By Germà Pelayo
We are Syrians, Russians, Iraqis, Kurds, French, Malians, Tunisians, Palestinians, Nigerians, Yemenites, Libyans, Lebanese, Turks, Afghans, Mexicans, Kenyans, Somalians… we are Muslims, Christians, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists… we are workers, housewives, jobless, students, children, grandparents… we are persons. We are citizens of this world.
And we are at war. But we do not know who the enemy is. Because a very important battle in this war is the battle of narratives. And at the moment, the battle of narratives is being won by others.
The attacks in Paris last November 13 have stirred a dulled European conscience, which, as a result of poorly understood education and history, had thought that their airplanes and armies could take part in distant wars, and that in return the worst thing that could happen to them was, as in the case of Syria, to have tens of thousands of immigrants at their door, while Syria’s neighboring countries were receiving millions.
But after the attacks, European leaders and their media are reediting the USA’s post-9/11 antiterrorist doctrine. A reading based on a flagrant lie. According to this view, the brutal initiative of a few fanatic degenerates must be responded to by using any means, albeit disproportionate ones, as a response to an “act of war.” But the reality is that Paris is not the beginning of anything. It is an intermediate episode of a current inferno series. France was already bombing Syria and killing innocent victims. Victims whom no one is looking for, nor counting, nor naming, nor knowing, nor recognizing, not even ISIS. Since September, the French have been part of the allied forces led by the USA against ISIS, which since 2014 has stepped into the current civil wars in Iraq and Syria, and moreover, is a consequence of the war in Iraq (2003-2011) caused by the US invasion.
The “war against terror” narrative, a lie to which Europe is gradually yielding, even though it is not clear that France will get the necessary support for ground intervention in Syria, hides another “war,” that is to say, another reading of these affairs. You will have guessed: it is the military, economic, technological, and cultural war… of the elite against everyone else. A conflict of planetary scope, in which they divide us by class, nation, religion, even with sports, while they are united by the money. The complexity of this war includes all aspects of social life because it arises from the global plan of the ultrarich against the planet. Just where security is concerned, and without getting into the original and much more important motivation, namely to dominate the Middle East and control its energy resources, this plan is characterized by three features that I would like to expose as follows: global terrorism (by ISIS and others); the boom of “securitarian” culture; and the global arms industry.
Terrorism is the war of the poor, those who do not have the resources to wage armed conflicts in all their intensity. Reasons for terrorism can be fair, unfair, or even perverse, but they are always political or ideological. The bloodthirsty ISIS, which is waging war in Syria and Iraq, which kidnaps, rapes, and enslaves women of all ages, which beheads its enemies and imposes the sharia like their neighbors Saudi Arabia and Iran, and which destroys architectural works, can be compared to other Barbarian regimes like those of Pol Pot, Idi Amin Dada, or Charles Taylor. But by having had the audacity to proclaim a global jihad and to respond on their own ground to those attacking them, ISIS has become for the West, and especially for the most militaristic and conservative sectors, the perfect supreme enemy against which all means can be used, no matter the consequences. Thus, continuing the bombings and the possible ground intervention will heighten the conditions under which Syria and Iraq will not be able to escape from violence for several decades.
In the Middle East, no one is buying the narrative according to which ISIS has become a brutal regime that needs to be exterminated overnight. The story being bought is the one about the monster that has been supported by many to bring down Assad’s dictatorship, and the one about revenge by the two European countries that have been attacked (France and Russia), something that stands on a lower moral ground than that of its enemies, for not only are the latter following an eye-for-an-eye policy, they are doing so with much, much greater destructive capacity. By using drones and remotely controlled missiles, and experimenting with new chemical weapons. Following the USA and Israel’s example. The result in this region is indefinite perpetuation of resentment and instability. The consequence in the rest of the world is that some now have the ideal excuse to impose conservatism and “securitarianism,” to fetter democracy and development, and to make profits from the military industry. As mentioned above, the everlasting fight for energy resources is what has originated and is perpetuating the region’s instability, and this continues to be the greatest motivation. But to explain the powerful and inescapable relations between oil and politics, an entirely separate article would have to be written just to begin to deal with the subject. Here I am restricting myself to the subject of security and am starting with the assumption that the military-industrial motivation has gained ground over the years and is also, in a way, following its own or independent logic.
