Through the Western Glass Darkly

Published in the Independent, 21/1/ 2013

The desert siege in the In Amenas gas plant is over. The end, as foretold, was bloody. According to the Algerian government, 23 hostages and 32 hostage-takers died in the inferno. The victims – whatever their nationalities- were all the same, men who suffered unimaginable fear and violence. I doubt they gave any thought to who was ‘British’, who ‘French’ and who just a plain native. They were workers in a globalised economy, in it together till the end. Sure, class and race meant some had more than others. But when caught in such a grisly drama, all such distinctions must dissolve, burn off. Grief too will be shared between high and low as families mourn. They are united in agony and turmoil. Ours is an age of perpetual instability and entropic barbarism.

Western power merchants- particularly Brits and Americans- in contrast, use each such tragedy to engender discord. They strut on the world stage, issue threats, remind the world who’s boss, always was and always will be. ( As if ). When will they see themselves as others see them, or try to empathatize with the citizens of three quarters of the world? It was embarrassing to witness Cameron’s colonial irritation with the Algerian upstarts who went ahead with the rescue without seeking permission from the UK or US. Economic might is draining away fast from these old centres of power, and they have lost two key wars in the last decade. But does that make them a little more humble, less solipsistic, any the wiser? Not at all. They didn’t get to where they were with self-doubt and by playing fairly. This latest farrago has brought out the worst in these cowboys and we should be afraid, very afraid.

It just hasn’t been the same since they assassinated Bin Laden. We need a proper scoundrel to hate. So out of the desert storm he comes, a one-eyed super-villain, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, AKA ‘Mr Malboro’ because he gets rich selling smuggled cigarettes. Wow! Katherine Biglow can make another blokey film about Mr Malboro next. Imagine the awards. His band of maniac men call themselves Those Who Sign Their names in Blood. ( How do we know any of this is true? )Soon Belmokhtar’s name will be as familiar to our children as Voldemort. And we will be persuaded that another western Jihad is needed against this evil monster, to make the world safe again. Which day never comes, though endless military action does mean a thriving weapons industry which sells to anyone with fat wallets, able to bypass weak regulations.

Cameron once again says Britain will show ‘iron resolve’ as must the G8. Leon Panetta, US Defence Secretary stood with our man Phil Hammond and warned the attackers would be ‘hunted down’, that they would find ‘no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere’.

The truth is that most malevolent and ruthless terrorists will find sanctuary and refuge even among people who loathe them, whose lives are blighted by extreme Islamicism. And that is because now the west is loathed and feared even more. Not the great civilizations and systems of the west- those are admired and coveted. But the Occident’s hypocrisies, ethical indifference to the sufferings of its victims, paranoia, lies and catastrophic wars. Worse still, that since 9/11 everyone is expected to agree that white lives matter more than others and that all policies and illegal actions are OK because the end matters more than the means. And the end is to maintain western privileges. Nations like Algeria and Mali, destabilised by Muslim militants, know western interventions are always based on self-interest and their own people become part of the necessary debris. It is a dirty deal and one that will be increasingly resisted, which means only continuing chaos for the poorest people on earth.

US drone attacks kill children and other innocents in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So what? To those who operate the drones, according to a US magazine, the casualties are ‘ bug splats’. These lifeless kids have no teddy bears, candles, names or even numbers. Do we expect the relatives of these ‘splats’ to feel for us when we lose innocents? As Obama’s second term is heralded in, don’t expect to hear the words ‘Guantanamo Bay’ where inmates hang between death and life, uncharged, untried, touching no conscience. Obaidullah was nineteen when incarcerated there in 2002. In 2012, all charges were dropped and still he waits and writes poems about love and spring’s fragrances. Next week the High Court hears further allegations about the torture of Iraqis by our soldiers. Meanwhile millions go to Biglow’s movie about Bin Laden and an exquisite filmic argument justifying torture.

Those people who were caught up in the Algerian shoot-out were victims of pitiless terrorists. In that Cameron is right. But distorted western values made them vulnerable too and there is no sign that our leaders understand that responsibility. In 2012, on a visit to Mumbai, I met Mike, an idealistic Englishman and Sunil, a historian. Over tea Mike asked; ‘ Why do Muslims hate us westerners so much?’ To which Sunil, a Hindu, replied: ‘Not only Muslims, my friend. We all do because you don’t see the world through our eyes ever. If you did, we would have a future together’. That is the only way we have a future together. Cameron and the rest of the western elite political don’t get that and never will.