What should the West do? Cease all intervention in the Middle East, accept refugees fleeing from war and promote reparations, argues Brian Heron
Nabila Ramdani, a French journalist writing in the British Observer (15 November) reminded her readers of the French victory in football’s World Cup in the Stade de France in 1998. A team that mainly consisted of working-class boys from immigrant families won the cup for France. Ms Ramdani waxes nostalgically over the unity of the country expressed by that moment and now lost.
In 2005 the Paris (and many other French cities) ‘banlieues’ erupted. But the subjects of the riots were the alienated and disengaged youth. The political, social and psychological investigations and polls that subsequently analysed and then re-analysed these ‘eventements’ disposed of the notion that their object had anything to do with a wish for a universal Caliphate.
Has this changed? When French president Hollande spoke to the nation on the night of the attacks, he told his fellow citizens that France ‘was at war.’ More than one commentator wondered in the acres of worldwide print and internet chatter that have followed Hollande’s speech, exactly who is this war to be fought with? Part of Hollande’s answer came on the Sunday, 15 November when French warplanes ‘attacked’ ISIS in Syria. The raid, including 10 fighter jets, was launched simultaneously from the United Arab Emirates and Jordan. Twenty bombs were dropped. Revenge – even from a half mile high – is obviously sweet.
The terrible killings in France (and Hollande’s response) have wide and deep roots and will have similar extensive consequences. But it is better to look first at one significant detail to establish some solid ground before contending with the sea of fevered speculation now roaring across the Western world. It was not widely reported in the Western media but the internet reaction by ISIS to Germany and Sweden’s initially positive response to the wave of refugees flooding across Europe to escape the results of the Syrian war was entirely negative. ISIS has a global perspective (unlike the idiots in France, the UK and elsewhere who now turn their dream of closed borders into the apparent means required to prevent the influx of terrorists).
Borrowing from Mao and Latin American revolutionaries ISIS has established its own version of ‘Red Bases’ across Iraq and Syria and is now looking for a population (an agency – in the terms of various Marxist theorists) to float its global boat. The ISIS leadership is well aware that it can already use some of the flotsam and jetsam produced by the friction of racism, economic and political polarisation and alienation in the West. When the 5% of France’s population that are from North African heritage are dubbed ‘the Muslim community’ (when barely 50% acknowledge any religion at all) it makes it all the easier to badge the discontent of the most lost souls in the banlieue with a religious emblem. But these are a handful of people in a whole nation. The wells that ISIS wants and expects to draw from are the vast Syrian refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and the Lebanon. Here there are least 4 million – without any of the facilities of modern civilisation, teeming with boys and girls without education, without any economic life, with the experience of victimhood by way of war, increasingly without hope and yet full of a most furious energy.
It is the West’s imperial past and its consequent disastrous initiatives in the Middle East today that have produced the critical combination that exploded in France on 13 November (and in Syrian skies two days later, and in Turkey, the Lebanon, and over Egypt and in the Yemen, all in the last two months). So racist responses in the West, like closing borders, will help turn the ISIS support in besieged communities in the west from the handful to the hundreds perhaps, but much more significantly produce a potential mass base in the Middle East that are able to find no succor in or from Western Europe.
Blair and Bush’s war in Iraq opened the gates of hell in the modern Middle East. First they destroyed Iraq. The US and the West’s staunch allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, created the initial nucleus of ISIS as a means of capitalising on the Iraqi regime’s weakness. Of course the Saudis and the UAE still fund it. The west’s utter irresponsibility over Syria’s civil war, first arming and promoting their own opposition to the Assad regime – which opened the door to Sunni fundamentalism and now bombing – has destroyed a second nation and created the prospects of more millions facing the devastation of their country and society.
The old imperial connections to the Middle East in Britain and France led these two nations to simply assume their right to be a part of this US led horror story in the last decade and a half. But their last-gasp imperial pretensions meant that all they have achieved is to share the blame for the Frankenstein monster that they, together with their leader in the US and the West’s ‘friends’ in the region, have created in the formation, the military successes and the consolidation of ISIS.
These are major events in human history. Millions of lives, perhaps a billion are now affected across three continents, in wars, in huge movements of populations, in the destruction of nations built by the last imperial settlement of the Middle East region. It is no wonder that the entire mood music of the last 5 years in the West has changed, and now the West is willing to accept peace on its previous enemy’s terms. Why?
To deal with its new enemy whose existence and success is a direct consequence of their own actions. Peace at any price in Syria is now the call. Except none of the Syrians are at the peace table; except the Syrian war will continue even when the last Western and Russian bomber leaves; and except there will be no new Marshall Plan to rebuild a country from the acrid dust. And the seething discontent of millions whose lives are destroyed by the West’s wars and surrogate wars for oil, for geo-political influence, as a reaction to losing the Far East, because they are having to share Africa and Eastern Europe again, have created the opening of a new variety of barbarism of global proportions.
What can Western European countries do? Get their war machines right out of the Middle East, immediately. Accept responsibility for the refugees from war that want to come to Europe. Prepare and promote a new Marshall Plan as part of the reparations required to rebuild a stricken part of the globe, with access premised on democratic conditions. Take on the racists at home. Simple enough. Of course the absence of the political and economic conditions in Western Europe to take these essential steps is yet another warning that the current politics and economics of these societies is sorely, even dangerously wanting.