The Invention of Monsters: Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya

By
Johnny Gaunt, March 2016.

 For centuries we have invented monsters: the thing in the woods; the troll beneath the bridge; the witch in the old house.

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Inventions of the Monsters – Salvador Dali, 1937

 

Inventing monsters has often served an extremely useful purpose: it allowed people to transfer the most horrific elements of society and project them elsewhere, like pumping sewage into the sea. This transference had a satisfying by-product of creating unity and consensus amongst the communities and societies which the monster was ‘victimising’; the good people could stand bravely together in the face of the external evil. This consensus of minds could then justify, with any alternative thinking effectively marginalised, acts of incredible cruelty: the execution or banishment of the physically or mentally disabled; the persecution of non-conformists; the burning of innocent women, men and children; the slaughter of our wild animals.

A third effect would often occur during these terrible punishments. The public torture of the monster, with stones, the noose, the stocks or fire, created an immediate and deep cleansing of these crimes from the consciousness of the people. Guilt would be replaced by righteousness.

In time, as our societies developed and changed, most of these monsters drifted into mythology or filtered down into fairy-tale and horror stories. And there, many of us perhaps thought they stayed; but our perception of the past, future and the present are demarcated only by time, which simultaneously links them together. The invention of the monster never really went away, and today its story-tellers sit in positions of great power.

 

The individuals mentioned below are undoubtedly very unpleasant people. Certainly not the kind you would rush home to meet mother. But evil is a concept often branded onto people (usually by the press and authorities) without any real thought to how wickedness and brutality in human beings occur.

When my children were born, I remember having thoughts such as, “I hope they will be healthy,” or, “I hope they will be bright and inquisitive.” What I don’t remember thinking is, “I hope they won’t turn out evil.” Our long and continuing history of misunderstanding first mental health and then genetics has served only to confuse this madness all the more. Modern research has shown that environmental factors are far more influential in human behavioural development than any genetic predisposition. It is more a case of extremely similar genetic seeds, cultivated within different environments, combining to create an individual personality. It’s also important to realise that there is never a finished article; more, human beings are in permanent development, always capable of changing and responding to the world around them.

Today’s monsters (at least from the Western perspective), are often the leaders of nations that appear to share a few distinct commonalities. In more cases than not their countries sit on resource rich land, or happen to be in geo-politically desirable positions. They are often authoritarian, but nonetheless rule over cohesive, sometimes socially progressive societies. Most adhere to a vague socialist ideology, offering free education and health care. But, the most monstrous common trait amongst contemporary monsters is the pursuit of independent home and foreign policies. This can lead to audacious ideas of considering their own nations first, avoiding external debt and being non-subservient to Western demands.

 

Looking at the decades before Saddam Hussein’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait, it becomes apparent that when to tell the story is just as significant and the story itself. During much of Saddam’s oppression of his people (and even during his use of chemicals weapons on civilians), he continued to covertly receive arms from the US and the UK governments. Ironically, this aid included materials that would lead to his eventual downfall as they constituted part of the evidence for the now infamous weapons of mass destruction. This is important as by accepting this aid, Saddam unknowingly gave the West its future pretext to destroy Iraq.

Literally days before his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, the US sent diplomats to Baghdad to talk to Saddam about the build up of tensions between Iraq and its neighbour. The US ambassador to Iraq, April Glespie, gave Saddam an official statement on the US position in regards to the high numbers of Iraqi troops massing on the Kuwaiti border. There’s been much written about the ‘advice’ Glepsie gave to the Saddam administration, which lacked anything direct and only repeated the textbook diplomatic message of the “US has a policy of non-involvement in Arab-Arab border issues”.

Within the context of the Iraq-Iran war (1980-1988) which had ended only 2 years earlier, and where US aid and weapons had secretly flooded into Iraqi hands in order to hurt Iran, it’s not difficult to see how Saddam may have misconstrued Glespie’s message as simply another official line, below which the true message can be inferred. However, this was bad judgement, as the Bush (Snr) administration were done with the Iraqi regime and its belligerent leader. The meeting with Glespie seems to be the extent of direct US diplomatic negotiations with Iraq prior to the air campaign (which would drop over 88,000 tons of bombs), and with diplomacy exhausted the need for war quickly became a non-debatable ‘fact’. The invasion of Kuwait took place less than a week later (Aug 2nd, 1990) and with immediate effect the media cross-hair locked on to its new monster: The Butcher of Baghdad.

