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Normandy, Nice, Bavaria, Dallas: The war on terror has come home - and here's why

An attack almost every day, not just in Iraq and Syria but in France and Germany. The West can't wage endless war and expect to remain safe

When the terrorists strike, the West bombs them. After this month's Nice and Normandy atrocities, President Francois Hollande swore to strike back against Islamic State (IS). Last week up to 100 civilians were killed by coalition bombs, possibly French, near Manbij in northern Syria. This is what IS wants, and the West gives it to them. More innocent women and children die.

In a week that has seen Western media focus on multiple attacks in France and Germany, the carnage has continued in the Middle East. Civilians including many children were killed by rockets and barrel bombs in both rebel and government-held Aleppo and Damascus. IS carried out suicide bombings and mass killings in Iraq and in Kabul. Meanwhile John Kerry and his Russian counterpart talk about talks that seem to promise no more than more bombing.

This cycle of violence has been nearly 40 years in the making. Long before they attacked us, we funded and armed the militants we now call terrorists against the Russians and other enemies. By waging war across large swathes of west Asia and north Africa, eventually the war had to come home. Now it has.

When a communist coup seized power in Kabul in 1978, the Americans began supplying advanced weapons to the Islamic conservatives of Afghanistan. When the Russians invaded to prop up their allies a year later, the aid was stepped up to people we now call terrorists, including groups of religious fighters from across the Middle East.

In Bosnia and Kosovo, the West funded and supplied the same people, who we now call al-Qaeda. In 1993, the terrorists tried to blow up the World Trade Centre. They failed, but they didn’t give up.

In 1996 more than 150 witnesses told the New York Post that they saw a missile fired at Flight TWA800 over New York harbour, killing 220 passengers and crew. The inquiry that followed blamed a fuel tank explosion – but many, including now Secretary of State Kerry, stated it was a terrorist attack. Al-Qaeda had been supplied surface to air missile as part of the covert US operation in Bosnia and very likely smuggled it in to bring down the jet.


The blowback from allying with extreme anti-western groups had begun. A few years later, the West’s former allies in al-Qaeda, aided by officials of an allied Middle Eastern state, attacked Manhattan and successfully evaded all the superpower’s defences to hit the Pentagon. The classified 28 pages of the 2002 Joint Congressional report implicating Saudi Arabia were finally released without fanfare on 15 July 2016. The world was too busy dealing with the unending consequences of bombing Muslim countries in the Middle East to care.

After 9/11, the US bombed and invaded Afghanistan where the Taliban regime was harbouring al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. (The Taliban wanted proof of bin Laden’s role – the FBI later admitted that it did not have any.) After a 14-year occupation, we left, and Afghans began to flee in thousands as a renewed Taliban threatened their lives.

In 2003, the US and allies invaded Iraq, allegedly to stop weapons of mass destruction falling into the hands of terrorists. In the end, the terrorists moved in and fought the Americans to a standstill. The war continues to this day.

In 2011, the West helped overthrow Muammar Gaddafi, unleashing chaos and violence across north Africa and down to Nigeria, Mali and Chad. The conflict removed a border force and spurred a mass human trafficking system that now sees thousands drowning in the Mediterranean.

In Syria, the West and its Gulf allies supported the militant fighters joining the revolution against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Soon these groups dominated the battle against the regime, eclipsing the original democratic dreams of the protesters. Now Syria is an incubator of terrorism exporting it back to Europe.

Meanwhile in America, militarisation that began with the 9/11 attacks has transformed the US police into a dangerous force that threatens the lives of black citizens, leading to hundreds of deaths by police each year. In 2014, with the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, a new peaceful movement broke out across US cities, rallying thousands to the ‘Hands up, don’t shoot’ protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. The authorities responded with tanks. Under America’s first black president, hopes that something might change were dashed.

Then in July 2016 America saw what happens when the police behave like an occupying army toward minority groups. In Baton Rouge and in Dallas, America witnessed scenes more familiar in the Middle East. The shooters who targeted police officers were both veterans of America's wars. Micah Xavier Johnson, who shot dead five officers and wounded nine others in Dallas on 7 July, was an army reservist who served in Afghanistan. Baton Rouge shooter Gavin Long was a decorated ex-marine deployed to Iraq in 2008-2009.

After the June Orlando massacre of 49 people by Omar Mateen, a deranged Afghan-American who declared support for IS, the wars waged in faraway lands appeared to be coming home. As Nafeez Ahmed has written, Mateen was a long-time employee of G4S, the biggest security firm in the world and one of the main beneficiaries of the security-industrial complex that has grown exponentially out of the “war on terror”.

Endless war

Fundamentally, we are now living a military-industrial model of capitalism that feeds off unending conflict. Politically, neoliberal politicians rely on the existence of enemies abroad – and at home – to create a compliant and fearful citizenry. If you can’t provide social security and hope for the future, fear is a pretty good substitute. Abroad vast profits are made through arms sales and linked political leverage over client state regimes. How much those client regimes are now the tail wagging the dog is open to question.

The opponents of this model of late imperialism – and there are millions of them throughout the world – have warned that ultimately it would bring chaos and violence not only to the regions directly affected, but also to the West. We cannot just bomb terrorists into oblivion abroad and expect to have peace at home. As Newton’s third law of motion declared, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

The attacks in France and Germany both have unique aspects - in France to do with its colonial past in north Africa and endemic racism, in Germany related to the sudden influx of refugees from war zones.

For right-wing politicians, the situation is a gift. But let us not pretend that the danger is only from xenophobic populists like Donald Trump and Marine le Pen with a binary view of reality in which “we” protect ourselves from “them”. After all, it was the mainstream politicians – Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Francois Hollande, Tony Blair – who pursued the militarist approach to foreign policy regardless of its deadly long-term effects. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan as much as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu have also used the binary us versus the terrorists line to reinforce their power.

Modern high-tech militarism has been the easy answer for hegemonic powers since at least the 1991 Gulf war. But the drip-drip effect of psychological trauma, suffering and hatred engendered by this militarist model is now taking on pathological forms, fed by 24-hour news and social media, across the West as much as the Muslim world. The war has come home and we better get used to it.

With a choice between populist hate-monger Trump and unpopular war hawk Clinton in America’s election, this period of unending war, mass flows of desperate people, and random violence could be the prelude to something even worse.

- Joe Gill has lived and worked as a journalist in Oman, London, Venezuela and the US, for newspapers including Financial Times, Brand Republic, Morning Star and Caracas Daily Journal. His Masters was in Politics of the World Economy at the London School of Economics.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: A man stands in front of French flags and messages displayed at the place de la Republique's monument in Paris, on 26 July, 2016 after a priest was killed in the Normandy city of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in the latest of a string of attacks against Western targets claimed by or blamed on the Islamic State group (AFP).

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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