5 May 2004

reversing fantasies

In Al Qaeda's Fantasy Ideology Lee Harris wrote about Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia:

Why invade, then? The answer is quite simple. Ethiopia was a prop -- a prop in the fantasy pageant of the new Italian Empire -- that and nothing else. And the war waged in order to win Ethiopia as a colony was not a war in the Clausewitzian sense -- that is to say, it was not an instrument of political policy designed to induce concessions from Ethiopia, or to get Ethiopia to alter its policies, or even to get Ethiopia to surrender. Ethiopia had to be conquered not because it was worth conquering, but because the fascist fantasy ideology required Italy to conquer something -- and Ethiopia fit the bill. The conquest was not the means to an end, as in Clausewitzian war; it was an end in itself. Or, more correctly, its true purpose was to bolster the fascist collective fantasy that insisted on casting the Italians as a conquering race, the heirs of Imperial Rome.

The enterprise of Iraq does not have a high factual content. The number of thinkers who regard it as a diversion and distraction from the War on Terror grows each day. Richard Clarke told Lateline last night:

If you look at the years of Al Qaeda propaganda, spread throughout the world by its various affiliate organisations, what they said over and over again was the United States should be viewed as the crusaders coming from a afar to the Islamic lands to occupy them, install their governments and steal their oil.

And that they would do this even though the Islamic governments were not threatening them in any way.

So, now what we see is that the United States has indeed done what bin Laden said we would do and most of the Islamic world watches television every night and sees a far different story than they see here on ABC or on ABC in Australia.

What they see on Al Jazeera and Al Arabia are bodies of civilians in Fallujah having being killed as collateral damage.

They see, when there are house to house searches, film of women being dragged out of their houses by American soldiers.

Although the United States is doing many great things in Iraq, that's not what is seen in the Islamic world and now they see pictures of American soldiers torturing Islamic prisoners.

All of this provides enormous propaganda to bin Laden and the Jihadist movement.

It's convincing millions of people around the world that the United States is, in fact, the enemy and if you look at the public opinion polls, the reliable ones taken in Morocco, in Egypt, in Jordan, in Turkey, in Pakistan and even in Indonesia, the United States is now an object of hatred by 70, 80, 90 per cent of the people in some of these polls.

This is exactly the kind of propaganda that Al Qaeda wanted and George W Bush handed it to them on a silver platter.

Why, with all those disadvantages, would any US president invade Iraq? Or is the Bush administration just running a fantasy ideology? I always thought the Harris idea was massively overstated. His examples are the conquest of Mexico and Italian fascism. He misreads the Mexican example. Several of Moctezuma II's ministers (chiefly Cuat�moc and Cuitlauac) thought their leader was insane, repeatedly urged him to take measures for the defence of his empire and were ignored. By the time Cuitlauac replaced Moctezuma it was too late. Smallpox, the real conqueror of the Aztecs, had struck with full force.

Harris' prescription is equally bizarre -- that the War on Terror be recast as a campaign against disease. Evidently he is unaware that is precisely how the German Nazis described their war against the Jews. Maybe the notion that everybody else's wars are symbolic dramas and ours are rational needs more examination.

Perhaps the jihadis feel their grievances are real. Perhaps we should do something about that. Something other than Abu Ghraib.

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