Glaspie_hussein

April Glespie meeting Saddam Hussein, 1990

The devastation the bombs and missiles brought to the people of Iraq were followed by thirteen years of severe sanctions. These sanctions, though not widely discussed in the media, were so severe that a similar number of Iraqi children died each month during the thirteen year imposition as all the people who died in the 9/11 attacks. The sanctions were so effective that by the time the second invasion began on 21st March 2003, there was barely any civilian society left to destroy, and the new bombs fell on an already decimated people, tearing down what remained of the Iraqi infrastructure.

Western media remained virtually silent about the sanctions imposed on Iraq, and the untold death and misery they were causing its innocent people. However, from the outset of the build up for public support to re-invade the country in 2003, it once again found its voice to disseminate the monster story; his brutality and indifference toward using outlawed chemical weapons (given to him by the West). The mythical WMDs became major headlines as the public were told a mixture of lies and truths designed to agitate the ancient monster hate emotions and support a war that had far reaching and violent repercussions.

 

Osama Bin Laden had also been a former beneficiary of Western generosity. During the prolonged struggle of the Afghan people against the Soviet invasion in 1979, Bin Laden was routinely aided by the US (and the Saudis amongst others) both financially and with arms. An interesting perspective is highlighted by Noam Chomsky in many of his lectures: the demands of both Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush were very similar; Bin Laden wanted Western imperialism banished from Arab lands, and the US administration wanted Islam banished, but in this case from the world.

Osama-Bin-Laden-in-a-cave-008

Osama Bin Laden, 1980s, during the Afghan-Russian war

Prior to the 7/11 attacks in New York, the political opponents of the Taliban in Afghanistan welcomed the added pressure from the West to bring down the regime. But they envisaged change through the Afghan people’s uprising and the overthrow of the Taliban by internal political means, but it became increasingly clear that this was a road the US and allies were less enthusiastic about going down.

Abdul Haq was a prominent opposition voice and was highly respected throughout the Middle East and Western states. The ‘Lion of Kabul’, as he was affectionately named, was gifted with rare abilities to unite the diverse political groups that had been separated for many years along ethnic and regional lines, towards common goals which benefited the people and the nation of Afghanistan and ousted the Taliban. Indeed, he was for some time a UN Peace Mediator. A renowned warrior who bravely fought against the Soviet invasion, losing a foot on a landmine in the action, Haq became a central contact for the CIA, and considered a friend to the US. By the late 1990s, Haq was very close to forming a united front, which included almost all of the previously internally fighting groups, to stand against the decreasing popularity of the Taliban. However, once the the twin towers in New York fell, the idea of a Western backed Afghani led uprising, fell with them.

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Adul Haq, around 1999

However, this didn’t stop Haq, who had by this point fallen from favour with the CIA. US ally, Pakistan, were concerned about the unification of Afghans, and what that would mean to their own internal politics. There were reports of information being leaked from the ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) to the Taliban when Haq re-entered Afghanistan from Pakistan in 2001. Further criticism mounted when the Taliban captured Haq and no Western aided attempt to rescue him was made. Abdul Haq was tortured and hanged by his captors a few days later.

What is hugely important about this story is that although the prominent facts were reported in the press, it was never discussed as a possible alternative to warfare. What remained fixed on the television and print news was the face of Osama Bin Laden, the cave-dwelling monster. Haq’s potential solution, and just how advanced it was, was largely ignored by the western media. Instead, they thrust forward military force as the one and only option.

 

The destruction of Libya, under the pretence of actioning a no-fly-zone, was an opportunity to open up the land’s resources whilst simultaneously doing away with a major thorn in the side of western governments. Although Colonel Gaddafi allowed international private companies to pump and sell the rich deposits of Libyan oil, he was never the reliable economic partner preferred by the US and the dominant nations of the EU. In fact, many reports suggest Gaddafi was intent on creating an African single currency, backed by gold and known as the gold dinar. This would have had serious  implications on the economies of the US and the EU.

muammar_al-gaddafi

Muammar Gaddafi, around 2005

There is no denying Gaddafi’s dictatorship, the corruption of his office and the ‘disappearances’ of his critics, but this needs to be balanced off against what Libya has become since its liberation, and against certain lesser discussed facts: Libya was a stable and cohesive society, boasting free education, free health care (the best in North Africa and most of the middle east), free electricity and 0% interest on loans from the national bank. Homelessness had been all but wiped out, and literacy stood at 90%. All this was in stark contrast to life in Libya for the two decades before Gaddafi’s rise to power, when literacy was at 10%, people were denied access to fresh water and most people’s idea of a home was a tin shack or a cave.

