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A response to Lissa Johnson: Spot the Extremist

It is undoubtedly true that the US-led invasion of Iraq under George W Bush, Blair & Howard et al. was a duplicitous piece of foreign policy that has had far reaching consequences which are still reverberating today.

However, it is equally true that disaffected rich kid, come international terrorist, Osama bin Laden was motivated less by such foreign policy (which post-dated his rise) and more by a fundamentalist view of Islam and notions of a fundamentalist Islamic state.

His Al Qaeda and its off shoots has served as a model for Islamic militancy and Jihadism in what has followed in the Middle East, Africa and to a lesser extent Asia.

If we are to be historically accurate here – IS emerged from northern Syria, not Iraq. It has subsequently made significant incursions into northern Iraq as part of its jihadi caliphate.

No doubt disaffected Sunni Arabs from across the region, including Iraq have been attracted or co-opted by IS.

I remember a few short years ago, as the Arab Spring first began to unsettle the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and civilian order across the streets of places such as Aleppo broke down, under what was essentially a brutal civil war, that many people who would likely embrace Johnson’s article were marching in the streets of Melbourne and Sydney and around the world demanding the West do more to intervene.

Now it would seem, based on Johnson’s premise in the article that due to our earlier interventions in the Middle East, it is our fault all along that the fallout of a failed Arab Spring in Syria has led to IS and jihadism more generally.

This view dramatically overstates the agency Western foreign policy has in the emergence of myriad domestic Islamist militant groups all across the Middle East.

This is primarily a product of the Middle Easts’ perennial domestic political turmoil marked by brutal military dictatorships and Theocracies, which unsurprisingly fail to govern equitably for the diverse cultural and religious communities contained within their states. Often these regimes practice policies, either implicitly or explicitly, of ethnic, cultural and religious cleansing.

And let’s also not conveniently overlook the fact that the victims of last week’s attack – France, stared down pressure from its US ally to join the 2003 invasion of Iraq and never participated. In fact it argued forcefully against it in the UN General Assembly and remained steadfastly and publicly opposed to that war throughout its duration. So any attempt by Johnson and others to link the two seems disingenuous if not duplicitous to me.

However foreign policy aside, to equate the atrocities of IS and other associated extremist militants with that of Western military forces, even with the well-documented indiscretions, is contemptuous at best.

The defence forces of modern Western democratic states carry with them the constant, and utterly justifiable burden, of a mountain of legal, regulatory and disciplinary oversight. 

At the ‘coalface’, the rules of engagement alone begin a chain of legalised oversight of the actions of every military combatant and their commanders that goes right through to intersect with a combination of military, civilian and international laws and associated legal forums, which despite the author’s seeming denial, are cognisant of human rights, especially of non-combatant civilians. Even enemy combatants exercise a raft of international protections under the Geneva Convention.

Yes, tragic mistakes and overreach are far more common than one would hope to see, but they are almost always met with legal and disciplinary retribution from the military and legal apparatus of the combatant’s own state and the associated focus of the media. That is as it should be. To equate this situation with the murderous rampage of the likes of IS, through villages of northern Syria & Iraq, through to random acts of mass murder in countries all around the world, such as occurred in Paris is a classic piece of denialist and apologist reasoning, that frankly would sit well within the IS ‘ingroup’!

When was the last time we saw a member of the ADF beheading a live captive (often a non-combatant aid worker or journalist)? Similarly, when was the last time we saw a member of the ADF walk into a café with a bomb vest strapped to themselves and detonate it with wilful disregard to the harm it caused or the last time a horde of ADF members raided a village in the middle east to kill all enemy males, then torture, rape and kidnap the remaining women and children?  I wonder how the child who suffers anxiety at the sound of warplanes overhead feels when that occurs at the hands of Jihadi militants?

The arguments put forward in this article are nonsensical to the point of utter contempt for those who have suffered under such atrocities. When a building is mistakenly and tragically targeted by an airstrike by Western military forces an investigation and some form of disciplinary or legal action with punitive measures will follow.

Loss of innocent life

I understand that this alone does not necessarily equate to complete justice for the loss of innocent life. But it is at least recognizable as an act of self-regulation suggestive of a civilised society that has some value for moral justice. Rarely are such mistakes truly malicious i.e. the pilot wanted to kill innocent civilians.

When a suicide bomber detonates in a marketplace killing hundreds of targeted innocent civilians, the celebrations of the associated perpetrators ring out. The specific perpetrator is guaranteed martyrdom.

The inability of Johnson to make these distinctions is intellectually negligent if not intellectually dishonest. Johnson implicitly claims that it is the ‘Wests’ fault that this has occurred as the West is responsible for marginalising Islam. Apparently fundamentalist Islam bears no responsibility of its own for the fact that, as even the commonsense pub test would demonstrate, an adherence to a fundamentalist version of a medieval theocracy is going to struggle for relevance in a modern sectarian world, that for instance, seeks to value women as equals.

However, that said, it is frankly an irrelevance whether the extremist group that enacts such atrocities claims to be Islamic, Church of Scientology or Atheists United Front. Like all perpetrators of such inhumane actions throughout history, simply put, it is just moronic!

While it is important that motivations for such actions are examined, in terms of a rational explanation, they often leave us none the wiser and we are simply left to shake our heads at the seemingly depraved base of potential human behaviour. Of course if we are to follow the rationale as espoused by Johnson, we should be reassessing our cruel response to the Nazi ideology. Similarly, Idi Amin and Pol Pot have been grossly misunderstood and we have failed to recognise their combined cultural value to humanity.

Moreover, we are told by the author, in complete obfuscation of the facts, that the perpetrators of these atrocities have suffered incredible hardships themselves, when increasingly we see the perpetrators to be well educated, middle class, teenage and young adults, both males and females who have spent the bulk of their lives living within a supportive migrant community, with freedom to practice their religious custom, under the normally generous welfare safety nets of their adopted Western nations. Such an upbringing places these people well within the top twenty per cent of privilege on a global scale.

While Johnson’s psychological chicanery might appeal to some, for me at least, I find it ill-conceived and disingenuous.

Surely the perpetrators of such atrocities will find added comfort in such an article which falsely equates the actions of Western military forces with those of radical, murderous extremists. It seeks to rewrite history by drawing a link between the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the innocent civilians of France, where no such link exists. It denies the culpability of these perpetrators and provides them with, frankly a pathetic excuse, if such a thing can exist, for their actions.

Time to call a spade, a spade!

*Shane Humpherys is a Freelance Journalist and member of the MEAA.

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