ISLAM: THE NEW VIETNAM WAR SYNDROME

by Gunnar Eigener

“Since the news, little kids haven’t played outside, as if their moms are afraid someone might snatch them out of their yards and send them off to war.”
Kimberly Willis Holt, ‘When Zachary Beaver Came To Town’

In the early hours of 26th July, Satoshi Uematsu drove to a home for the disabled where he had previously worked and stabbed 19 residents to death and injured 26. Shortly before handing himself in, he tweeted “May there be peace in the world…Beautiful Japan!!!!” Once in custody, he said that ‘it is better that disabled people disappear’.  Barely a week later and at a rally Donald Trump claimed to have seen video footage of $400 million being transferred to Iran by the US government as well as recounting the time he saw Muslims celebrating the devastation of 9/11. One of these stories received little attention while the other gathered headlines.

Just like the Vietnam War, terrorism has become a cash cow. Since 9/11, the US government has spent more than $7.6 trillion on homeland security and defence. It spent approximately $1.26 trillion in a decade on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; intelligence agencies received many additional billions. Stock values in arms companies increased following the UK Parliament vote for airstrikes in Syria and the 2015 Paris attacks. Governments have been able to use terrorist attacks to implement certain laws and gain anti-privacy powers like the Patriot Act or the (draft) Investigatory Powers Bill. France was able to suppress climate change marches during the Paris Climate Conference using emergency powers granted in light of recent terrorist attacks.

Yet it is the political world that terrorism seems to have benefitted the most. Presidents and Prime Ministers have soared to political highs as a result of their actions on terrorism. George W. Bush was able to use the Iraq War as a foundation to expand into the more global war on terror. While an obvious example, Donald Trump is perhaps the most extreme proponent of maximising on the fear of terrorism for personal gain. His flamboyant fear tactics have been paying off, whipping up such emotions and anger amongst the population that it has become virtually impossible to stifle outbursts of hatred and violence  on the issues of foreign terrorism, Islam and immigration. To some, those three issues are all the same thing and can be resolved by removing those of non-Christian beliefs and of non-Caucasian heritage.

The facts are very alarmingly, different from the message we hear on the news or read in the papers. Between 1980 and 2000, the FBI investigated 335 incidents of terrorism, of which 247 were related to domestic terrorism. Since 9/11, there have been uncovered an average of six jihadist-connected terror plots targeting the US per year compared to an average of 337 attacks per year by right-wing domestic extremists, according to research by Professors Charles Kurzman & David Schanzer. In the decade post-9/11, terrorist attacks were overwhelmingly carried out by the Earth Liberation Front and Animal Liberation Front yet resulted in no fatalities. The very few jihadist plots that have succeeded are deemed to have succeeded precisely because they have killed citizens. Terrorists, by their very definition, accomplish their goal by bringing terror to a society, not necessarily by the number of people killed. Yet society and the media have brought us to the point where the number of targets killed determines the level of success. The reaction of society has been to attack those of the same religion in the case of jihadists even when those very people are appalled by the actions just as much as others. At the same time, there is no backlash against Christian extremists to the same extent.

Terrorism has replaced Communism. More specifically, Islamic terrorism has become the world’s bogeyman.

Terrorism has replaced Communism. More specifically, Islamic terrorism has become the world’s bogeyman. The global war on terror continues to draw in new players. The aftermath of every new attack begins by focusing on the nationality of those responsible while Arabic and Middle Eastern names immediately suggest radical Islam. The Vietnam War syndrome is about the public’s lack of belief of the country being involved in overseas conflicts yet the US has been involved, officially at least, in about ten wars since Vietnam. This goes to show that in some way, the public’s point of view is largely ignored. The media is increasingly involved in war propaganda to bring the public round to the government’s position.

The Vietnam War sits uncomfortably with the United States. It was a difficult loss and the scars still remain, visible in the number of homeless veterans and those still suffering the effects of handling Agent Orange. It took the lives of over 1.3 million people, including 58,209 US soldiers. The idea of suffering another similar loss is always brought up whenever the US becomes involved in another conflict. During the war, the need for equipment far outweighed the ability of a single company to provide, leading to consortiums which came together and earned hundreds of millions in profit. Recent global wars have not changed that scenario. Companies like Dick Cheney’s Halliburton and it’s subsidiaries have raked in billions of dollars in contracts. Five arms firms, General Dynamics, Raytheon, BAE Systems, Boeing and Lockheed Martin made approximately $10 billion in profit in 2012 alone.

Global terrorism overwhelms other events that deserve as much, and sometimes more, attention. Climate change, a threat to our planet and home, is shunted aside in favour of sensationalised journalism. The media coverage of Islam has become almost as fanatical as the radical terrorists they report about. Although facts tell us otherwise, we are being pushed to believe that the global war on terror must succeed above all else, that the sacrifices being made are just and worthy, that freedom isn’t free. Seemingly, no matter how much blood is shed, it won’t be enough. War is business and business is doing just fine.

Featured Image: AP/ Getty Images

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