Of course, a section of society were rightly pressing for democracy in Libya, and to an end of Gaddafi’s regime. The so-called Arab Spring gave a platform to some of these voices, although the demonstrations were quickly hijacked by armed, extremist militias. The Colonel’s troops handled the uprising in brutal fashion. This led to much criticism in the Western press, which showed little of the armed militias (by this point referred to as ‘rebels’) but plenty of Gaddafi’s troops responding. This culminated in UN resolutions for NATO to enforce a no-fly-zone. Within days of the intervention, the number of deaths increased ten-fold.

Gaddafi’s tendency towards cronyism and family involvement in the state was always going to lead to a tricky hand over of power whenever he decided he’d had enough. His sons became embroiled in several years of political manoeuvring amongst themselves to optimise their positions, with the British educated Saif al-Islam Gaddafi looking favourite to to take over. Saif, a very complex person as you might expect being the privileged son of a dictator, was arrogant, patronising and corrupt, but he had carried the hopes of many Libyans of introducing reforms that would start the process of making the nation more democratic. But NATOs bombs left that hope in tatters. Saif was captured whilst trying to escape the invasion, and is believed to be held by the Zintan militia in the west of Libya, although he hasn’t been seen since 2014.

benghazi

Benghazi, Libya, 2015

The country remains completely unstable, and now exists in three major ‘ruling’ divisions within Libya. To the east, in Tobruk is the former internationally recognised government, the House of Representatives (HoR). In Tripoli is the moderately Islamic government of the General National Congress (GNC). Between the two northern centres is Sirte (the birthplace of Gadaffi) which has become an IS stronghold. Until recently, when the western talk of another intervention in Libya became rife, the eastern HoR had been seen as the legitimate power in Libya by overseas nations and the UN. However, when both the HoR and the GNC in Tripoli declined the idea of further foreign military intervention, another governmental body was created by the UN, the Government of National Accord (GNA) which supersedes both other governments and is now the officially recognised ruling power outside of Libya. Within it, it is ignored. Of course, the GNA, originating from the UN with US and EU support, is pro- foreign intervention, and so neatly sidesteps the objections of both the HoR and the GNC, along with the majority of Libyans.

During the uprising, high ranking members of the Libyan military were rumoured to be asking for foreign tutelage on how best to handle Gaddafi’s weakening grip of power; work, you might think, cut out for the UN. But instead of diplomatic support, the West, under UN humanitarian cover, delivered a brutal lesson on military destruction and the perversion of international law.

The west cheered as images of Gaddafi being sodomised with a kitchen knife appeared on YouTube, and his bloodied face was printed onto every major newspaper in Europe and the US. Another monster done away with, another country in ruin, a new monster was needed. It didn’t take long to find one:

Bashar al-Assad.

 

“Silence by media; war by media.” J. Pilger.

 

Turkish Delight: Full of Eastern Lies

Turkish Delight

Turkey has long been a country with an edgy side, but from the outset of the Arab Spring in 2011, Turkey’s behaviour has become increasingly concerning. Under a burgeoning return to authoritarian policy coinciding with the start of the regional uprising, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has represented NATO’s commitment to ‘freedom and democracy’, much the same as Tyson Fury represents the gentleman’s game. With the ugliness on show.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, many thought/hoped that NATO (at the time a disused WWII relic) would be dissolved and forgotten about. Instead, the organisation was picked up by the US, given a good dusting off and a huge increase in budget. NATO has always been a mechanism for the US military to feature strongly in Europe, and the war in Yugoslavia served as a useful vehicle to seriously increase its foothold. Many former members of the Warsaw Pact moved away from the crumbling Soviet system and within a decade were allied into NATO’s embrace. But since the disappearance of the Soviet counterweight, NATO’s existence has added to the world’s disharmony and conflict, more than it has kept the peace.

