Collateral damage in the Wars on Terror: between Afghanistan and Glasgow

I left a raining London on the 28th of June. London was busy as usual, noisy as usual, and multicultural and multifaith as usual. While the nation greeted the new Prime Minister Gordon Brown in London, an increasing number of civilians in Afghanistan were killed and maimed by the increasingly ruthless ISAF attacks. Even President Hamid Karzai, surely one of the most passionate supporters of the coalition forces, and certainly not a Taliban sympathizer, strongly condemned the military actions which have terrorised and killed the civilians in the north of the country. News from Afghanistan attracted little attention for the Western audience.

Yet, as I can appreciate during some discussions with Muslim friends and respondents, the dramatic images broadcasted by Al-Jazeera and other non-Western mass media, as well as available on the Internet did not pass unnoticed among the British Muslim audience. Of course, many of them were furious not only because of the loss of innocent lives, but also because the politicians seemed to minimise the hecatomb; or better even ignore it. Reading the comments made by ISAF and the American commanders in Afghanistan, I have the impression that some of them nearly justify these killing as part of the strong campaign against the Taliban. Indeed, some of commanders’ comments are astonishing and their dismissal of the suffering caused shows a clear ignorance of the lifestyle of the villages where the so-called ‘Taliban’ usually live. So, ISAF spokesman Major John Thomas said “The civilians who may have died were in the same firing positions with the Taliban extremists who were firing on us”. They included women and children who were found among the bodies of the killed Taliban in trenches. “At this time we believe after our survey of the situation yesterday, when the fighting ceased, that there may be less than a dozen civilians dead,” he added.

Notwithstanding the fact that later ISAF had to admit that the local leaders of the villages had rightly estimated the number of civilians killed as forty-five, Major John Thomas seemed to address the killing of these women and children as if they were merely diseased livestock culled down for safety rather than human beings. I wonder whether Major John Thomas would discuss the death of a beloved pet with the same words and tone of voice with which he addressed the horrible death and maiming of these innocent Pashtun people. Some of my respondents also notice that the ISAF website reported that three civilians were killed by the Taliban’s attack but omitted the ten times higher number of casualties that ISAF’s sophisticated weapons sacrificed to their god of war. One of my respondents noticed that the Taliban have only a rudimentary system and weapons to fight ISAF and the American forces. Yet the European and American military have radar, drone airplanes, and the most sophisticated weapons. How is it possible that both ISAF and NATO have killed more civilians than the Taliban? Have we finished the famous ‘smart bombs’ to be left only with the stupid ones? Or is the technology too expensive to be used for preserving the lives of ‘Taliban’ children and women? To be a Taliban (often meaning to be a Pashtun person living in the mountain regions) does not mean automatically to be a terrorist.

Although the mass media provide us only with the depressing counting of dead and injured people, many more in those Afghan villages are living in terror. Are they perhaps also fighting their own ‘War on Terror’? If our nightmares have the shape of car bombs and suicide belts worn by terrorists with exotic names , Afghanis’ nightmares have the shape of powerful bombs and western high-tech uniforms worn by our Johns, Marcos, Joachims, Fernandezs and so on.

Certainly, after what happened since the 29th of June both in London and Glasgow, we can say that (if you still like the expression ‘War on Terror’) we are not winning our’s either. This time, however, on our side of the rich and wealthy world, we have been spared the loss of innocent lives. Yet we have not been spared the terror and anguish of living in a world in which to be in the wrong place at the wrong time becomes increasingly dangerous. The only difference is that in Afghanistan (and in Iraq) the wrong places and times tend to multiply.
Both the Prime Ministers (we have our own here in Scotland ) were ‘defiant over al-Qaeda threat’ . Yet are these attacks really al-Qaeda-sponsored? It is too early to say, but I have the impression that this series of attacks were the work of some ‘amateurs of terror’. They were badly organised, carelessly planned, and the perpetrators left evidence all over the place. Yet apparently they were not stupid, they hold degrees in medicine and worked in hospitals. So, it means that we can have isolated, even intelligent, people who decide, at a certain point of their lives, to organise their own ‘terrorist day’ using the ‘terrorist kitchen kit’, their expensive cars and instead of giving their children a life to school, enjoying their ‘terrorist day of glory’ or, as they probably would love to call it, their ‘shaheedi day’.

