Notes From the Margins…

2016: All Aboard the Armageddon Express

  • January 02, 2016
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One thing you can say about the maniacs who are intent on dragging our world to destruction is they don’t waste any time.   They don’t listen to seasonal bromides from the Queen or anywhere else asking us to light candles in the darkness.  Not for them New Year messages about peace, hope and goodwill.  In a global civilisation ravaged by war and violence and threatened by looming ecological disaster and the prospect of the next financial crisis, they can always be counted on to do whatever is likely to make matters worse at any given time.

Take the House of Saud’s execution of 47 men on terrorism charges yesterday, including the Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr. The execution of a leading Shia critic of the Saudi monarchy is both a deliberate provocation and a clear demonstration of malign intent from a thoroughly rotten regime hellbent on fomenting an all-out Shia-Sunni sectarian war in order to shore up its declining power and influence.

Yet Saudi Arabia is also a key ally of the West  in the  global struggle between civilisation and terrorism that was unleashed after the 9/11 attacks and which is now entering its fifteenth year.  As such, it knows that it can do pretty much whatever it wants and that neither our government nor any of the other states that have fallen over themselves to sell the Saudis weapons will do anything about it.

The Saudis have also been among the most active promoters of the takfiri/Salafist jihadist groups that Western governments have been fighting. If we take seriously the idea that the ‘war on terror’ is really intended to eliminate terrorism and ‘keep us safe’, as our governments keep insisting, then an ally like this would be considered a massive liability rather than an asset.

Yet there is no indication that our government or anyone else’s has reached such conclusions. Rather than invite the public to consider the dangerous geopolitical alliances that have done so much to make Daesh/ISIS possible, our government, and so many others, prefers instead to whip the citizens of the West into a state of frightened paralysis, while they continue to wage an endless series of pseudo-wars that have already produced such catastrophic consequences, and which play into the hands of the enemies they are supposedly fighting.

In the 1870s, the Russian anarcho-Narodnik Sergei Kravchinsky, a leading propagandist in the ‘Nihilist’ political movement that assassinated Alexander II, advocated a strategy of assassinating high state officials in order to draw the Tsarist regime into a long and debilitating conflict in which ‘the strong is vanquished, not by the arms of his adversary, but by the continuous tension of his own strength, which exhausts him, at last, more than he would be exhausted by defeats.’

Since 9/11 Daesh and the other variants of the al-Qaeda franchise have pursued a very similar strategy with remarkable success. Consider this: the 9/11 attacks cost between $400,000 to $500,000, whereas the various wars on terror have cost more than eight million times as much.

Not only did the nineteen hijackers carry out one of the most cost-effective attacks in history, but their adversaries have given them everything they could have asked for, through a series of reckless, self-interested and incoherent wars and military interventions that have done nothing to diminish the security threat these wars are supposedly intended to eliminate.

Readers who want to think about how we got into this mess rather than merely rant about it might start with a  brilliant essay by the anthropologist Scott Atran on the rise of ISIS and its implications. In a discussion of terrorist attacks in Europe and the United States, Atran observes how:

‘Today, mere mention of an attack on New York in an ISIS video has US officials scurrying to calm the public. Media exposure, which is the oxygen of terror in our age, not only amplifies the perception of danger but, in generating such hysteria, makes the bloated threat to society real.This is especially true today because the media is mostly designed to titillate the public rather than inform it. Thus, it has become child”s play for ISIS to turn our own propaganda machine, the world”s mightiest, into theirs boosting a novel, highly potent jujitsu style of asymmetric warfare that we could counter with responsible restraint and straight-up information, but we won”t.’

No we won’t.   Just as we won’t recognize the strategic objectives outlined more than ten years ago in a document called  The Management of Savagery/Chaos, written for the  Mesopotamian wing of Al-Qaeda, which urges its followers to : .

1) “Diversify and widen the vexation strikes against the Crusader-Zionist enemy in every place in the Islamic world, and even outside of it if possible, so as to disperse the efforts of the alliance of the enemy and thus drain it to the greatest extent possible.’


2) ‘If a tourist resort that the Crusaders patronise… is hit, all of the tourist resorts in all of the states of the world will have to be secured by the work of additional forces, which are double the ordinary amount, and a huge increase in spending.’

Today we have reached such a state of collective terror that ISIS achieve these objectives without striking at all.   Thus on New Year’s Eve the German authorities  received  a tip that militants from Iraq and Syria were planning New Year attacks in Munich, yet a police chief has now said that ‘  police could not find the suspects and are not even sure if they exist or are in the country.’

And yesterday Belgium  released the remaining three men out of an original six suspects, who were arrested for planning a terrorist atrocity during the annual fireworks display on New Years Eve, which was cancelled.  Despite these false alarms Europeans are now being told that threats, cancellations and lockdowns will become the ‘new normal’ over the coming months.

The  Belgian security expert  Professor Rik Coolsaet has warned  against conflating refugees and terrorism “into  something near hysteria. We must not confuse these two separate issues and we must be wary of any politicians who try and do that for their own ends, to the detriment of the very fabric of our society.”

These warnings are likely to fall on deaf ears, when they are aimed at governments for whom public hysteria increasingly seems to be a desired outcome.   As Pankaj Mishra notes in a typically  sharp column in the Guardian today:

‘The modern west has been admirably different from other civilisations in its ability to counterbalance the arrogance of power with recognition of its excesses. Now, however, it is not only the bankers who radically expand our notion of impunity. Their chums in politics and the media coax, with criminal irresponsibility, the public into deeper fear and insecurity and into blaming their overall plight on various enemies (immigrants, budding terrorists in Calais”s jungle, an un-American alien in the White House, Muslims and darkies in general).’

Absolutely right, and if the scapegoating succeeds, then Daesh will the the main beneficiaries.   In    a 12-page editorial published in ISIS”s online magazine Dabiq in early 2015 entitled ‘The Extinction of the Gray Zone’, its authors hailed the ‘blessed attacks’ of September 11 and announced that  “the time had come for another event to… bring division to the world and destroy the Grayzone.’

Today, as we look forward to another year of fear, hysteria, security paranoia and terrorist provocations, we need to resist these efforts to use atrocity to divide the world into warring camps.  But as the Saudi executions make clear, they aren’t the only ones seeking that outcome.

So let us resist the attempts by Daesh to reduce us to cowering wrecks.  But we should not allow  governments that seek to use their violence for their own ends to herd their terrified populations into fearful and hateful national security enclaves where we question nothing and accept everything.  Let’s do whatever we can, wherever we are, to sow the seeds of something different over the next twelve months.

Let us despise the terrorists  by all means,  but let’s also remember that the Armageddon Express has many different drivers, and it’s up to all of us to prise their hands off the wheel and find a way to get this world back on track towards a different kind of future, which reflects the best of us, rather than the worst.  .   .


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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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