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NATO Summit, 1949

Since its formation in 1949, the persistent public justification for NATO’s existence had been to deal with the Soviet military and ideological threat. Despite the decisive battles of Moscow and Stalingrad occurring less than a decade before (both pivotal moments in the defeat of the Nazis), Western governments had lost none of their repulsion by the word ‘communism’. To make matters even more perplexing, West Germany, half of the nation who’s twisting towards fascism and unwarranted aggression led to the war in the first place, was controversially allowed to join NATO in 1955, only a decade after the final defeat of the Nazis. Turkey had become a NATO member three years earlier, along with Greece. The pair would create major internal tension when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974, under the code name Operation Attila, and forced the ‘Green Line’ that still divides the island to this day.

As a member state of NATO, an organisation which describes itself as ‘promoting democratic values’ and being ‘committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes’, Erdogan’s Turkey appears to be on a totally different trajectory, yet continues to milk every last drop of privilege and protection that being a member brings. The president has made his regional aspirations clear, and remember, Turkey’s gains are NATO’s gains. But these are risky tactics, never more so than right now, with neighbouring Syria on fire and much of the world’s nations, including Syria’s government, seemingly fanning the flames.

In the last 5 years Turkey’s name has appeared in the headlines for increasinly sinister reasons. The forced closure of news media houses, and the arrest of many journalists has led to international criticism. Some of the journalists are facing years of imprisonment for producing ‘terrorist propaganda’ or the far more despotic sounding charge of ‘insulting the president’. One of these media professionals is Can Dundar, the editor of Cumhuriyet, a Turkish daily that opposes the present government. He is currently under arrest for publishing a video on the Cumhuriyet website, showing Turkish government vehicles crossing the Syrian border, the trucks ladened with weapons concealed below a thin layer of aid, heading for the so called Syrian ‘rebels’.

The New York Times published several articles in 2012, confirming that the CIA were moving arms through an obliging Turkey and into Syria to support the many ‘rebel’ groups fighting Basher Assad’s Syrian army. The video only confirmed it. But despite the denials in the White House and Downing Street, these ‘rebels’ have never been the moderates David Cameron used to lever opinion about the UK’s bombing of ISIS in Syria. In reality (and some early research is starting to show this) the majority of these fighters are Islamic extremists, many of them members of al Nusra, the Syrian arm of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Yes, those that were responsible for 9/11, are now – unintentionally or otherwise – being supported by the US.

Turkey’s support of Islamic extremists fighting in Syria appears to be far-reaching. Uighur extremists from the Xinjiang region of China are allegedly being assisted by Turkish authorities to make the journey to Syria to support the other extremists already fighting Assad. The Chinese Intelligence are getting very annoyed with Erdogan’s meddling in China’s own terrorist issues in Xinjiang, which may lead to future deterioration between the two nation’s relationship. And of course, whilst these imports have featured highly on Erdogan’s list of priorities, another kind of export has been proving to be both controversial and lucrative to the President and his immediate family.

According to reports, Turkey has been using its ports and land borders to off-load oil pumped from ISIS controlled fields in Iraq and Syria, then sold on to disappear within the market. Complex networks that include MIT (Turkish Intelligence), the Turkish Army and even the shipping company of which Erdogan’s son-in-law owns a third, have been reported to be intrinsically involved in the duplicitous smuggling and selling of Islamic State oil.

Turkey’s shooting down of the Russian jet in November last year, because it had entered into Turkish airspace for 17 seconds, sent reverberations much further than Hatay. Under Article 5 of the Nato Treaty, an attack on one of the member states will be considered an attack on all the member states. In other words, had Russia retaliated to the strike, all Hell would have broken loose.

mapofrussianjetcrash

How much is Turkey’s strategic value worth? World War III? Or could it be what really needs to be reconsidered is a 67 year old treaty, whose principles can dangerously backfire when the majority of its members don’t apply them themselves.

