The recent Paris attacks have refocused the American mind on the threat posed by IS. Americans are demanding more boots on the ground, more bombing, more something, more anything – and like a moth drawn to the flame, the US media is trotting out the disgraced Iraq war “architects” and neo-cons of yesteryear to not only tell us what IS wants, but also why our violence will put an end to their violence.
War is always a ratings bonanza for the corporate-owned media class, and we the viewer are addicted to its pyrotechnics, violence and destruction.
“War is the force that gives us meaning,” reminds veteran war correspondent Chris Hedges – for war not only interrupts the tedious grind of our daily lives, it also “generates a warm, unfamiliar bond with our neighbours, our community, our nation, wiping out unsettling undercurrents of alienation and dislocation.”
Those who sell advertising based on ratings, meaning eyeballs, clicks and page turns, are well prepared to sate our lust for drone strikes, combat and carpet-bombing. But to sell a war, the war buyer must be first reassured the mission is noble, reasonable and democratic – and that the enemy is a figure of its own evil creation, something that is foreign and alienable to our self-righteous sense of morality.
In other words, the media must first make us feel good about ourselves before it can make us violently hostile towards those we wish to bomb, occupy and belittle.
On Monday, the front-page headline to the UK’s Sun newspaper read, “1 in 5 Brit Muslims sympathy for the jihadis” – based on a poll that has been debunked as dubious at best, sinister at worst. The Sun is not an outlier. The day after the Paris attacks, two leading CNN anchors told a Muslim rights activists that “all Muslims” “bear responsibility” for the ISIS attack that left 129 mostly Parisians dead. This is not only a heinous accusation, but may go down as one of the most despicable thing ever said by mainstream journalists on live television.
“Following Paris, the Murdoch press behaved like the Murdoch Press. The Daily Mail behaved like the Daily Mail. We shouldn’t be surprised. But now we have newspapers in this country right across the board, and that includes serious newspapers that claim to their readers that they have some gravity, some conscience – like The Guardian – being part of this escalation of war in the Middle East,” observes veteran UK-based journalist John Pilger.
In America, prominent activist journalist Glenn Greenwald accused CNN of juicing America’s “hunger” for war. An appetite that is being primed by absolving the nation’s guilt over the social chaos it has wrought on the Middle East.
The absolution of guilt is made possible via the externalisation of evil. Americans are again being told Islam is responsible for the violence and unrest in the Middle East; and that it is Islam that is responsible for the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
If one tuned into Fox News, CNN or MSNBC, one could be forgiven for believing the phony pretence for the Iraq invasion never happened; that the Iraq invasion never happened; that de-Baathification never happened; that bombing Libya and Yemen never happened; and that arming the leading sponsor of terrorism in the region – Saudi Arabia – doesn’t happen.
Blaming Islam for ISIS is how Americans forget all the above happened. Blaming Islam for ISIS is how Americans are made to feel good about themselves, and blaming Islam for ISIS is how Americans are easily led into supporting hypnotic but counter-productive military missions.
In March of this year, The Atlantic published an essay titled “What ISIS Really Wants”. For those seeking to blame Islam for ISIS, this is the Magna Carta. For neo-cons and right-wing loons, and for those seeking absolution for the Iraq invasion, Graeme Wood’s essay is as purifying as holy water.
A summation of the piece reads as follows: ISIS is Islamic, very Islamic, uber-Islamic, super-dooper Islamic, and exactly the terrorist group the Prophet Muhammad had in mind when he recited the Quran. So beware, all Muslims have the potential to be ISIS.
We now know from seized IS documents, interviews with captured and former IS fighters, and those who have spent time in IS-controlled territory that Wood’s essay is wildly ill-informed, stupendously inaccurate and in no way reflects the aims and motives of IS leadership. Yet Wood appears on each of the major cable television networks daily to discuss the hypothesis of his essay.
We can’t defeat ISIS if we misrepresent what and who ISIS actually is. Far from being the apocalyptic Islamist group that Wood contends they are, actual IS documents and blue prints reveal IS to be methodical state builders, led by secular Baathists – who aim to restore Sunni-Baathist power in Iraq. These documents also make clear that Saddam’s former generals (anti-Islamists) use Islam as a recruitment tool. “They [ISIS founders] reasoned that Baghdadi, an educated cleric, would give the group a religious face,” notes the German newspaper Der Spiegel.
These ISIS documents and blueprints are corroborated by interviews with captured ISIS fighters. Last month, Lydia Wilson of Oxford University published her findings. She found that recruits are drawn to ISIS for reasons that have little to do with extremist Islam. “They are woefully ignorant about Islam and have difficulty answering questions about Sharia law, militant jihad, and the Caliphate,” observed Wilson.
The social chaos and lack of security in Iraq caused by the US invasion features as another theme among ISIS fighters. “The Americans came,” one ISIS fighters told interviewers. “They took away Saddam, but they also took away our security. I didn’t like Saddam, we were starving then, but at least we didn’t have war. When you came here, the civil war started.”
A US general said this, the above “absolutely fits the typical profile” of an ISIS fighter. In other words, US military invasions and interventions in the Middle East are creating the conditions for ISIS to thrive.
Yet the media welcomes only those who blame Islam or “radical Islam” and not those who speak to the conditions that make ISIS appealing.
Those conditions that place the blame at the feet of US military intervention, US-backed dictatorships, and US arms sales to both sponsors of terrorism and actual terrorist groups themselves.
But blaming Islam makes us feel good about ourselves. Blaming Islam is good for television ratings. Blaming Islam makes it easier to sell new wars.
– CJ Werleman is the author of Crucifying America (2013)