On the other hand, as for all losing sides of a conflict, society in the victimized Arab World is breaking down, and the old divisions are reappearing on the front line. Thus, ISIS has managed to spread to the whole region Iraq’s Sunnite-Shia conflict, which followed on the heels of the US invasion. But ISIS’s success is also the product of the irresponsibility of the regional powers—Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkey—which instead of uniting against the foreign powers interested in dominating the area and its resources, have also wagered on regional destabilization, each of them following their own interests. Thus, the Saudis and the Turks have supported ISIS to topple Assad’s regime, and the Iranians have supported the Iraqi Shiite militiamen in Syria and Iraq.
Securitarianism is the second factor. The Paris attacks will drive a review of the European Security Strategy by extending the so-called antiterrorist doctrine to Europe. The French government has already prohibited the demonstrations planned for COP21 and abused the state of emergency by arresting, “pre-emptively,” environmental activists, and it has mentioned its intention to breach the European Convention on Human rights. Belgium imposed a state of siege on its capital for several days. In Russia, clever Putin is feeding his popularity with anti-Western victimism, thanks to which he can cut down dissidence and liberties. Other countries are also taking exaggerated and unnecessary measures with political intent. At the European level, measures are being studied that suppose the deprivation of citizens’ freedoms. Europe is following in the USA’s path and the latter’s Patriot Act, military courts, Guantánamo, prisoner abuse, and jails in third countries, the so-called “pre-emptive war” doctrine, and the disastrous results of its Middle East policy, namely continuing the war, thousands of soldiers dying, deporting or jailing innocent immigrants for supposed security reasons, and the government intruding in citizens’ lives by means of secret telephone and Internet surveillance.
These measures and others related to supervising citizens, along with collective fear, are in addition contributing to the indiscriminate criminalization of Muslims and spreading suspicion and fear to others in general. More police and military security also causes more insecurity. A breeding ground for the populisms, ghettoization, and the progressive disintegration of liberal democracies already in crisis, for radicalization and the spiral of conflict. Quite the agenda for collective emotional and intellectual insecurity, which with the hand of neoliberalism opens the doors to docility in the direction of a concealed enslavement of humankind.
On the other hand, in France and in other countries, an individualized problematization of the phenomenon, which consists in claiming that the recruitment of second-generation youngsters to ISIS is due to poor social integration, and not to their right to a political stand against injustice offered only by jihadism because the Left has lost its force for change... while extremes are converging and ISIS is also using a polarized epic-charged narrative in which those in favor of a moderate Islam are seen as traitors and enemies.
Finally, at the international level, securitarianism is imposing a pre-emptive war and for this reason is an interventionist doctrine that can be considered a new version of the imperialisms of yore, bathed in the paternalistic blessing of the international institutions, in the pay of the powerful countries, which reprimand the countries of the South for practicing poor governance and being unstable, fragile, or failed.
The third element is the war industry. The greater the instability and the number of wars, the greater the profits for the few and extremely powerful weapons-manufacturing conglomerates. This business, fundamental to the economies of the most powerful countries, is fed by terrorism and the securitarian response; it grows in the face of the economic and financial crisis, it contributes perversely to save the economies of countries like the USA, at the cost of the wars in which it is involved and global insecurity; and it is used by the banks as a financial instrument to manage the emerging countries’ debt. The USA’s military spending is greater than the combined spending of the following 26 countries, 25 of which are its allies. After 9/11, US defense budgets soared by 114%, even though in 2014 they fell to some extent due to the conclusion of ground operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Global annual military spending is equal to 1.5 trillion US dollars, 82% of which is concentrated in 15 countries and 61% of which in the 5 UN Security Council member countries. The USA leads the world with 29% of the weapons-export business, followed closely by Russia with its 27%. Most of the countries in the world have tended to increase their military budgets in past years.
