Saturday, August 23, 2014

Western Conquerors were never Liberators

On August 5 of this year, Major General Harold J. Greene was killed in Afghanistan by a lone gunman. Greene was the highest-ranking U.S. military officer to be killed in a war zone in four decades. Before him, according to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial database, Maj. Gen. John Albert B. Dillard Jr. was killed on May 12, 1970 when his helicopter was shot down. Later Rear Adm. Rembrandt Cecil Robinson, who was the Navy’s equivalent of a major general, was killed on May 8, 1972 when his helicopter crashed. Five other American officers of comparable rank were killed in the Vietnam War, all in air crashes, whether accidental or caused by hostile action. Lt. Gen. Timothy L. Maude, who was the Army’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, was killed at the Pentagon site on September 11, 2001.

 What is noteworthy here is that Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene died not at the hand of a sworn enemy like the Taliban but from a burst of gunfire by a soldier in an allied army who had been largely paid, trained and equipped with the American and NATO support. One of the most puzzling developments has been such insider attacks, in which Afghan personnel have opened fire on their foreign military counterparts.

 Why? Why did Maj. Gen. Greene die? Is there something wrong he did, and/or symbolized or represented that was at the heart of the reason behind his killing? How about the other killings that have happened in the occupied territories? Surely, for every effect there is at least a cause behind; nothing of that sort happens without a reason. What could have motivated the Afghan soldiers to killing Greene and other occupying soldiers?

 Occupation of a foreign territory is never an easy task. Even when the former foes are defeated, newer ones have always emerged to continue the old fight. Occupying forces have, therefore, always tried to create its surrogate army by recruiting from inside the occupying territory to work as a buffer force. That is how they have been able to rule vast territories of India and other colonies in our world while their own forces accounted for a very small fraction of the total force.

 Occupation of a foreign territory with an alien culture is even harder. That could well explain the reasons behind much of the problems faced by the occupation forces in Afghanistan. In 2010 an American and a Canadian colonel and two American lieutenant colonels were killed in a suicide car bombing. Per account of a coalition official, that event sent “more than a little shock and numbness” at coalition headquarters. Another coalition official compared General Greene’s death to the killings of American advisers at Afghanistan’s Interior Ministry by an Afghan government employee in 2012. That attack came in the midst of a wave of anti-American violence over burnings of the copies of the Holy Qur’an at Bagram Air Field, a sprawling base north of Kabul. A German brigadier general and a senior Afghan commander were among the wounded.

 The “inside attacks” phenomenon became noticeable in 2008 and surged for the next few years. In 2012, there were 60 such attacks, including the fatal shooting of two American advisers by a government worker inside the Interior Ministry. By June of this year, 87 insider attacks had killed 142 coalition troops and wounded another 165, according to the Long War Journal, an online publication focused on American counterterrorism.

 There was no similar incident before the shooting of Maj. Gen. Greene on August 5. According to a senior Pentagon official, the general and some other Afghan and American officers were standing by a water purification tank when the Afghan soldier opened fire without warning.

 It was also unclear what provoked two other “insider attacks” that week: a firefight Tuesday between an Afghan police guard and NATO troops near the governor’s office in southern Paktia province, and an incident Wednesday in Uruzgan province in which an Afghan policeman poisoned his colleagues’ food, then shot at least seven of them before fleeing in a police truck, officials said.

 As (late) Professor Edward Said mentioned in his lecture at a seminar in Cal Tech some 30 years ago, which I had the pleasure of attending, nowhere did the occupation forces encounter as much resistance as they did in Muslim territories. Muslims were militarily defeated and their lands occupied by the western forces, but the resistance against occupation continued for decades making it very difficult for new rulers to sustain their gains. This, in spite of all the propaganda of the occupation forces trying to portray its so-called kinder, gentler mission. From the time of Napoleon, these western occupiers, who had defeated Muslims militarily, claimed that they intended to restore, protect, and liberate their new subjects. They even sounded as if they had no quarrel with the religion of Islam and the culture of Muslims.

