Notes From the Margins…

Indiana Cameron and the Temple of Doom

  • August 18, 2014
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Of all the Indian Jones films, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is for me the most obnoxious, with its racist stereotyping and casual recycling of nineteenth century imperialist cliches about white men saving childlike dark-skinned folk from the clutches of a demonic native death cult.

In his great essay ‘Shooting an Elephant’   George Orwell once observed ironically that the whole purpose of the white man in Asia was not to be laughed at by the natives, but as Indiana Jones demonstrates, the white man also likes to be revered and celebrated as a liberator not only by the natives, but by his own people and the world.

Today that is still the case.    Anyone listening to media coverage of the IS/Kurd/Yazidi crisis would be entirely forgiven for believing that foreign policy is entirely directed by people like Liam Fox, Lindsey Graham, John McCain or Hilary Clinton, that is to say well-intentioned men and women who do nothing but weep for the world’s pain and think only of the best way to prevent the next genocide and rid the world of evil through another military intervention.

Even more than a decade of failure, the altruistic glow that surrounds these ‘humanitarian’ interventions has yet to fade.      And now fresh from his Portuguese holiday, chilled out and sporting a tan,   David Cameron has come out with his hat and whip and ready to save lives, and tell us that it’s different once again.

Once again he is preparing to bomb the country that Britain has bombed so often, in order to eliminate the savage and barbaric jihadist group Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

What has motivated Lord Snooty to launch this crusade?

“Stability. Security. The peace of mind that comes from being able to get a decent job and provide for your family, in a country that you feel has a good future ahead of it and that treats people fairly.  In a nutshell, that is what people in Britain want and what the Government I lead is dedicated to building.”

But it’s not enough to do this at home, His Lordship insists.  ” True security”  requires the nation to use “aid, diplomacy, our military prowess to help bring about a more stable world” because ‘” today, when every nation is so immediately interconnected, we cannot turn a blind eye and assume that there will not be a cost for us if we don’t.”

In fact there are numerous crises to which Britain does turn a blind eye, in Gaza, Bahrain, in the burning alive of pro-Russian protesters in Ukraine, in the massacre of 700 Uzbeks by the Uzbekistan dictatorship in 2005, in the killing of 800 Egyptians by the Egyptian military on a single day in Cairo last year, to name but a few.

It’s worth noting that the countries where Britain hasn’t turned a blind eye are often the ones that are the furthest from “true security”, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. That isn’t a contradiction that interests Cameron, however, because “The creation of an extremist caliphate in the heart of Iraq and extending into Syria is not a problem miles away from home. Nor is it a problem that should be defined by a war 10 years ago. It is our concern here and now.”

Yes, the eternal imperative of NOW is with us once again, and only a fool would suggest that IS is fundamentally an Iraqi problem that cannot be solved by the countries that propelled Iraq into a vortex of violence and sectarian strife in the first place. IS is an indirect consequence of an previous intervention that was just as pressing and just as urgent at the time, and until recently Daesh was until recently fighting to overthrow Assad along with the same countries that are now proposing to fight it.

Say that kind of thing and you sound like a spoilsport or Neville Chamberlain, because, as Cameron points out ” if we do not act to stem the onslaught of this exceptionally dangerous terrorist movement, it will only grow stronger until it can target us on the streets of Britain.”

Does this sound like something you’ve heard before?   It should.   Because if the wars of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we’re always fighting them over there to stop them fighting us over here, even when those who are fighting us over here say that they’re doing it because we’re fighting over there.

Don’t let that sense of deja vu fool you however, because Daesh really is different, says Cameron, and  “cannot simply be removed by airstrikes alone” but by a “tough, intelligent and patient long-term approach that can defeat the terrorist threat at source.”

This “approach” includes withdrawing passports from naturalised British citizens accused of terror offences, and also “an intelligent political response” because

“terrorist organisations thrive where there is political instability and weak or dysfunctional political institutions. So we must support the building blocks of democracy the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, the rights of minorities, free media and association and a proper place in society for the army.”

We saw that during the occupation and afterwards, when the US and Britain backed the sectarian Maliki government.   And we’re seeing it in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the UAE, Egypt and Turkey, which Cameron lists as potential allies against the “extremist forces” of IS, even though many of them were instrumental in funding the jihadist fighters in Syria from which these forces eventually sprang.

But let the bombs fall where they may, along with our ‘humanitarian response’ to the Yazidi crisis.   Because if they don’t “we would be facing a terrorist state on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a Nato member. This is a clear danger to Europe and to our security.”

And so we must continue the “generational struggle” against IS and its “poisonous ideology” – and we must also, it seems continue the same military interventionism that helped give rise to this poison.

All this, as Cameron points out, ” is a daunting challenge. But it is not an invincible one, as long as we are now ready and able to summon up the political will to defend our own values and way of life with the same determination, courage and tenacity as we have faced danger before in our history.”

Indiana Jones couldn’t have put it better.

And no sooner has His Lordship committed the country to the next battleground in the forever war than he’s off on another holiday again,  showing all the determination, courage and tenacity which has enabled us to achieve so many great things in these last fourteen years.



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  1. Paul Seligman

    18th Aug 2014 - 9:17 pm

    Of course, we should learn from a century and more of British and Western meddling in the ‘Middle East’, bombing Iraq (starting throughout the 1920s, including using gas bombs against civilians), calling just about every independence and resistance movement ‘terrorists’ (including Thatcher’s Tories labelling Mandela as a terrorist).

