On Monday morning we learned about the tragedy in Brussels, where terrorists affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria bombed an airport and a metro station, killing over 30 people. As is the case with every life subjected to the the brutality, terror, and murder, we must hold the victims and those who cared for them in love and solidarity, and offer them the peace and hope that can only come from compassion. Not My Empire is a blog dedicated to the pursuit of justice and universal human dignity, both of which are attacked by ISIS’s targeting of foreign civilians in their struggle for autonomy. As the mainstream media reminds us forcefully after every attack of this nature in the west, and as we should remind ourselves every day, the global forces for terrorism are launching an attack on global peace. Because the media will provide (and already has provided) plenty of statist editorials masquerading as objective reporting to condemn the terrorists responsible for this attack, I don’t think I have very much to add there (except perhaps a reminder that terrorists, like all criminals, are entitled to human rights). I want to focus instead on something far more important than our cultural quest for vengeance fueled by a militant media industrial complex. We could be ending global terrorism.
The rise in Islamist terrorism is not, as the reactionary media would suggest, the result of an ancient Muslim hatred for liberal democracy. George Bush lied, they do not “hate our freedom.” To the contrary, the groups that the government has labeled terrorist were created in response to Western imperialism. In our pursuit of global hegemony and an oil monopoly, the American government has violated “freedom” and democracy in the Islamic world for the better part of a century. In recent years, this has escalated to an all-out invasion of the Islamic world at large, a massive state terrorist campaign by the most powerful military establishment in the history of the world. With no functioning international legal apparatus to protect them, the people of revisionist Middle Eastern states have been devastated by the massive war crimes of Western nations, and have been left with no viable options for relief. As long as this is the case, there is no way to reasonably expect an end to terrorist attacks in the West and radical Islamist militants in the Middle East.
If we condemn murder and terrorism by ISIS (which we rightly do), then we must far more forcefully condemn the murder and terrorism, orders of magnitude more atrocious, that our own state commits with its European allies. Americans grossly underestimate the scale of human life lost during the War on Terror our country has launched without regard to any structure of law or even any finite military strategy. Mass murder by the American government in the Middle East has been a constant since the early 1990s, and its actual cost, as calculated by impartial multinational investigations by the United Nations.
While George W. Bush officially started the War on Terror in 2001, the brutal American campaign of destruction has been an everyday reality since 1990, when George H. W. Bush launched the thirteen year campaign to unseat Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a murderous tyrant and in many ways a fascist, but the brutality of the American siege on Iraq proves that it was not about defending human rights; it was entirely a capitalist invasion to gain access to some of the world’s largest oil reserves. While Bush Sr.’s initial assault, the Persian Gulf War, killed tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers (many in horrific ways condemned by the Geneva Convention) and civilians, the true terror was the following decade of historically unprecedented sanctions, started by Bush and massively expanded by Bill Clinton. Under the sanctions, even basic food aid was blocked from starving Iraqis. American planes enforced a No Fly Zone over Iraq to force compliance with the sanctions, and almost every day of his presidency Bill Clinton authorized bombings in Iraq to punish the government for (usually nonexistent) violations of international law. As early as 1995, the UN voiced concern over the sanctions as a Harvard study found over 500,000 child casualties due to sanction-induced starvation; in 2000 UN studies supported this claim and placed the overall death toll of the sanctions at over 2 million. There was briefly an international push to charge President Clinton and his co-conspirator, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, with crimes against humanity, and when this failed UN Assistant Secretary General Denis Halliday resigned in protest. American awareness of this atrocity is practically invisible.
On September 11, 2001, a group of militants trained by the CIA during the Cold War and funded by oil from America’s ally Saudi Arabia launched the largest ever terrorist attack on the US. It is worth noting that they cited Iraqi sanctions as one of the motivations for their attack, along with American support for the brutal dictatorship in Saudi Arabia and the illegal occupation of Palestine. In response, the second President Bush blamed the religious dictatorship in Afghanistan (obviously a ploy to divert attention from the Saudis) for sheltering terrorists, and, despite the public offer by the Afghan government to extradite the criminals responsible for the attack, chose to launch a massive bombardment campaign and land invasion of the country with overwhelming public support. The invasion was a disaster. Fifteen years later, huge portions of Afghanistan remain in the control of Islamist militants at war with the puppet-dictatorship Bush installed. American troops still occupy the country, and promise to remain there for many years. The conflict has spilled over the Afghan border into northern Pakistan, where, while there is no standing US army, American drones terrorize the population in search of terrorists. The death toll, which I will get to shortly, is staggering and far above the average American estimate.