These budgets include all the sophisticated weaponry, and the chemical and experimental weapons being used in Syria and being sold to different buyers in other war scenarios, which local armies do not have the capacity to produce. It should never be forgotten that a small share of the money invested in the weapons industry would be sufficient to provide economic security and basic services for all of humankind, and that the enormous sums being handled are equivalent or greater than those that were used to rescue banks during the financial crisis.
The Arab World provides, much to its misfortune, the location for this warmongering business to thrive. With 5 of its countries at war and a few more in a situation of high instability, the 22 members of the Arab League have been turned into a region specializing as the planet’s military garbage bin or firing range. This reality extends to the rest of the Muslim world with the wars in Afghanistan and Mali, the Pakistani and northern Kurdish powder kegs, and authoritarianism and tensions in many other countries. In the Arab World, longstanding global greed for oil and other resources has been the cause of social deterioration, riding the waves of the different conservative and radical Islamist currents that are needed to impose extremist dictatorships and visions, muzzling and subjecting the people’s voice, and fostering internal conflicts the better to practice domination.
As for the European Union, it wishes to increase its participation in this strategy and to add or inject neoconservatism into the existing neoliberalism by means of the deceptive narrative according to which to guarantee peace, the EU must arm itself disproportionately, justifying the billions allocated for this purpose in the budget. Terrorism on the one hand, and the tensions with Russia due to the Ukrainian conflict on the other, are the perfect allies to implement this plan. The EU is not only following the US example in this, it is also following those of Russia and China, whose nationalist, victimist discourse qualifies the other powers as involuntary enemies and terrorism as an indirect tool to attack the country’s or the region’s interests. In all these countries, the insecurity lie is added to the lie of austerity applied selectively to social spending and meeting needs, thus feeding the cyclical spiral of insecurity and social violence. Evidence of the neoliberal-militarist alliance is given publicly whenever the stock-market rises as a result of an international armed intervention.
How can we move toward peace?
Neither bombings, and even less so any possible ground intervention, nor peace at any cost are good measures. Western intervention is based on the false bipolar narrative of the union of democracies, according to which the world is divided into countries that are either 100% or 0% democratic. In this story, the former are supposedly superior, making of the narrative the contemporary version of the civilizing missions of the empires of yore. Actually, Europe and the USA’s democracies are far from perfect, and though Russia’s may be lesser, it still exists. Even China sees itself as a democracy, and a considerable share of its population thinks the same. This is why the difference in degree of democracy among countries does not justify crushing others, i.e. Syrians, in an operation not in the least democratic, nor should it keep the EU and the USA from collaborating with Russia and China in seeking solutions.
Where legitimacy is concerned, the 130 French victims were citizens of the world as much as the hundreds of daily victims in Syria and Iraq, and those of other countries experiencing terrorism, and for this reason the whole world must take a stand. Neither France nor the EU are legitimized to initiate an intervention, not even an unarmed one, because they have been part and parcel of the aggressions and would never be seen as impartial.
1. In the short and medium term, stabilization by pacific means
There are a great many stabilization measures that can be taken in Syria and Iraq before imagining a military solution, which would only lead to delay, but unfortunately also to increasing or consolidating the conflict in the medium and long run. Military intervention must be seen as a last resort. Stabilization measures need all the countries of the region to agree, and must have the support of the international powers. Such an agreement would be very difficult to reach because the different players often take opposite directions, but the citizens of the world would have to, at the very least, pressure their governments with a common agenda to make them sit down to a negotiating table until they come up with an agreement.
Among the short-term measures, it would first be necessary to take action against ISIS’s financial independence. The main offices of all Syrian and Iraqi banks must cease all operations with their branches in ISIS territory and stop paying civil servants’ wages there, a situation that is contributing to the stability of the jihadist regime.
Secondly, all ISIS borders must be hermetically closed by means of a joint regional surveillance operation, with support from the UN security forces, in all the outer adjacent regions (located in Iran, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, and if possible, Israel) and including airspace, in order to prevent ISIS from exporting oil and works of art and importing arms, and the circulation of nonresidents.