Under Ergodan’s leadership the tension between the government and the Turkish Kurds has intensified to the point where yet another civil war seems extremely likely. The official number of Kurds living in Turkey is vague, as the Turkish administration has not allowed a consensus to record accurate figures, but there are estimates ranging from 15% – 30% of the population. The bombing that took place in Suruç last July became the catalyst for a step up in violence, with the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) taking responsibility for the later killing of two Turkish policemen in a ‘revenge’ attack for the bombing. This handed Erdogan the license he needed to go after the PKK in Turkey, but it seems this has transformed into an out-and-out offensive, where all Kurdish people are seen as PKK militants, whether living within Turkey, or without. Once more, the White House and the UK government seem quite content to watch these events occur, without comment.

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Cizre, Turkey. Sept, 2015

You will be annihilated in those houses, those buildings, those ditches which you have dug,” Erdogan said…

 

He was talking about the Kurdish militants to a crowd of his supporters at a rally last month. Some towns like Cizre and Silopi at the border of Iraq have had curfew orders placed on them, which have intensified into blockades around some Kurdish neighbourhoods. The Kurdish reaction has been to increase the intensity of its resistance. Some media have reported that around 10,000 regime police and troops are involved in the fighting, along with the persistent heavy shelling from government tanks.

In the shadow of the attrocities happening each day in Syria, there is genuine concern that crimes taking place in Turkey will go unnoticed. Erdogan’s Turkey has transformed itself, with frightening speed, from a country that was seen as making great social strides forward less than a decade ago, to something far more resembling the Turkey of the Cold War period; when it had the permission of the West to behave however it liked.

Once Upon a Time in Arabia

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as David Cameron begrudgingly explained in a recent interview with Jon Snow, has managed to nose itself into a unique global position — an ally, a friend and the centre of Middle Eastern intelligence for the West. However, how many people understand just how such a nation arrived at this crucial niche? Especially when you consider the persistent reports of human rights abuses from within the kingdom — public beheadings, amputation and floggings for such terrible crimes as ‘fornication’ or ‘witchcraft’ — and from without, with the US backed bombing campaign of Yemen and the ruthless oppression of the democratic Bahrain uprising in 2011.

And yet at the same time, there has been plenty of other news about the UK’s overt (and covert) relationship with the regime: billions of dollars in arms deals; royal visits with the British monarchy; corrupt voting schemes between the two nations in order to bolster Saudi’s position within the UN Human Rights Council. Derision has rightly fallen on the UK government for enhancing a state that beheads its citizens for practicing sorcery, onto the global stage for human rights.

But why? Why do we have this cosy set up? Yes, there is the obvious lure of oil, but the Saudis don’t have exclusive access to the black stuff, with other oily nations seemingly ignored or even viewed as enemies (look to Venezuela). So why do our decision-makers bend over backwards to accommodate this brutal dictatorship?
In the 1740s, the geographical area we now know as Saudi Arabia was more or less a plateau for warring Bedouin tribes. Ibn Saud, the ancestor of the modern Saudi family, was just one of many desert leaders, raiding other tribes and vying for geographical supremacy. But a 1741 encounter with an exiled cleric named Adl al-Wahhab, forged a partnership that would alter the fate of the whole Middle East.

1740 arabia

Map of Arabia, 1740

Al-Wahhab was not your everyday Muslim. He saw the 18th century understanding of Islam that surrounded him as a regressive, backwards step towards polytheism, or as he called it, Jahiliyyah — referring to the indigenous nomads of the Nejd, who still lived a pre-Islamic life, and were commonly considered barbarians.

The cleric saw everything that had been added to Islam from around 950-1000 AD, as a false path that needed to be reversed and its religious doctrines abolished. Al-Wahhab’s interpretation also warned anyone who showed the slightest resistance to his teachings, or who failed to follow them to the letter, that this proved them to be non-Muslim. And according to Wahhabi laws, you should convert or be slaughtered. The importance of this shouldn’t be underestimated; it was to have major repercussions…

Adl al-Wahhab was, I suppose, just one in a very long line of religious fanatics, but Ibn Saud saw something much more in his extreme preaching, something he realised could lend him an edge over the other tribes of the region and potentially offer him the opportunity to seize the peninsula.

The traditional raids of neighbouring tribal villages was, until Adl al-Wahhab’s affiliation with the House of Saud, done for wealth and conquest. But now, with the fanatical cleric under Ibn Saud’s wing, the raids became Islamic crusades, leading to thousands of violent executions in neighbouring territory.

