The desert siege is over. The end, as foretold, was bloody. According to the Algerian government, 23 hostages and 32 hostage-takers died. The victims – whatever their nationalities – all suffered unimaginable fear and violence. I doubt they gave any thought to who was “British”, who “French” and who just a plain native. They were workers in a globalised economy, in it together till the end.
Sure, class and race meant some had more than others. But when caught in such a grisly drama, all such distinctions must dissolve, burn off. Grief too will be shared between high and low as families mourn. They are united in agony and turmoil. Ours is an age of perpetual instability and barbarism.
Western power merchants – particularly British and Americans – in contrast, use each such tragedy to engender discord. They strut the world stage, issue threats and remind us who is boss. When will they see themselves as others see them, or try to empathise with the citizens of three quarters of the world? It was embarrassing to witness David Cameron’s colonial irritation with the Algerian upstarts who went ahead with the rescue without seeking permission from the UK or US.
Economic might is draining away fast from these old centres of power, and they have lost two key wars in the past decade. But does that make them a little more humble, less solipsistic, any the wiser? Not at all. They didn’t get to where they were with self-doubt and by playing fairly. This latest farrago has brought out the worst in these cowboys and we should be afraid, very afraid.
It just hasn’t been the same since they assassinated Bin Laden. We need a proper scoundrel to hate. So out of the desert storm he comes, a one-eyed super-villain, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, aka “Mr Malboro” because he gets rich selling smuggled cigarettes. Wow! Kathryn Bigelow can make another blokey film about Mr Malboro next. Imagine the awards. His band of maniac men call themselves Those Who Sign Their names in Blood. (How do we know any of this is true?) Soon Belmokhtar’s name will be as familiar to our children as Voldemort. We will be persuaded that another Western jihad is needed against this evil monster, to make the world safe again, a day that never comes.
Cameron said yesterday that Britain would show “iron resolve”. Leon Panetta, the US Defence Secretary stood with our man Phil Hammond and warned that the attackers would be “hunted down”, that they would find “no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere”.
The truth is that most malevolent and ruthless terrorists will find sanctuary and refuge even among people who loathe them, whose lives are blighted by extreme Islamicism. And that is because the West is loathed and feared even more. Not the great civilisations and systems of the West – those are admired and coveted. But the Occident’s hypocrisies, ethical indifference to the sufferings of its victims, paranoia, lies and catastrophic wars are detested.
It is worse still, that since 9/11, white lives appear to matter more than others and that all actions, legal or illegal, are acceptable because the end matters more than the means. And the end is to maintain Western privileges. Nations like Algeria and Mali, destabilised by Muslim militants, know Western interventions are always based on self-interest. Their own people merely become part of the necessary debris. It is a dirty deal and one that will be increasingly resisted and that means only continuing chaos for some of the poorest people on Earth.
US drone attacks have killed countless children and other innocents in Pakistan and Afghanistan. So what? To those who operate the drones, according to one US magazine, the casualties are “bug splats”. These lifeless kids have no teddy bears, candles, names or even numbers. Should we expect the relatives of these “splats” to feel for us when we lose innocents? As Obama’s second term is heralded in, we won’t hear the words Guantanamo Bay, where inmates hang between death and life, uncharged, untried, touching no conscience. Obaidullah was 19 when incarcerated there in 2002. In 2012, all charges were dropped and still he waits and writes poems about love and spring’s fragrances.
Next week the High Court will hear further allegations about the torture of Iraqis by our soldiers. Meanwhile millions go to Bigelow’s movie about Bin Laden and see an exquisite filmic argument justifying torture.
Those who were caught up in the Algerian shootout were victims of pitiless terrorists. In that Cameron is right. But distorted Western values made them vulnerable targets too and there is no sign that our leaders understand that responsibility. Recently, on a visit to Mumbai, I met Mike, an Englishman, and Sunil, a historian. Over tea Mike asked: “Why do Muslims hate us Westerners so much?’ To which Sunil, a Hindu, replied: “Not only Muslims, my friend. We all do because you don’t see the world through our eyes, ever. If you did, we would have a future together.” That is the only way we have a future together. Cameron and the rest of the Western political elite don’t get that and never will.