Yet why do these quite successful and westernized fellas (certainly not Salafis with long beards and caps) wish to sacrifice their lives? Why do they want to kill us, and I mean all of us, since a car bomb left in a London street or ploughed through a Glasgow airport terminal does not ask before exploding in your face ‘Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, are you Muslim?’ before taking your life so that all together we can celebrate our ‘paradise day’. Yet similarly an ISAF or NATO bomb does not ask, before ripping apart your body or shrapneling it with Her Majesty’s iron, whether you are a terrorist or not. Both the car bombs (or the suicide bombers for that matter) and the conventional weapons can create ‘collateral damage and casualty’ in achieving their real aim: terrorising the ‘enemy’ and forcing it to accept one’s agenda.

We should be at least intellectually honest. Prime Minister Gordon Brown misleads us when repeating ,

“It’s obvious that we have a group of people – not just in this country, but round the world – who’re prepared at any time to inflict what they want to be maximum damage on civilians, irrespective of the religion of these people who are killed or maimed are to be.”

It’s obvious, I would say, that this is not what those people want; this is, in this case, the inevitable ‘collateral damage’. This group of people kills because they want to achieve their idea of justice and good; they are fighting their battle against ‘evil’ to affirm ‘good’; they are ‘gifting’ us with a purifying fire which will be able to bring joy and prosperity in the future. They are gifting their victims with paradise, they are terrorising us for what they think is right, though costly to achieve. So they say. Yet are we not terrorising, killing and maiming Afghan civilians to achieve what we think is the right cause? Have we not killed, possibly tortured, illegally detained (i.e. kidnapped), thousands of innocent people, or asked rogue Middle Eastern dictatorships to do so, to achieve what, paraphrasing Mr Brown, is in the interests of a perversion of our western democracy?

During these years of research with different Muslims, having different ideas and beliefs, I have reached the conclusion that we, the homely people of all colours, cultures, faiths and nationalities have found ourselves between not just one ‘War on Terror’ but two. And here is the issue: Terror fighting terror, the only result can be an endless chain of death. I leave to another post the economic advantages for all the people involved in the Terror VS Terror war, and they are not just politicians, military and journalists, enjoy or hope to enjoy. These Muslims who we define as, and often self-define themselves, terrorists believe that they are fighting the cause of their own people’s terror. They are ready to use their lives, instead of costly state developed technology and tax-funded weapons, to fight their own ‘War on terror’. Is the stateless and global dimension of both ‘wars on terror’ which create this new warfare; not a twisted and insane form of Islam. Islam, for those people, may become the covering ideology, the uniform which provides a sense of belonging, the flag under which to die and, in their imagination, become heroes as much as democracy becomes the excuse for a clear imperialistic understanding of being humans.

Gabriele Marranci

One thought on “Collateral damage in the Wars on Terror: between Afghanistan and Glasgow

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  1. Thanks for your comment. The feeling is mutual. The society at large has to realize that the human brain is not a random disconnected entity. There is a thought process that brings an individual to the point of and act of violence as a valid choice of actions. We must also understand that there are many avenues to those choices and there is no blanket policy that is going to stop everyone from making that choice. The physical and psychological reasons that the sons of shepherds in Saudi Arabia turns to violent acts can and are most probably completely different then a group of Middle Eastern born medical students in London. Both groups have different reasons still then British nationals like those who perpetrated 7/7 subway attacks. Then there is the psyche of each individual.

    Categorizing is important but it is also difficult. Developing policies and techniques that are too broad adversely affects people who are innocent. That can often lead to increased risk of retaliation from frustrated people. Also known as “self-fulfilling prophecies.” Over extensive policies can also lead to information overload. However, if you develop policies on assumptions that are too narrow, the possibility to miss crucial and obvious signs of an threat can end with devastating effects.

    It seems like you have friends who are adversely affected by current policies. Alls that I can say would not be sufficient to those who have suffer or are suffering. I am sorry. Know that most Americans do value human life. In an ironic twist, most of the soldiers do also. They have been sold a false reality that makes them fearful. Now we are locked in a deadly embrace that is going to take intelligence, trust, and sacrifice to end.

    I have added your blog to my list of links. I hope you do not mind.

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