Forever wars

15 February 2003. We’re on the District Line from Ealing Broadway. My wife is carrying a placard with a Quranic verse blocked out in black ink.

When it is said to them: “Make not mischief on the earth,” they say: “Why, we only want to make peace!” But indeed, they are the mischief-makers, but they perceive not.

Quran 2:11-2

We were heading into a grid-locked central London to join a million others protesting against the impending invasion of Iraq. Whatever their background, fellow passengers smiled at us when they read it, and gave us the thumbs up. Only one angry van driver growled at us when we disembarked at a station far from the centre to complete the journey on foot.

The Lancet estimated over 650,000 excess deaths as of 2006 directly related to that war. The World Health Organisation estimated over 150,000 violent civilian deaths. We will never know the true death toll of the war. What we do know is that the entire region was set on fire by those actions. That nation was destroyed.

The man who led Britain into that war has the temerity to appear every few years to lecture Muslims about extremism. He has built a career since leaving Downing Street on the lucrative speaking circuit, earning over £300K per engagement. It’s important for him to be seen to be still relevant.

But he will always be relevant, for he more than anyone else in this country has been responsible for the radicalisation of a generation of disenfranchised dropouts, who might otherwise have drifted through life as rebels without a cause.

Those capable of taking a long-view of history will recall that Britain has been engaged in the region of Mesopotamia for centuries. Its relationships with Iraq extend all the way back to its inception as a nationstate.

Justification for our presence throughout much of Africa and Asia has never changed very much — always reacting to the latest gang of bogeymen that threaten our way of life. To the newspaper buyer back home, our way of life is sold as love of freedom and human rights, but what is really meant is our high dependence on petrocarbons.

The same champions of freedom and democracy destroyed Libya in 2011, but nobody talks about that anymore. The House of Common’s Foreign Affairs Committee did eventually notice in 2016 that most of the rebel groups they had been backing in Libya looked an awful lot like ISIS.

But nobody is expected to take a long-view when it comes to our interactions with the world. The ordinary citizen is supposed to content themselves with I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!

The more politically engaged citizen can busy themselves with parliamentary squabbles and the spectre of a migrant crisis — but of course never link the preponderance of asylum seekers to our theatres of war. Conveniently, the Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis have suddenly transformed into Albanians.

So it is that we never make any progress towards establishing peace in the earth, because the powerful know exactly how to play the people, by appealing to their emotions, passions and prejudices. Domestically, they appeal to the masses’ worst fears about immigration, scaremongering their replacement by a group that makes up just 5% of the population.

Internationally, they appeal to the sectarianism of the populations they interact with. Even if former NATO Commander, Wesley Clark, spoke clearly in 2007 of a Pentagon plan to dismember Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran, one after the other, the masses could still be coopted into supporting rebel movements by appealing to their sectarian impulses and fraternal compassion.

Few now recall that they were once given permission to support the clandestine militant organisations funded by Whitehall, the US State Department and USAID in the early years of the last decade, under the pretext of countering the Syrian state’s violent repression of peaceful protests.

In response to the civil war, unfolding before our eyes, David Cameron called on Parliament to send British fighter jets into Syrian airspace to defend civilians from that barbaric regime. Parliament refused by thirteen votes, memories of Iraq still fresh in the politicians’ minds. But two years later, a parliamentary motion for strikes against the apparently even more barbaric regime of ISIS would be passed by a majority of 174 votes.

Blessed are the peacemakers, we declared, as we sent in our bombers and drones. Few seem to realise that our air force is still engaged in Syria and Iraq, continuing an operation that has cost Britain £2billion since 2014, with 54 strikes carried out in 2021, two years after it was claimed ISIS had been defeated.

Muslims have a problem with terrorism, but mostly as the primary victims of extremists, rather than as perpetrators. Most are well aware that terrorism is a tool of imperialism, serving to provide states with justification to invade and occupy far-off lands. That’s not to say that the terrorists themselves don’t believe in their cause, or in whatever they are fighting for.

Mischief-makers come in many forms, and in all shapes and sizes. Some of them have Muslim names, some have Christian, Jewish and Hindu names. Some of them claim to be religious folk, motivated by some righteous cause, some claim to be humanists, opposed to religion and superstition altogether.

In the Arabian peninsula today, there is a powerful prince presented as a great reformer, bringing about much needed change in his society. But in his jails languish men and women imprisoned for nothing but words, while his own bombers and fighter jets raze hospitals and schools in the impoverished state next door. Some laud this man as a peacemaker, to be invited to great events of state, the red carpet rolled out before him.

There are many men like this throughout the world, in London, Washington, Paris and Tel Aviv. They may be found in Tehran, New Delhi or Canberra, or in some cave somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Some of them may live in great palaces, prancing around like kings. Some may live in rented terraced houses, plotting the heist of heists to compensate for their misspent youth caught up in petty crime. But anyone who takes innocent life will be held to account for their crimes, eventually.

Your job is to seek out and stand with the true peacemakers, wherever they may be. At times those peacemakers may be forced by circumstances to resist. Like those civilians under attack in Ukraine, they may be forced to fight, though they despise it: though they wished to simply enjoy their lives, playing with their children and making love to their wives.

International law gives populations the right to resist invasion, oppression and tyranny, however the aggressor may slander them, calling them the worst of names. Every aggressor now invokes the spectre of terrorism to justify whatever action they wish to take, for whatever end. In Ukraine we allowed ourselves to see the resistance as people, but rarely is it so.

Whatever you have heard, targeting civilians and non-combatants is clearly censured by Islamic law, which holds it to be haram. Strategic bombing is squarely a product of the total wars of the twentieth century, practiced to horrific effect by Britain, Germany and the United States during World War II. It is not the way of peacemakers.

Take the time to pause for thought, to reflect on all that you have seen over the past two decades. Take the time to contemplate who are truly peacemakers, acting to promote equality and justice on earth. Wherever you find such people, whoever they are, stand with them. They may be of the same tradition as yours, or they may not be.

You may find some Christians who truly stand for peace; if so, stand with them. You may find some Muslims who truly stand for peace and justice: so embrace them. You may find people like this amongst every tradition: these are your allies.

But you will also find the opposite in every nation too, who have a vested interest in promoting forever wars. These must be opposed, whoever and wherever they are. Always be for those who truly promote peace, who by their fruits shall be known.

And among those We created is a community which guides by truth and thereby establishes justice.

Quran 7:181

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