I find the phrase ‘the war on terrorism’, problematic, not that I am against fighting terrorism, no right minded person would be. Describing this fight as a ’war’ is also not particularly difficult, except that in some ways it implies armies lined up facing each other. No one real problem I have with the phrase is that in any War people die, and it is who is dying that worries me. The other problematic aspect of this phrase is that for many people, both consciously and unconsciously, it is synonymous with ‘the war on Islam.’ For those in the west who don’t particularly have the inclination to really think about the issue it is perhaps unconscious, for others such as the increasingly vocal anti-Islamic lobby, it is an active task, and it is also a big agenda for the radical violent Islamists, the terrorists that are the real problem.
The numbers dying in this war are mind boggling, whichever numbers are chosen.
produces the following numbers:
Americans Killed by Muslims: 10,235
Muslims Killed by Americans: 288,000
From 1980 to 2010.
The numbers in the Israeli Palestinian conflict are also interesting.
Palestinians killed by Israelis 7,978
Israelis killed by Palestinians. 1,503
From 1987 to 2010.
A report in the lancet
Suggests that as many as 1.6 million Iraqi Civilians have died since the US/UK invasion of Iraq.
Though not all at the hands of the coalition forces, it can be strongly argued that they are a consequence of the invasion.
The Iraq Body Count Project identifies between 98,000 and 107,000 reported deaths.
A report to the US Congress
Gives a fairly complete range of figures.
There are various statistics for the numbers of deaths attributable to Al Qaida around, but somewhere between 5 and 10 thousands are the commonest quoted, though only the lower figure is supported by hard evidence. The higher estimates refer to activities as insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan and to a lesser extent Pakistan.
There is a muddle here since the distinction between Al Qaida and the Taliban is not always clear cut.
What is interesting though is that almost any way it is looked at, Al Qaida and the Taliban are killing more Muslims than they are westerners.
Now all these numbers are not everyone’s cup of tea so I offer the summary below.
Using round numbers since the year 2000, about 500,000 Muslim have died at the hands of Western forces. When all totals for ‘Western’ deaths are combined, including 9/11, 7/7, Madrid, US, and UK combatants in Iraq, UK, US, German and other combatants in Afghanistan, Western civilians in both Iraq and Afghanistan and Israelis in the conflict with the Palestinians noted above. The total is 11,258.
There have been other deaths, in Africa and in Malaysia, not included in this total, but they are unlikely to push the figure as high as 15,000, and certainly not higher than 20,000. In addition to this there is broad agreement that 20 million Muslim refugees have fled the wars.
So for every Westerner killed by a radical Muslim at least 50 moderate Muslims have been killed, though possibly as many as 100 have died, and 1000 moderate Muslims have been forced to leave their homes.
Whoever is fighting who; it is ordinary Muslims, trying to live ordinary lives, who are dying in at the very least their hundreds of thousands.
There is no doubt in my mind that Al Qaida, the Taliban, and in a different, though I suspect not lesser way the Government of Iran, are intent on waging a war against the west. Though I suspect that Iran fears a counter revolution if they have another war in the too near future following the impact of the Iran – Iraq conflicts where they fought each other to a standstill in a war more similar to WW I than anything else. Which for me only highlights the dangers of Theocratic rule. The history of ‘Christian’ Europe in this regard is an object lesson, starting with the Crusades, numerous other wars progressing through the conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism, and ending with the imperial colonisation of more than half the world by supposedly ‘Christian powers‘.
The anti-Islamists of course point to Al Qaida the Taliban, and Iran’s record and shout loudly Islam is evil, the Quran is evil, ect, but it is not every Muslim that is up in arms against the west. It is not even a majority of Muslims that are up in arms, nor even a sizable minority, at least not yet. From reading who is writing the anti-western vitriol, it is a small and powerful minority, Al Zwahiri for instance comes from a wealthy and powerful family, as did Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban are for the most part the private armies of local Warlords seeking to protect and enhance their power base.
A small vocal, and admittedly influential minority seek to draw all Muslims behind their banner. All this suggests to me that this war is not about religion it is about power.