Thirdly, all Internet and telephone access nodes must be blocked to eliminate ISIS’s logistic coordination with the outside, its propaganda, its possibility to conduct large-scale terrorist operations like those of Paris, and its collaboration with subsidiary jihadist groups in Libya, Nigeria, etc.
In the fourth place, a no-fly area should be set up for the entire territory of Syria and Iraq, under the control of a regional force (Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) and under UN supervision.
In the fifth place, there should be an unconditional cease fire and an embargo of all the forces in conflict, and humanitarian areas should be set up in the area of the front.
All these short-term measures would allow the regional and global powers to make the contending forces sit at the table to initiate peace negotiations and an exit to the crisis.
In the medium term, a solid plan needs to be worked out for reconstruction and democratic reestablishment in Syria, with international support for the development and peace of the region, including greater social protection and less inequality; robust diplomatic action will be needed to bring out the regional powers’ common interests; and local civil society will have to be empowered for forceful educational and social action that will stand up to jihadist warmongering discourse. On the other hand, Assad must assume the need to organize elections in which he can run, and Russia, which is theoretically a democratic country, must stop playing its role of defending a dictatorship.
At the regional Middle Eastern level, it is necessary to support the democratic forces, to strengthen the players in favor of dialogue and peaceful political Islam, and to promote all forces opposing regional conflict and favorable to integration. A permanent regional negotiations committee is needed for resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Outside the region, these and other peace initiatives must be supported, as well as multiculturality, tolerance, social inclusion, well-being, and the reduction of inequalities.
In a very different scheme of things, on the global scale a plan is also needed to exit from the fossil economy, making the world less dependent on the Middle East and the region less dependent on the excessive ambitions of other parts of the world.
2. Plan B: regional intervention
The previous measures must comprise a common agenda agreed upon by all the parties, especially the countries of the region and the international powers. This agreement must include a schedule with a deadline. Only in the case where after this deadline the conditions of the conflict are the same or worse, a joint, operational, and rapid military intervention must be set in motion by the countries of the region: Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and perhaps Egypt. This force must have the approval of the UN Security Council.
Like the previous measures, this regional intervention as a last resort is not a realistic measure because getting countries to agree that have so far considered themselves as adversaries and so far have been acting against one another is far from easy. Here it would be very useful, almost essential, to have an agreement previously worked out among international and regional civil society that will put pressure in this direction
3. In the long term: world democracy
Terrorism, securitarianism, and militarism are three new ways to play an old game, the power game played by the strongest. The age of multilateralism will continue to be an age of global conflicts and underdevelopment while the richer regions and countries play their hand of destabilizing the world in order to avoid losing their economic monopoly. Powerful alternatives are needed to change the rules of the game. The rules of the game to end the most important war of all, which is the war of the elite against everyone else.
Social movements and international civil society need to include world democracy as a necessary scenario in the collective agenda, no matter how long it takes. For the moment, world democracy is Utopian. And it may continue to be so for a long time. Unless we get started. It is not that I think that world democracy is the solution to the endemic war in the Middle East, or to the environmental crisis, or to the extreme poverty and injustice of the world, but I am convinced that here and now we need transformative political paradigms to break out of the dead-end in which we are stuck, and of the few that have been formulated—others would be a government of the wise, collegial government with the participation of corporations, or a centralized global government—world democracy is what seems most legitimate to me.
For the social movements of the world to agree to build a world democratic movement, there would have to be a debate on the question “What democracy?” and on the question “What globality?” A new democracy can hardly imitate those already in existence, which are being delegitimized by how they work and above all by the way they have been taken over by the elite all over the world. It is also very difficult for the citizens of the world to accept a form of globality based on top-down organization, which would possess ultimate power and drown out the voices of cultural, regional, religious, and other minorities. As a Catalan, I would never accept that my country, my culture, and my idiosyncrasy were not represented in the world with a corresponding, proportionate decision-making power, and I believe this applies to all cultures—sexual orientation, religion, ways of life, and ways of thinking, really—independently of their demographic size.