    But occasionally, a really terrorist, genocidal government or movement arises. Mostly, the West ignores them or even supports them.

    But was it right to support Britain and Allies against Nazi Germany? I think I would have said so from the start, although most Communists and some other leftists did not oppose fascism until Hitler broke the pact with the USSR and invaded.

    So suppose ISIS really is as bad as the Nazis? There is abundant evidence that they are truly dreadful, including their own videos and propaganda. And although the Kurdish leaders and parties aren’t perfect (who is?) I have long supported Kurdish autonomy or independence.

    Which means hard choices have to be made. I have no illusions that Obama and Cameron are bombing ISIS or helping the Kurds for the right reasons. Any more than Churchill fought WW2 to save Jews, gays and gypsies.

    But maybe we shouldn’t oppose it outright because the alternative is even worse.

    • Matt

      19th Aug 2014 - 7:57 am

      I don’t disagree that IS has to be fought. But when you have the Anglo-American former occupiers of Iraq trying to ‘save’ Iraq from a movement that it helped create, a movement which is now armed with weapons that the occupation handed over to a corrupt and brutal Iraqi army, then it’s safe to say that that endeavour cannot have a positive outcome. Yes IS is ‘truly dreadful’, but it’s too simplistic to say that it is ‘as bad as the Nazis’ and that therefore another Western military intervention can eliminate it. IS is partly a consequence of the ‘regime change’ project in Syria, and partly the alienation of the Sunni population from a brutal and shockingly corrupt sectarian government that we helped install. ‘Bombing ISIS’ sounds beautifully convenient, like ‘bombing Afghanistan’ or ‘bombing Saddam’ did before it, but until Iraqis have a government and a country that they want to fight for, the bombs will play right into IS’s hands. Sadaam was also described as ‘like Hitler’ to justify the invasion. Then too, the ‘right outcome for the wrong reasons’ argument was used – we saw how that turned out. ‘Bombing ISIS’ may gain some tactical victories, such as we’ve seen in the last few days, but I suspect that it will have a very similar outcome to ‘bombing al-Shabaab’ ie. it will empower the movement, even as it perpetuates the British and Western ‘meddling’, as you put it, that has wrought such bloodstained havoc across the Middle East.

  2. Richard Carter

    20th Aug 2014 - 9:24 pm

    For as clear an example of the idiocy encapsulated in your comment that “… if the wars of the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we’re always fighting them over there to stop them fighting us over here, even when those who are fighting us over here say that they’re doing it because we’re fighting over there”, see this moronic column by James Bloodworth in the Indy:

    It could have been written by Lord Blair himself….

    • Matt

      21st Aug 2014 - 7:27 am

      Aaagh! You linked to a James Bloodworth article and obliged me to read it! That’s not good for my health. I forgive you, but not him. Shallow, trite analysis of the worst kind.

  3. Richard Carter

    21st Aug 2014 - 7:00 am

    Just to add, the Daily Torygraph quotes Cameron as saying that Britain and its allies face a “generational struggle” to bring the “poison” of Islamist extremism to an end, adding that that “what happens in far-flung places can cause us huge harm here, too”. Somehow, I don’t think he means that “our” bombing campaigns are included in the ‘what happens’….

    • Matt

      21st Aug 2014 - 7:28 am

      No, bombing is always good whenever we do it.

  4. Piotr Jankowski

    21st Aug 2014 - 10:43 am

    What an incredible bullshit you are selling to your readers. “Useful idiots” exactly like you let Hitler triumph in 1938/39, and they are doing the same now, with islamism. IS is a global threat, a cancer on the world’s body. Shame on you Matt, you leftist moron.

    • Matt

      21st Aug 2014 - 11:35 am

      I’m publishing your comment, despite the clear evidence of stupidity, hysteria, malice and possible trolling in it, because I generally think I should accept critical comments as well as favourable ones. That said, I have no intention of engaging any further with someone who clearly has no analysis to offer, beyond ideologically-based insults and false historical comparisons. Just for the record, I am perfectly aware that IS is a threat to the future of the Middle East and to the peoples who live there – what was it about my reference to the ‘savage and barbaric jihadist group IS’ that you failed to understand? I also happen to regard IS as a vile organization that deserves to be destroyed and defeated. But of one thing I’m certain, it will not be defeated by the US or Britain – the two states which have done so much to create the conditions that made IS possible. Those of us who have criticized the insane folly of Western foreign policy and its crazed drive to war and then more war over the last decade have long since become accustomed to accusations of appeasement and being ‘useful idiots’, from people like you are who clearly incapable of distinguishing one form of ‘islamism’ from another, and who apparently cannot see, or refuse to see how the follies and lies of the ‘war on terror’ have done so much to empower the groups you now call a ‘global threat,’ or how IS is the product – in part – of the disastrous policies undertaken by the same states that are now preparing to bomb Iraq for the umpteenth time. Call me a ‘leftist moron’ as much as you like, but morons like us were arguing that the Iraq invasion and occupation would be a catastrophe while bright sparks who think like you were calling us appeasers and shouting about Hitler and Churchill. Now you don’t have the intellectual honesty or courage to look back and admit to these mistakes, and you are possibly too lazy and self-righteous to think at all, so you prefer to screech and shout. Well if it makes you feel better, just go ahead, but don’t expect to do it again on my site.

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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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