Now thinking in terms of this conflict as a war, it seems sensible to reference a text on war, and I still have not found one to surpass Sun Tsu, who although now almost mythical, is reputed to have been a Chinese General living about 400 BCE.
Sun Tsu, placed great emphasis on Moral Authority, both in the person of the leader, and in terms of the strategic objective of the General. Sun Tsu identified the highest moral objective to be ‘Win without fighting’.
During the Cultural revolution in Maoist China, there was a cry of ‘100 battles, 100 victories,’ seeking to venerate the qualities of Mao as a Leader. This was derived from Sun Tsu’s Art of War, but misrepresents his position, what he actually said was, ‘the epitome of skill is not to fight 100 battles and win 100 victories, the epitome of skill is never to fight at all.’ or at least something that translates as that from the Chinese.
In this ‘war’ the battleground has become the cities, towns, villages, and homes of moderate Muslims who I would doubt want anything other than to live their lives in peace. And in this ‘war’ it is these otherwise peaceful Muslims that are predominantly suffering and dying. To begin with I believe that in this ‘war’ the moral authority did lie with the western forces, but once engaged in a war, particularly a guerrilla war, moral authority can quickly become eroded.
The Terrorists claim the west is waging a war against Islam, The anti-Islamists virtually demand a war against Islam. And here lies the danger for the west, whichever casualty figure is chosen from the above range, many civilian Muslims are dying, this is only ammunition for the terrorists. ‘(In the west as well as in Muslim countries,) Look’ they can say, ‘did we not tell you how evil they were, they kill a hundred of us for every one of them.’ (They will certainly choose the higher figures available.)
And the moderate Muslim, by his dead child’s grave will say, ‘yes I hear you.’
The anti-Islamists in the west will say ‘Islam is evil, the Quran is evil. Islam must be destroyed’
And the Terrorists will say, they hate you, they hate your religion, will you not now fight them.’
And the Muslim woman left to raise her dead husbands children alone, will say to her children, ‘Yes they hate us, they want to destroy us, they killed your father.’
And her children will say, ‘yes we hear you mother.’
The anti-Islamists and the terrorists will between them make radicals of if not every Muslim in the world, than very many more than there now are. And this is the danger, at the moment this war is one sided, yes western troops have an overwhelming advantage in the technology their forces wield, and in direct success on the battlefield, but in every important battle for the soul of Islam, the terrorists have the upper hand, because they are choosing where the war is fought, thy know that every time a Muslim dies the moral authority of the west is diminished, and their own is strengthened.
And in the end this is what this ’war’ is: it is a war for the Soul of Islam, if the anti-Islamists win, if they convince us that Islam is any more evil, or any less good than Christianity, or Judaism, if they convince the moderate Muslims in the world that the west hates Islam, and hates those who believe in Islam, then thy will play directly into the hands of the Terrorists. And in this dawning of the Arab Spring, surely we want the hope of democracy in Egypt and elsewhere to take root and thrive, not be poisoned by a belief that the west hates something that has been a fundamental aspect of Arab lives for 1400 years.
If we can keep hold on to an image of Islam as a broad church, with differing ideas about what it means to be a Muslim, if we can Isolate the terrorists, remind the Muslims of the world that Al Qaida kills more of them than it does westerners, support the moderates to value their moderate identity, help them to build democratic lives, support them to build institutions to curtail the power of the warlords; then perhaps we can win without fighting, or at least without fighting on bloody battle fields. Perhaps we can win through the ballot box, through establishing fair and just constitutions. Perhaps we can win through keeping the fight in arguments in parliaments, in the courts, and the newspapers; on newsgroups and Blogs.
If I were to be really cynical I might say that we should be fighting this war on the battlefield of consumerism, providing goods and services to Muslims to help them feel that their life today is just that little bit better than yesterday, flat screen TVs‘, Play station 3’s, MP3s, music downloads, all those products that mean westerners don’t on the whole start a revolution every other Tuesday.
Anywhere but the bloody battlefield.