Air strikes? Talk of God? Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script after James Foley beheading

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11

Robert Fisk
Friday 22 August 2014 07:36 BST
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US

The “caliphate” has some pretty tough theatrical producers. They write a bleak and savage script. Our job is now to respond to each line, and they understand us well enough to know just what we’ll say. So they beheaded James Foley and threatened to do the same to one of his colleagues, and what do we do? Exactly what I predicted 24 hours ago: turn Foley’s murder into a further reason to go on bombing the Isis “caliphate”. And what else did they provoke from us – or at least from America’s vacationing President? A battle on strictly religious terms, which is exactly what they wanted.

Yes, Barack Obama – before he headed back to the golf links – informed the world that “No just God would stand for what they [Isis] did yesterday, and for what they do every single day.” So there you have it: Obama turned the “caliphate’s” savagery into an inter-religious battle of rival Gods, “ours” [ie the West’s] against “theirs” [the Muslim God, of course]. This was the nearest Obama has yet come in rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 in which he said that “we” are going to go on a “Crusade”.

Now of course, Obama didn’t mean the Muslim God, any more than Bush intended to send thousands of horse-mounted Christian warriors to the Biblical lands of the Middle East: indeed, Bush only sent tank-mounted and helicopter-borne warriors to those lands. No, Obama was also announcing that the “caliphate’s” victims are “overwhelmingly Muslim” – ie that the “Caliphate” wasn’t Muslim at all – although his enthusiasm to intervene earlier this month was not caused by his sympathy for these thousands of poor Muslims, but by the persecution of Christians and Yazidis. And of course the danger to potential American victims – a fact which Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s men understood all too well.

That’s why they slaughtered poor James Foley. Not because he was a journalist , but because he was an American, indeed one of the Americans Obama was promising to defend in Iraq. Whether or not Obama forgot about US hostages in Syria – the US military’s attempt to rescue them at least proved they knew Foley was in Syria. But why is Isis in Syria? To overthrow the Assad regime, of course, which is what we too are trying to do, is it not?

What on earth made Obama believe he could tell Muslims about what a “just God” would or would not do? For a President who regrets the Bush war in Iraq, does he not realise that millions of Muslims in Iraq believe that “no just God” would stand for the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, nor for the tens of thousands of Iraqis massacred because of the lies of Bush and Blair? I was amazed to hear Obama announce that “one thing we [sic] can all agree on” was that “a group like Isil has no place in the 21st century”.

This is the same claptrap which that old scallywag Bill Clinton used when he addressed the Jordanian parliament after King Hussein’s unpopular peace treaty with Israel: that those Muslim groups who opposed it were “yesterday’s men”. For some reason, we really think that the Muslims of the Middle East need us to tell them their history, what is good for them, what is bad for them. Muslims who agreed that Foley’s murder was a revolting crime against humanity will have been insulted by being told by a Christian what a “just God” would approve or disapprove of. And those who supported such a crime will have been further convinced that America was a justified enemy of all Muslims.

As for the sinister British executioner “John”, I rather think he may have lived in Newcastle-upon-Tyne or Gateshead, because – having spent time on Tyneside – I thought he seemed to have just a hint of the Geordie accent. But “John” could have been French or Russian or Spanish. It’s not what went wrong in his mind, but what phenomena have afflicted so many other young men, in their thousands to do the same. How, for example, did an Australian apparently allow his young son to pose with the head of a decapitated Syrian soldier (a soldier serving, of course, in the army of the Assad regime we have all sworn to overthrow)?

And how have our security “services” responded to this? With the usual nonsense about how merely looking at such gruesome execution videotapes may be a terrorist crime. What is this tosh? Personally, I find it equally offensive to film – and show on television – the mass killing of human beings by US aircraft. But we do show them, don’t we? We are repeatedly invited to observe on our television screens the targeting of supposed Isis fighters and imagine their fate in the bubble of fire that consumes their pick-up trucks. Because we can’t see their faces doesn’t make this any less obscene. Of course, their activities are the opposite of what James Foley stood for. But were they all actually fighters? We haven’t yet heard that outrageous linguistic curse “collateral damage”, but I bet we will.

So are our security bosses going to make the viewing of US military target videos a terrorist crime? I doubt it – unless, of course, the film shows us massacring lots of civilians. Then they could claim – rightly – that such viewing might encourage “terrorism”. And we’d all have to give up covering the war.

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