 After his royal entry to Alexandria, Egypt in 1798, Napoleon Bonaparte proclaimed, "You will be told that I have come to destroy your religion; do not believe it! Reply that I have come to restore your rights, to punish the usurpers, and that more than the Mamluks, I respect God, his Prophet, and the Qur'an." One of his generals, Jacques M√©nou, even converted to Islam to show his respect for Islam.

 Similarly, soon after his arrival in Baghdad in March 1917, Stanley Maude, the British commander, after having defeated the Ottomans, addressed "the People of the Baghdad Vilayet" saying: “Our armies have not come into your cities and lands as conquerors or enemies, but as liberators. Since the days of Hulaku your citizens have been subject to the tyranny of strangers, your palaces have fallen into ruins, your gardens have sunken into desolation and you yourselves have groaned in bondage. ... the Turks have talked of reforms, yet do not the ruins and wastes of today testify the vanity of those promises?

It is the wish not only of my King and his peoples, but it is also the wish of the great nations with whom he is in alliance, that you should prosper even as in the past. ... Between your people and the dominions of my King there has been a close bond of interest. …

It is the hope of the British Government that the aspirations of your philosophers and writers shall be realised and that once again the people of Baghdad shall flourish, enjoying their wealth and substance under institutions which are in consonance with their sacred laws and their racial ideals. …

I am commanded to invite you, through your nobles and elders and representatives, to participate in the management of your civil affairs in collaboration with the political representatives of Great Britain who accompany the British Army, so that you may be united with your kinsmen in North, East, South, and West in realising the aspirations of your race.”

 
Eight months later, in November 1917, the Soviet communist conquerors of Central Asia announced in a missive titled "To All the Muslim Workers of Russia and the East":

Muslims of Russia…all you whose mosques and prayer houses have been destroyed, whose beliefs and customs have been trampled upon by the tsars and oppressors of Russia: your beliefs and practices, your national and cultural institutions are forever free and inviolate. Know that your rights, like those of all the peoples of Russia, are under the mighty protection of the revolution...”

 As noted by a neocon analyst in his 2009 essay “Western Conquerors or Liberators of Muslims?” the history of Europe is replete with such statements. After Britain secured its rule over India, its officials made repeated professions of respect for Islam, so as to diminish Muslim hostility to their rule. … According to him, a particularly bizarre instance dates to 1937, when the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini arranged for Muslim notables from Italian-ruled Libya to gird him with the "sword of Islam" during a visit to Tripoli. "Muslims may rest assured," Mussolini intoned on that occasion, "that Italy will always be the friend and protector of Islam throughout the world."

 All those western conquerors, perceived more as crusaders than liberators, were hypocritical. This perception was not altogether lost soon after 9/11 when President George W. Bush wanted to present his administration as anti-Taliban, and anti-al-Qaeda but not anti-Islam. However, the often bigotry-ridden, inflammable and hostile remarks from some members within his administration could not hide the real intent. The American-led invasion of Afghanistan, originally referred to one time by President Bush as a "crusade", was then haughtily, almost in a Pharaonical way, dubbed   "Operation Infinite Justice", which was finally called "Operation Enduring Freedom" to present itself as saving Afghans from tyranny of the Taliban. Although the Taliban was replaced, genuine freedom remained a far cry for most Afghans. And the same is true for the Iraqis who were rid of former dictator Saddam Hussein.

 The occupation forces have replaced the old guards and trained new ones. But nothing seems to be working towards stabilizing the current regimes. In Iraq there is ISIS (or ISIL), which is threatening the Shia-led government. The American-led invasion, occupation and re-intervention have gone so wrong that a major US newspaper last week put up a cartoon depicting Saddam Hussein taunting “Do you miss me?”

 

>> To be continued...

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