And then, the piece de resistance. In 2003, the Bush administration blatantly lied to the world, claiming Saddam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destruction (a study that would be amusing if it wasn’t so terrifying found 935 overtly false statements by the President and his aids relating to situation in Iraq before the invasion). The ensuing invasion toppled Hussein’s government, slaughtered civilians at a scale unseen in American wars since Vietnam, and opened the floodgates for Islamist militants including but certainly not limited to the group that calls itself ISIS. Once corporate media could no longer conceal the administration’s lies about Iraq, public opinion of the war fell, leading to the election of anti-war candidate Barack Obama in 2008. Obama, of course, decided not to end either of the wars Bush had started, and he has embarked on his own campaigns in Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen, which, despite killing thousands, have failed to diminish the appeal of Islamist anti-imperialist militancy in these countries.
The human impact of these wars has been largely blocked from American consciousness by a media structure that has economic interest in the military industrial complex and has therefore failed at every opportunity to investigate the American and European military atrocities of the War on Terror. The American mainstream accepts our government’s claim that it only killed 60,000 Iraqi and 16,000 Afghan civilians (even these numbers, which are absurd, would be horrifyingly high and by far exceed the impact of terrorism on the west). In 2015, the UN commissioned a study on the impacts of the War on Terror by, among other collaborators, the Nobel Prize winning research coalition Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. The extremely eloquent report found that, including deaths from starvation caused by the occupations, the lowest possible estimates for a death toll would be: 1 million in Iraq, 220,000 in Afghanistan, and 80,000 in Pakistan; the vast majority in all three countries are civilians killed by airstrikes or starvation. The United States used its Security Council authority to prevent the publication of this study by the UN or any affiliate, so the researchers were forced to self-publish. I am providing their methodology for you to review if you are so inclined.
So let that sink in for a second. Between 1990 and 2015, the United States and its allies have murdered 3.3 million people in the Middle East (not counting the rapidly expanding conflicts in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Somalia). For me that number is incredibly hard to comprehend, so I am going to convert it into manageable chunks. There were 9,360 days, or 13.4 million minutes, between the first day of Iraqi sanctions and the terrorist attacks in Brussels on Tuesday. That means on average, during those days, the War on Terror killed one person every 4 minutes and 4 seconds. Working with the assumption that one human life is equal to another, let’s explore what that actually means. For 25 years, the US government committed the equivalent of:
- One San Bernardino shooting (14 dead) every hour.
- One Brussels terrorist attack (31 dead) every 2 hours.
- All American deaths from Islamist terrorism since 9/11 (45 dead) every 3 hours.
- All American deaths from Christian/white supremacist terrorism since 9/11 (48 dead) every 3.2 hours.
- One Paris terrorist attack (130 dead), the largest attack in Europe in 11 years, every 8.7 hours.
- One massacre in Beslan, Russia (330 dead), the largest Islamist terrorist attack on a European country ever, every 22 hours.
- One 9/11 terrorist attack (2,996 dead), the largest terrorist attack on the US ever, every 8.4 days.
- All US casualties in the War on Terror (6,852 dead) every 19 days.
- The highest UN estimate for all violence ever committed by ISIS (18,000 dead) every 7 weeks (don’t forget, most of the violence in Syria is not being carried out by ISIS but by fascist dictator Bashar Al Assad, who they are trying to overthrow). For those who argue that we are protecting Muslims from ISIS through our current interventions, let the record show that we have killed more than 180 times as many people as they have in the Middle East.
- One year of all murders in the US (16,000 dead) every 6.4 weeks.
- The past 100 years of American casualties of war (650,000 dead) every 5 years. Our past 25 years in the Middle East have killed more than three times as many people as have ever died in the US military.
If we accept the reality that the human beings in Iraq and Afghanistan have as much a right to life as the human beings in Brussels and California, we very quickly find our position in the global War on Terror reversed. Simply through an understanding of scale, we Americans are faced with the inescapable realization that we, the champions of freedom and liberal democracy, are not the world’s policeman, we are the world’s greatest criminal. And if we can understand the level of violence we are inflicting on the Islamic world, it becomes very easy to understand why the number of Muslims resorting to violence in response is increasing. As modern terrorist organizations become increasingly flexible, spreading as ideologies more than anything else, we can only expect terrorist attacks in the West to become more common.
That is, unless we break the cycle. We can not, as every Presidential contender from Donald Trump to Bernie Sanders seems to believe, bomb our way out of the crisis. But we could cease, immediately and unconditionally, our airstrikes and drone raids in the Middle East. We could withdraw, immediately and unconditionally, all US troops, ships, and planes from combat operations. And we could offer massive reparations payments to the families of those we have murdered in our War on Terror (if we gave half of our absurdly bloated military budget to the 3.3 million families of victims, each would receive $87,000 every year). If we do not want to endorse terrorism, these steps are not idealizations, they are fundamental necessities.