30September2014

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The Purpose And The Pretence - Bombing Isis

 

Tom Bradby, ITV News political editor, nutshelled the media zeitgeist in a single tweet:

'I am not at all religious, but I can't help feeling there may be a seventh circle of hell reserved somewhere for Jihadi John [the killer of James Foley, Steven Sotloff and David Haines].'

For 'Jihadi John' and the West's close allies in Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where 'scheduled beheading reflects authorities' callous disregard to human rights', according to Amnesty International.

Bradby's comment indicates just how rapidly Isis has come to represent nothing less than Pure Evil for the state-corporate media. Or as Mehdi Hasan, political director of Huffington Post, commented (without irony):

'Isis, in other words, is evil. Scum. The worst of the worst. Unique, to borrow Obama's phrase, in its brutality.'

Traditionally, claims that an Official Enemy is uniquely Evil rise to a deafening crescendo just prior to an attack on that enemy. In late 2002, a former intelligence officer told John Pilger that the flood of government terror warnings at the time were 'a softening up process' ahead of an attack on Iraq and 'a lying game on a huge scale'. (Pilger, 'Lies, damned lies, and government terror warnings,' Daily Mirror, December 3, 2002)

Sure enough, the US and various unsavoury allies this week began a bombing campaign ostensibly against Isis in Syria. As Jonathan Cook notes, the attack has taken place without a UN Security Council resolution or any serious argument that the US is acting in self-defence:

'That makes it a crime of aggression, defined at Nuremberg as "the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole".'

Compared to Obama - now embarking on his seventh war - George W. Bush appears a paragon of virtue, having at least troubled with UN resolutions. Bush commented in March 2003:

'The world needs [Saddam Hussein] to answer a single question: Has the Iraqi regime fully and unconditionally disarmed as required by Resolution 1441? Or has it not?'

Early reports estimated that eight Syrian civilians had been killed in the latest bombing raids by US militants. The BBC buried a reference to the killings in a ten-word sentence in the middle of a news report:

'Eight civilians, including three children, were reported to have died.'

Bad enough that civilians 'died', but how much worse if they had been killed by Britain's leading ally.

A September 4 search of the Nexis media database for mentions of 'Isis' (Islamic State) and its alternative title, 'Isil', found the following mentions:

January 1 - May 31, 2014, CNN mentioned 'Isis/Isil' 110 times.

June 1 - August 31, 2014, CNN mentioned 'Isis/Isil' 1,465 times.

Between these same dates, the New York Times mentioned 'Isis/Isil' 89 times and 389 times, respectively. (David Peterson, email to Media Lens, September 4, 2014)

Much of this coverage has of course focused on Isis beheadings, massacres and other crimes - self-declared and alleged - in Iraq and Syria.

Absent from most media coverage is the recognition that these conflicts have been characterised by appalling violence on all sides. A curious omission, given that the same media have focused intensively on gruesome atrocities committed, for example, by the pro-Assad 'shabiha' militia in Syria, alleged to have been responsible for the May 2012 Houla massacre.

In the last three years, Lexis media database finds 933 UK national newspaper articles mentioning 'shabiha'. In the last twelve months, there have been just 28 mentions, with 19 this year (Media Lens search, September 15, 2014). Yet another Damascene conversion, it would seem, just as the Western state-corporate media crosshairs moved from Assad to Isis.

Similarly, while it is true that Sunni forces, including Isis, have committed horrific crimes in Iraq, Sunnis have also suffered terribly. A recent New York Times headline made the point: 'Sunnis in Iraq Often See Their Government as the Bigger Threat.' The report explained:

'Iraq's Sunnis vividly recall how militias linked to the governing Shiite parties staged attacks against Sunnis during the worst years of the sectarian conflict last decade, often in cooperation with Iraq's military and police forces, or while wearing their uniforms.

'Mr. Maliki [former Iraqi president] was criticized for his inability or unwillingness to dismantle the groups, hardening Sunni mistrust of the government.'

Investigative journalist Scott Peterson added some background:

'From the indiscriminate bombing of Sunni areas... to large numbers of languishing detainees, many Sunnis say the roots of discontent are obvious, and have resulted in support for groups as radical as IS.'

While the tit-for-tat nature of Sunni-Shia tortures, disappearances and massacres was extensively covered during the US-UK occupation, it is rarely mentioned now in media condemnations of Isis.

In fact, arguing that the West should 'degrade and ultimately destroy' Isis on the basis of its human rights record, without mentioning the context, is like arguing that Britain and America should have been wiped out for their conventional and atomic bombing of cities packed with civilians in the Second World War without mentioning German and Japanese crimes. Indeed, to be consistent, the West should be arguing that much of the Middle East and all members of the 'coalition of the willing' should be degraded and destroyed for committing atrocities.

In reality, of course, the attack on Isis is not about preventing atrocities. As Glenn Greenwald notes, 'the U.S. does not bomb countries for humanitarian objectives. Humanitarianism is the pretense, not the purpose'.

We wonder if state-corporate propagandists are able to reflect on the irony that even before two US journalists were murdered, the US had sent bombers half-way around the world to kill Isis fighters. And yet, over the last three years, the West has tirelessly condemned the actions of the Syrian government in a literal war for survival against Isis and other foreign-backed 'rebel' groups, on Syrian soil – a war that is alleged to have cost 190,000 lives, including 50,000 Syrian government forces. Certainly Assad's troops have committed appalling war crimes. But one can barely imagine the scale of the US reaction if Isis had wreaked even a tiny fraction of this death and destruction on its homeland and forces, much less threatened its very survival.

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