Word of the bloody raids soon spread and before long Ibn Saud and al-Wahhab’s brutal reputation was striking fear into villages and cities throughout Arabia. They soon acquired much of the peninsula, giving the populations they conquered a simple choice: convert to Wahhabism or die. Reports of the massacres of thousands, such as at Karbala in 1801, instilled yet more fear into surrounding settlements, including the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which capitulated under the panic and fear created by Ibn Saud and al-Wahhab, with little or no resistance.

These were the salad days of Wahhabism. The glory days, that are taught as such in Saudi schools to this today. Alas, for them at least, they didn’t last long.

The first quarter of the 19th century saw the Saud-Wahhab forces annihilated; first by the Egyptians, and then again by the Turks. Their people however, held out together in the desert, and importantly, so did their Wahhabi culture.

For the next 100 years the Ottoman Empire hung over the peninsula, whilst the Sauds fought battle after battle with neighbouring tribes, once again vying for dominance. The years of persistent battle eventually caught up with them, when in 1891 they were finally defeated, with the Saud family escaping to exile in Kuwait.

Ikhwan

Around 10 years later, Abd-al Aziz, the then House of Saud leader, came out of exile determined to reclaim the peninsula. In doing so, he used much the same tactics as his historical ancestors, Ibn Saud and al-Wahhab, namely fear under the banner of jihad. But there were two other important aspects to Aziz’s strategy that can’t be overlooked: the Ikhwan project, and the support of the British.

A major part of Abd-al Aziz’s strategy for reclaiming the peninsula, was to extend Wahhabism, through radical teaching, into the surrounding Bedouin tribes. The traditional tribesmen were considered theological ‘blank slates’ by the House of Saud; primitive and unenlightened, the Jahiliyyah were opened up to Wahhabi conversion by Saudi clerics with the zeal of Christian missionaries in Africa.

The Ikhwan were used to attack tribes and other Houses whom resisted, and once again as with the first Wahhabi uprising, their particularly vicious habits of cutting the throats and beheading non-convertors began to spread fear throughout Arabia.

From 1913 until the late 1920s, the Ikhwan was Abd-al Aziz’s army. They won conquest after conquest, claiming the land and feeding the militia with more Wahhabi conversions, whilst similarly feeding the fear which gripped the land with more mayhem and killing.

The British Government began courting Abd-al Aziz when it became increasingly clear, with each victory he gained, he would emerge as ruler of a vast portion of Arabia. The British rulers had much to protect in the vicinity, with the Sykes-Picot Agreement being discussed at the same time. Aziz knew he needed the British in order to authenticate the nation, and therefore to embed Wahhabism into the Kingdom.

In 1915, whilst the eyes of the world were on the Dardanelles, France and Belgium, Ibn Saud signed the Darin Treaty, where he agreed to become part of the British protectorate.

 

One of the main problems with having a huge army of religious fanatics, is they can be hard to bring to heel. It had been positively encouraged to raid any non-Wahhabi settlements prior to the treaty, but when the Ikwhan made attacks on other British protectorate (namely Transjordan), the British was forced to have stern words with Abd-al Aziz. Even before the treaty was signed, a movement within the Ikwhan had formed, one that was unhappy with Abd-al Aziz and, as they saw it, his personal neglect of Wahhabi customs. They were angered by his sudden tolerance of the people who, until recently, were deemed heretics. The signing of the Darin Treaty and Abd-al Aziz’s growing acceptance of Western modernity (cars, telephones and machine guns were being introduced) was felt to be in direct conflict with the Wahhabi doctrine, which rejected non-traditional ways of life and would never agree to become subordinate to an imperial power.

By the late 1920s, and after gaining both Hejaz and Nedj, Abd-al Aziz was finding the rift within the Ikwhan a concern that could no longer be ignored. The splinter movement had grown far beyond a splinter, and had intensified their jihadi attacks on Transjordan, Iraq and Kuwait. The self proclaimed King of Hejaz and Nedj, knew that something had to be done.

It came to a head at the Battle of Sabille in 1930, where Abd-al Aziz seized his opportunity. The Ikwhan rejected modern weapons, and were helplessly decimated by the machine gun fire (supplied by the British) of Abd-al Aziz’ remaining army. They were cut to pieces by the onslaught, in what was also a warning to anyone else who challenged the King’s rule. What remained of the Ikwhan was absorbed by what would eventually become The Royal Saudi Landforce. In 1932 the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was born, and just six years later prospectors struck jackpot amounts of oil within the kingdom.

