judicial killing is normalised.

We all know the ‘war on terrorism’ kills more civilians than terrorism does; but we tolerate this because it is ‘their’ civilians being killed in places we imagine to be far away. Yet colonial history teaches us that violence always ‘comes home’ in some form: whether as refugees seeking sanctuary, whether as the re-importing of authoritarian practices first practised in colonial settings, or indeed as terrorism. The same patterns repeat today in new forms.

Colonial history teaches us that violence always ‘comes home’.

For Muslim citizens in western states, these dynamics bring an enormous burden: they are reduced to the false choice of moderate or extremist, good Muslim or bad Muslim. The question that hovers over their very being is whether they will detach themselves from their connections to zones of violence abroad or channel that violence within the west. But this question is not posed directly; it is always displaced onto the plane of culture: do you accept western values?

This framework imposes itself relentlessly on Muslim public expression, rendering suspicious anyone who refuses to engage in rituals of loyalty to western culture. Meanwhile, ISIS casts these Muslims as living in the “grey zone” between western imperialism and the claim of a revived caliphate.

What results is a mutual reinforcing of the militarized identity narrative on both sides: the jihadists point to numerous speeches by western leaders to support their claim of a war on Islam; and western leaders legitimise war with talk of a ‘generational struggle’ between western values and Islamic extremism. What is striking today is the tired rhetoric of military aggression – Hollande’s “pitiless war” – once again recycled, despite the obvious failures of the past 14 years.

Where did the ISIS attackers in Paris come from? Can theories of radicalisation explain what drove them?

Theories of radicalisation developed by think-tanks, intelligence agencies, and academic departments linked to the national security apparatus have tended to make a number of false assumptions in their attempts to understand jihadist violence. First, they assume a deep difference between ‘Islamic’ and other forms of political violence; the history of political violence in the twentieth century – particularly in colonial contexts – is therefore forgotten and its lessons ignored. Second, they assume some form of Islamic religious ideology is the key factor in turning someone into a terrorist; some analysts grant the relevance of what they call ‘perceived grievances’ or emotional crises as enabling factors but ideology is still taken to be the primary cause.

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    • JS

      You said we didn’t support Saddam in the 80s. I proved we did. Now you are saying we supported many other people. Yes, the US has an unfortunate habit of supporting tyrants and dictators, at least you realize that.

    • Verner Hornung

      Your info is certainly appreciated, and may be better than mine since I’m not able to make a sole hobby of running it down. But I’m not satisfied with the placing of responsibility on Washington for everything that goes down on this planet, as if the U.S. government were omnipotent. The CIA involved itself in a large number of 20th century coups, in Guatemala, Chile, Iran, and other places. But the CIA did not effect any of them singlehandedly, or do so against the wishes of substantial local factions which were the principal actors in each case. Is all this stuff admirable? Hardly. Maybe we should have sat back and let the Kremlin do it instead.

    • Verner Hornung

      I’ll have to take your word for it as research takes time and Googling stuff doesn’t necessarily provide reliable information to someone without expertise in foreign relations. (The experts have search engines and journal access preferable to the less-reliable and often biased Wikipedia.) So? We forwarded all the same kinds of things to many other countries in the region at the same time as well, always have done so, and probably always will. We didn’t give Hussein anything that would have made a difference in the outcome of his war with Iran. In fact, we also traded with Iran despite the sanctions in effect at that time, including Reagan’s illegal sale of arms to them during the Iran-Contra dealings.

    • Verner Hornung

      Most Muslims don’t believe in equality. But they do prefer business to bombs. Bombs are kind of bad for business. Our problem as Westerners is with commanded, organized groups of Muslims under guys like Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. We do need to take photos &etc of every Syrian refugee for intelligence agency files, and compare these with lists of known terrorists. But 3000 Syrians are here (USA) now and admitting a few more carries risks likely well within the capabilities of our intelligence agencies to handle. It should not deter an offer of asylum. Indeed, it’s precisely because Islam is a problematic ideology in some ways, with potential to spawn jihad, that it’s in our interest to expose more Muslims to life in the West. And it snubs al-Baghdadi, telling him we aren’t afraid of his butcher knives.

    • JS

      Either you are lying or ignorant. A simple google search proves you “completely wrong.

