Laith Saud: Is the “War on Terror” a war or an Ideology?
Yesterday marked the 9th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. Nine years later, the pressing question is: what has the so-called “War on Terror” really accomplished?
The “War on Terror” is a phrase that does not necessarily refer to military action taken in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Pakistan, although these actions form part of the “War.” Rather, it refers to an ideology: the web of ideas, actions and policies that attempt to justify this war.
As Americans we do not like ideologies, they are rigid and uncompromising; we have historically preferred practical solutions to political problems than pre-formulated ideological ones.
But the “War on Terror” is just that, an ideology that claims to explain the world in terms of race, culture, religion and civilization.
Yet, what has that explanation accomplished?
The briefest examination of the “War” reveals its true nature; the “War on Terror” has been little more than neo-conservative propaganda to popularize the worldview of the ascending Right, a rhetorical burden that distracts us from solving real social and economic problems plaguing Americans at home.
The average American is frustratingly familiar with the current economic crises. Beginning in 2007, many of the most important economies in the world undertook downward spirals from which they are still to recover. Many of the conditions that facilitated the crises were a result of neo-conservative economic policies; yet throughout much of the world, instead of the decline of the Right, we have seen the sharp rise of neo-conservative power.
In Sweden last month, a far right party, the Sweden Democrats, won seats in parliament for the first time ever. In the Netherlands and Hungary we have seen similar gains by far right groups, while the British National party has also amassed political capital. The ascent of these relatively new parties represents a phenomenon of sorts: a fashionable rise in ideologically-driven, neo-conservative politics.
Traditional conservatism emphasizes the dominant role of a free economy. It argues that the ebb and flow of trade ‘naturally’ govern social relations, while free competition improves the quality of individual lives through voluntary education and training. By implication society at large is improved, as society is nothing less than a collection of individuals.
The Burkeian emphasis on tradition and culture (also a form of traditional conservatism), flows forth from the same logic: the same freedom and liberty that leaves the economy alone to sustain itself amongst the populace, also leaves culture alone. Just as true conservatives are suspicious of political authority when it interferes with free capitalism, they likewise resist government interference with culture. But neo-conservatives, in many ways, subvert this logic.
Neo-conservatism politicizes culture. Neo-conservatives campaign on the promise that they will actively govern culture through politics. Bush in 2004 famously politicized same-sex marriage, while present-day neo-conservatives are currently politicizing the presence of Muslims in America. Indeed, throughout the entire western world, as well as India and Israel, the presence of Muslims has been the centerpiece of neo-Rightist politics.
Of course, it was the “War on Terror” that consolidated this political movement in its current form.
The “War on Terror” is predicated on an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ idea. It is supposed that the “Islamic world” presents a danger to the West because there is something endemic to that culture that is dangerous.
Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington have played major roles in formulating this ideology; the former has argued that antipathy to the west is rooted in the “religious culture of Islam,” while the latter has argued that cultural pluralism is dangerous to the west. Notwithstanding how stereotypical these claims are, what is more important is that these claims have substantiated a world-view that has lead to policies and long protracted wars that have in turn lead to unforgivable human costs and nearly one trillion dollars in war spending.
Domestically, the far right (the neo-conservative right), has mobilized its forces in the name of fighting Islam or Muslims — or ‘Islamization’ as they like to call it. But while Muslims may be the target, the ultimate victims of neo-conservative fear-mongering and misuse of resources are the middle-class and lower middle-class, affordable healthcare and education.
Of course, neo-cons would argue that terrorism is a real threat to our national security (and it is).
But since 9/11, how many Americans have been killed on American soil by terrorism? The answer: Zero.
Now, how many Americans have been killed on the south side of Chicago over the last nine years? There has been four-thousand one-hundred and nine-teen murders in Chicago alone since 2002, those statistics do not include 2001 or 2010. The vast majority of these murders took place in poor areas; the devastating results of economic instability. Four thousand victims of street crime – just in Chicago – versus zero victims of terrorism nationwide.
So why have we privileged terrorism as a threat to national security over and above socio-economic issues which are demonstrably a persistent threat to the well-being of our citizens? Because the “War on Terror” is an ideology designed to do just that: explain the world in terms of culture and civilizations as opposed to policies and economics.
If you listen closely to neo-con rhetoric, you’ll find that it rarely concerns itself with policy; instead, neo-conservatives love to pontificate on culture, while making back door deals that serve corporate interests.
In fact, when there were recent attempts to focus the public debate back on policy in this country, the Left was shouted down throughout town halls across the country as being “fascist” or “Marxist” by the far Right. Naturally, this is little more than culturally-loaded ad hominem attacks designed to undermine rational policy.
The right is becoming louder in its cultural pursuits, while all the more silent on the corporate greed bankrupting America and threatening the middle-class. We would be wise to remember, as Americans, that following this misguided path will simply lead us back to the darkest days of Bush, perhaps even darker.