 

The Ikwhan has drawn two more recent imitators. The first came in 1979, when Islamic purists, revolting against the modernisation of the Saudi state, laid siege the Grand Mosque in Mecca. They saw themselves as ‘true’ Wahhabi, whilst the state had allowed itself to become corrupted with modern ideas, such as educating women. They also wanted to ban TVs, start hating the West again and to kick out any non-Muslims living in the kingdom. The siege lasted just over two weeks, when the Saudi Army got the religious clearance to storm the mosque. Both sides took heavy casualties but eventually the insurgents were tear-gassed out of the mosque, and either killed or captured.

The vast majority of the insurgents were executed, but at the trial of the group leaders, the ulama (the religious most senior clerics and scholars that bore much influence in court) showed great leniency, despite the many laws, both Islamic and state, they had defiled.

The truth was the ulama majority agreed with most of the extremists’ ideology. In fact, the supreme response to the siege by the Saudi state was to hand more power to the ulama, which in turn issued stricter Islamic code upon society. So the second Ikwhan may have lost the battle, but it could be argued they won the war.

 

The second incarnation of the Ikwhan needs no introduction. IS (or ISIS) are extremists whose clever use of the internet, cold-blooded brutality and military proficiency has catapulted them into the centre of global affairs.

Isis fighters, pictured on a militant website verified by AP.

The conditions created by the West’s war-sanctions-war policy in Iraq since 1991, left the country utterly broken, and a fertile breeding ground for extremism. John Pilger recently wrote, “Like Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, ISIS are the mutations of a western state terror dispensed by a venal imperial elite undeterred by the consequences of actions taken at great remove in distance and culture.” I’d like to add another aspect to distance and culture: time.

The British were well aware of the Wahhabi culture within Saudi Arabia throughout their early relationship. Indeed, one of their officials even converted. Yet, seemingly, at no time did it ever occur to anyone – or if it did, they failed to voice it above a whisper – to be concerned about supporting the regressive and violent culture of Wahhabism. Even a rudimentary sociological examination would have shown in flashing-red-neon the obvious self destructive seed lying at its heart, that would grow intertwined with the success of the state. One can only assume that they chose to turn a myopic eye.

We continue to ignore most of the atrocities committed by Saudi Arabia, the bombing of Yemen, the cruelty to its own people, its funding of Wahhabi extremists all over the world, in exchange for — according to David Cameron — Middle Eastern intelligence on terrorist threats. Seeing as how almost all the funding and arming of terrorism comes from within the kingdom, I guess they are in a good position to give accurate advice.

We Should be Working 15 Hour Weeks… but I’ll take 25.

overworked

“So, we are working harder and longer than ever, and although there’s an abundance of wealth out there, less and less of it is being paid in real wages.”

Imagine having lots of spare time. Now there’s a thought! Maybe it’s slipped from memory, but we’ve all had periods of our lives that came with enough free time to encourage us to develop in individual and sometimes eccentric ways; some learn to play the guitar or cook, others work their way through the classics of literature, or go travelling. Some people appear to do very little with their spare time; but physical inactivity shouldn’t be misunderstood; still waters run deep, or so they say.

These periods normally occur before the social pressure of getting a steady job, an extortionate mortgage and building a little family really begin to squeeze.  Of course, a full-time job these days comes with a UK average week of over 39 hours to go with it, which has the knock on effect of sending your spare time into outer space for about forty-five years.

But let’s just imagine we could have both: spare time to indulge our natures and the same standard of living. If you were working 20-25 hours a week with your current full-time pay, you would have time and energy to really enjoy the family, maybe get involved with the community or see old friends. There’s usually something people want to do but don’t have the time: learn a new language, write, paint, play a particular sport, complete a course on feminism… the list is endless. Trying to do any of these things and work almost 40 hours a week reminds me of the Woody Allen line, “I took a course on speed-reading and now I’ve read War and Peace. It’s about Russia.” What we are talking about is having the time to develop who you really are, instead of allowing ourselves to be defined by the means with which we exchange our labour for money.

