23 February 2009

Back from Oslo: "The War on Truth" in The Independent, and elsewhere

It's just been a few hours since I arrived back from a conference in Oslo, "Deconstructing the War on Terror", where I was honoured to join a very distinguished panel of speakers addressing the need for a new discourse to make sense of current events.

I've just been told by the man who runs this website that I've been mentioned very favourably in today's edition of The Independent in an oped piece by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown:

"In his disturbing and clearly evidenced book, The War on Truth, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed traces the unholy games played with Islamicist terrorists by the US, and through acquiescence by the UK, flirting with them when it suited and then turning against them. Al-Qa'ida has been used as an instrument of western statecraft and for now is the enemy. Well, not quite. Pakistan's ISI is quite chummy with the Bin Laden groupies and, well, we have to keep Pakistan on side as they know so many of our secrets. So it goes on."

I also discovered in Oslo that The War on Truth has been reviewed in the Journal of Peace Research published by SAGE on behalf of the International Peace Research Institute (PRIO). I met with Dr Ola Tunander, who is a Research Professor at PRIO, and who wrote the review for the journal last year. It's a short, but very supportive review - here's the gist:

"In this volume, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed has collected a large amount of material about the US grand design for a new American world order, and particularly about the role of Osama bin Laden, 11 September 2001, and the intelligence networks of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the West. This volume tries to understand 21st-century terrorism, not primarily as a replacement for the Cold War Soviet Union, but as a Western disinformation campaign to control raw materials and populations on a global scale. Ahmed documents the close ties between Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and a number of intelligence services. He also documents policies for provoking terrorists into action to justify military responses. The frequent use of terrorism to alter the political agenda and to manipulate public opinion has seemingly created a ‘hyperreality’ that covers the true actors behind the scene. The ‘Global War on Terror’ is, to Ahmed, as much a‘war on truth’ as it is a war against any terrorists... his contribution is necessary for anyone who wants to write about the Global War on Terror and US preoccupation with terrorism in the 21st century. Thebook is also important for the understanding of the present war in Afghanistan."

The only caveat is that Professor Tunander describes me as "Director of Policy Research & Development at the University of Sussex" - a post which doesn't exist, and which is obviously a confusion of my affiliation to Sussex as a tutor and doctoral candidate, and my work with the IPRD.

Anyway, Tunander is a strong emerging voice in the emerging critical academic literature on terrorism. He has most recently contributed to the seminal academic anthology on 'deep politics', Government of the Shadows: Parapolitics and Criminal Sovereignty by Dr Eric Wilson, Monash University and Dr Tim Lindsey, University of Melbourne.

On the subject of the conference, all the presentations were excellent, and really eye-opening. The opening speech was by Dr Erik Fosse, a senior medical doctor and Research Professor, and head of the Oslo-based medical aid agency, the Norwegian Aid Committee (NORWAC). Dr. Fosse's presentation was truly shocking. He was one of the handful of Western experts and eyewitnesses who was still in Gaza during Israel's latest bombardment, and was a firsthand witness to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity. He described how Israeli forces were literally bombing and specifically targeting civilian structures and installations, and recounted harrowing personal stories of the manner in which he and the Palestinian doctors at the Al-Shifa hospital were overwhelmed by incoming civilian casualties and lacking in sufficient medical supplies to treat them effectively due to the Israeli blockade. He also went into eyewitness evidence of new types of weapons being used by Israel. A gist of his talk can be gleaned from his interview on Al-Jazeerah.

Arzu Merali, Director of Research at the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) in London, described the role of the media in the 'War on Terror' and its tendencies to de-humanize ethnic minority communities, in particular Muslims. She described the increasing prevalence of cartoons depicting Muslims as fanatics with long beards, using language such as "parasites" and similar rhetoric; and most disturbingly, compared them to cartoons that were used in Germany in the early 1930s to depict Jews, before the Holocaust. The similarities were actually very striking, and extremely disturbing. She notes that the problem is that the majority community largely has very little contact with minorities, and so their perceptions of minorities are actually informed almost wholly by these sorts of de-humanizing and over-simplifying media stereotypes. There is a need to acknowledge that minorities by way of being minorities, de facto don't have the kind of media access that the majority community takes for granted.

Massoud Shadjareh, Chairman of the IHRC, focused on statistical evidence of the futility of anti-terror operations, procedures and legislation, and showed how not only does the current anti-terror strategy effectively target overwhelmingly innocent people, it in particular targets members of black and ethnic minority groups, once again Muslims in particular. One example was really telling. Out of the over hundred thousand or so people stopped and searched, moreover, there has been not a single conviction for terrorist offences. The financial costs of stop and search, even having cut out some of the red tape permitting police to continue the practive with even more impunity than ever before, are in the millions of pounds - money down the drain, much like the bulk of the Government's Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) strategy which, it now seems, is hell-bent on criminalizing most of the 1.2 million British Muslim population. As Andrew Gilligan has pointed out, we need to address the structural and social causes underlying the vulnerability of our youth, Muslim and non-Muslim, to all kinds of criminal activity.

Finally, Robin Yassin-Kassab, author of the novel The Road from Damascus, and a journalist who has travelled widely in the Middle East and Central Asia, spoke in detail about the rationale behind, and devastating impact of, the war on Pakistan and Afghanistan. Robin discussed the role of the Trans-Afghan pipeline in motivating US hostilities toward Taliban, which despite being invited to Nebraska for talks with UNOCAL and American diplomats in the run-up to 9/11, basically told the US and Britain to shove their plans for Afghanistan up their behinds, following which US representatives promised them bombs. He also delves into detail about the war in Pakistan, and is at pains to emphasise that the fracturing of that country into de facto civil war is a direct consequence of the US trying to compel the ISI to ditch its unruly spawn, the Taliban. Robin blogs here, where you can also find the gist of this presentation in Oslo. Here's a sample from the blog:

"The terror threat to the West is real, but vastly exaggerated. In its name military budgets swell and potential dissenters are intimidated. There were 498 terrorist incidents in Europe in 2006, only one of which was attributed to Muslims, yet half of terrorism-related arrests were of Muslim suspects...

With the election of Obama, the most extreme rhetoric of GWOT seems to have had its day. (It may be to Israel’s long term cost that it used GWOT rhetoric to package the recent massacre in Gaza, just at the moment when GWOT had been discredited in the West.) But if fundamental pro-Zionist and imperialist policies did not in fact change during the Bush years, not much will change, practically, in the post-Bush years. The passing of the War on Terror is as illusory as its sudden birth after September 11th."

Oh, nearly forgot. My presentation was about Anglo-American hostilities with Iran in the context (primarily) of increasingly scarce hydrocarbon energy resources (i.e. peak oil), and the worrying prospects over the next 10 years. And you can get a more in-depth (pre-Obama) reading of this here.

1 comment:

  1. "She notes that the problem is that the majority community largely has very little contact with minorities.." Elizabeth Poole, I believe, also notes that most people only know about Islam and Muslims via the media.

    Poole, E. (2002) Reporting Islam (London: I B Tauris)


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