      “United States support for Iraq during the Iran–Iraq War, against post-revolutionary Iran, included several billion dollars’ worth of economic aid, the sale of dual-use technology, non-U.S. origin weaponry, military intelligence, Special Operations training, and direct involvement in warfare against Iran.[3][4]

      Support from the U.S. for Iraq was not a secret and was frequently discussed in open session of the Senate and House of Representatives. On June 9, 1992, Ted Koppel reported on ABC’s Nightline that the “Reagan/Bush administrations permitted—and frequently encouraged—the flow of money, agricultural credits, dual-use technology, chemicals, and weapons to Iraq.”[5]

    • Verner Hornung

      Saddam Hussein first became a prominent figure in Iraq ca. 1966 in its Baath Party, then took power in 1979 and went to war with Iran. The USA did not put Saddam into office; he was quite able to rise on his own. I think we preferred the king that modern Iraq started off with in 1932. Much later, if Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq was the wrong move (and I agree that view is defensible), leaving when we did was a second mistake. Once we were there, we owed it to ensure the country was stable enough to survive intact before withdrawing support. I didn’t like Paul Bremer (probably a Bush crony), Ayad Allawi, or Nouri Maliki. All were corrupt. But no one better stepped up to the plate at the time. It’s likely that we support Saudi Arabia only because it has oil. The West, first Britain and France, then the USA, have been in the Mideast since WWI. Israel is basically a product of European Jews, Britain, and WWII. The USA, which has a large Jewish population and lobby, probably could not have avoided becoming an ally of Israel. However, we do not support Israel’s West Bank policy. We still recognize the territories from the 1967 war as occupied and have urged Israel to adopt the two-state solution, at Oslo in 1993 and since. We can’t force them to do it. They aren’t even solely dependent on the USA for military equipment or money by now. It would be nice indeed if the USA could ignore the rest of the world and refuse to get into affairs that involve moral qualms. But large nations don’t have the option of isolationism.

      I’m fully willing to admit that Western policy has big shortcomings, and that some of the people fighting against us have sincere motives. (The waterboarding and Gitmo stuff is particularly disgusting and should never have been done.) But suppose we stayed out. Would the Muslims prefer Russia being in there instead? Because that’s how it is. Even within the Muslim world, the more powerful people and groups take control and assert their authority over the weaker ones, and always have throughout history.

      The only way we’re going to change geopolitics is by creating a world government of some kind that can maintain a verifiable and enforceable peace between all the countries.

    • Verner Hornung

      Hussein manufactured the VX in Iraq. It’s not that hard for a state to do it; Japans’s Aum Shinrikyo cult synthesized both Sarin and VX, using these to attack several people on streets and then the Tokyo subway. I’m less sure about April Glaspie, but she probably did not believe the invasion of Kuwait was coming, thinking it a bluff instead.

    • ShunTheRightWhale

      It’s about oil. Politics and society shape, especially in this region, the “Middle East”, around this foundation of their economy. Without it the region would be far less interesting for the West: the “Islamic State” is fueled by oil, America needs it. It’s a leftist theory older than the widespread usage of fossil oil itself: ( ) that the “relations of production” define political power. It was already topic of an article on this site. I’m no Marxist, since Marx, as a child of enlightenment, believed in a eschatological progress through humanity itself. Marx discarded religion as an instrument of obfuscating the masses. I think religion, as a sytem of metaphysical meanings, can be twisted into a mental weapon, exactly what the concept of “class struggle” was made into. It serves the IS as an instrument of the legitimization of power, war and what mostly worries the West: the export of terrorism. As long as oil remains important, external powers will meddle with the Middle East and regional regimes will boast with their luxury harvested through migrant labor. One forgets in view of all these short sighted conflicts that our dependency on fossil resources forges a toll, that the whole world of future gernerations has to pay. Globalization is inevitable, but how it will come to be is definable. Time will tell, if the Arabian countries will transform from oil-exporters to countries of tourism and high technology or will become poor again. Time will tell, if the West finally accepts his own concept of a world community or if it will decline as an overaged collection of regional powers.

    • Reynardine

      Interesting how, in the view of these people, the same divorce settlement is legal if you call it lump sum alimony and illegal if you call it haq mehr.

    • Reynardine

      Y’know, I believe we gave him that stuff. Ambassador Glaspie also gave the go-ahead to help himself to “innocent” Kuwait, which Bush I then used as the casus belli for Gulf I. You can’t stick the rose back on the rosebush, but you’d think we’d learn not to keep pickin’ em.

    • Reynardine

      More cheerfully…the moon on Elvira Lane.

    • Reynardine

      The War on Poverty was lost when the Reaganites got into power and ensured that poverty won.

    • Reynardine

      No one has seen any of the $#!][ you claim to have read there, either.

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