John Maynard Keynes

John Maynard Keynes

This was part of how John Maynard Keynes saw our society unfolding, back in 1930. He thought that with our living standards set to rise like never before, we would be able to own or access the necessary material things of life and therefore have a greatly reduced reason to work. Consumerism, as we know it today, was just a hatching plan in 1930. Edward Bernays had a year before staged the famous ladies smoking their ‘torches of freedom‘ and with it the concept of Public Relations and advertising (as a means to influence) was born.

A few years ago, Larry Elliott in The Guardian suggested that the reason Keynes’ prediction of such a reduced working week had failed to materialise, was down to ‘our desire’ to work harder in order to keep up with our wealthier neighbours. There may be a tiny element of truth in this, but I think there is a whole bunch of other things being tactically ignored.

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I think first of all we have to look at wages. Real wages have been generally falling for nearly 30 years in the UK. That’s why two generations ago it was common for an average family to live on one breadwinner’s wage. Then we came to our parents’ generation, the baby boom, who found a full-time job now needed supplementing, usually with the other parent taking on part-time work. Our generation has normalised the idea of both parents going out to work full-time; you have to question if the social movement of workplace gender equality has been a victory for campaigners, or if it was politically allowed to increase government revenue in taxes and obfuscate the shrinking of real wages.

An average family starting out today (even with both parents in work), will have by comparison with their grandparents, shocking levels of debt.

Real wages, 1964-2012 (Office for National Statistics)

Real wages, 1964-2012 (Office for National Statistics)

The above graph shows how wages have compared to inflation. You can see how the ECG of the boom and bust years is replaced in the early 1980s by the spidery scrawl of a dying villain. These are the neoliberal years; the adoption by Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party of the economic theories of Milton Friedman et al., which are still held deeply in the bosom of the current Tory government. But it was also embraced by New Labour, spearheaded by Tony Blair in 1997. Jeremy Corbyn’s recent election as leader of the Labour Party, has created a schism within the organisation, as Blairites repel the principles of peace, justice and democracy from the new leader. From 1988 onwards, the graph tracks a serrated, quarter-century journey, mostly downhill. We are looking at an obvious decline, culminating in the death spasms of the recent financial crash.

GDP per capita, by contrast, has risen almost without fail, year after year… until the crash in 2008, but it has now surpassed the pre-crash level, indicating the recovery that we are always hearing lots about, but seeing very little.

UK GDP per capita, 1964-2014 (ONS)

UK GDP per capita, 1964-2014 (ONS)

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So although we are working hard and long hours, and the obvious fact that there’s an abundance of wealth out there, less and less of it is being paid in real wages.

The very notion of a tax haven summons up images of sun-drenched remote islands, palm trees, anchored yachts and cocktails. But this stereotype has benefited those who take advantage of the reality. The truth is, Britain itself is a tax haven, with corporate and business tax breaks and avoidance schemes orchestrated from the City of London. At the Treasury Select Committee this year, George Osborne proudly stated that Britain has “one of the lowest corporate tax rates in the western world”.

When CEOs such as Sir Martin Sorrell of WPP, who has a salary of £30million, earn 780 times more than their average employees, you begin to see how the huge gap between the top earners and everyone else has distorted the general equality that Keynes must have assumed was going to be a continuous aspect of social progression. That the present corporate world seems comfortable with the notion that one CEO can be as valuable as 780 employees, displays its lack of social conscience, not only in regards to employment level, but in the perpetuation of increasing global inequality.

I think the real reason Keynes’ vision failed to materialise has more to do with the advent of advertising and mass consumerism. Can he be blamed for failing to anticipate the uptake, through the ballooning influence of barely regulated or taxed financial institutions and corporations, of neoliberalism in almost all western governments, and their subsequent handing over of power (and mind-blowing wealth) to the banking and corporate world?

Heroes of Neoliberalism

Heroes of Neoliberalism

Sources:

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/dcp171776_368928.pdf
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2008/sep/01/economics
http://www.theguardian.com/business/2014/jan/31/real-wages-falling-longest-period-ons-record
http://highpaycentre.org/blog/ftse-100-bosses-now-paid-an-average-143-times-as-much-as-their-employees

http://topincomes.parisschoolofeconomics.eu/