Who’s to blame for barbarism of war?

Kua Kia Soong

October 18, 2014

The Western media portray the brutality of the IS killings in such a way that the Western Coalition appears to be beyond such atrocities.”

The gruesome beheadings committed by Islamic State (IS) must be condemned by all peace-loving people, especially when their victims are journalists and aid workers doing the noble and important work of reporting the facts of war and providing humanitarian assistance to those displaced and injured. Nothing can ever justify such brutal killing of civilians and children. Nevertheless, beheadings have always been just another aspect of the barbarism of war throughout history.

One of the more serious consequences of this barbaric form of killing has been the opportunity this has given the US and its allies to once again intervene militarily in Iraq and Syria despite their failed interventions elsewhere in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. The vital question to ask is whether there is any other alternative besides the military solution by the US and their Western coalition in the new Iraq War 3.0?

The Western media portray the brutality of the IS killings in such a way that the Western Coalition appears to be beyond such atrocities. In fact, the Free Syrian Army—the so-called moderate part of the Syrian rebels, whom the US trains and arms—has recently beheaded six captives. Execution through beheading is a fact of life in Saudi Arabia, the US’ staunchest ally in the region. In the first seven months of 2014, the Saudi government beheaded 41 victims. Neither the US government nor any of its European allies has condemned these equally barbaric beheadings.

The simple fact is that beheading has a global gruesome history going back hundreds of years and one that involves cruel Caucasians as well as despotic Orientals. In the sixteenth century, an English king had two of his six wives beheaded. During the French Revolution in the eighteenth century, numerous members of the aristocracy were beheaded, albeit with the guillotine, an invention aimed at making beheading more humane. The Germans may lack a history of beheading people, unlike their Japanese allies during the last war, but the Nazis demonstrated extreme barbarism in their deliberate murder of six million Jews in gas chambers during the Second World War.

Clearly, beheadings cannot be relegated to only the pre-World War II dark ages. In our own country during the Emergency (1948-60), pictures have emerged of British Marines posing while holding heads of “Communist sympathisers”. These shocking images can be seen in my book, A People’s History of Malaya and, of course. on Google search.

War merchants making a killing

When the US uses Hellfire missiles fired from drones to kill and dismember people, is it less brutal than beheading a person with a sword? President Barack Obama knew that calling a halt to the US’ punishing aerial campaign would have spared the lives of the hostages but he and his advisors chose the path that they knew would result in the deaths of US hostages. And each time a hostage was brutally murdered, the White House used it to justify a new US military intervention in Iraq and Syria.

The barbaric beheadings, shocking as they were, actually followed a series of US aerial attacks using US Navy McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet fighters on IS ground forces inside Iraq on August 8 that killed scores of Islamic fighters as well as civilians. IS executed James Foley 12 days later.

Saudi Arabia is the staunchest ally of the United States in the Middle East as well as one of its best customers in multi-billion arms deals. Many of these arms have ended up in the hands of IS. This is the sick reality of the shadowy world inside the global arms trade.

It is pointless for the US and the Western coalition to pretend that IS is just another part of this so-called “Axis of Evil”. Arabs and Muslims, notably Sunnis, have grown bitterly resentful of the West after decades of interference and domination of their territories. The repression and suffering of the Palestinians by the Israelis with Western connivance has been going on for decades. But it is the invasion of Iraq by the West in 2003 under the guise of having found weapons of mass destruction that set off a series of military interventions in Iraq, then Libya and Syria. Leading to the rise of IS today. The West, especially Bush and Blair, should apologize for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which has resulted in an estimated one million Iraqi deaths and forced 4 million to flee their homes.

This bitter memory and experience have driven young Arabs toward extremism. Many of the youth in the Middle East suffer from poverty, inadequate education and lack of opportunities. It is not surprising that they end up in jihadist movements. Every Hellfire missile fired by remote-controlled armed drones only helps IS recruit more jihadists, leading to an endless cycle of war and violence.

The biggest winners are of course the war merchants peddling their weapons of war. They thrive by perpetuating aggressive militarism on all sides.

Malaysia’s role

If we want to create a just and peaceful world, we must try to understand the roots of the conflict through exploring non-violent alternatives. As Malaysia prepares to take its seat in the Security Council, its first duty should be to push for political, not military means, to pressure the US and the other coalition governments to adopt a diplomatic solution. The US and the Western coalition have been undermining the UN, including by-passing the Security Council in these military adventures, especially in their invasion of Iraq in 2003.

There should be an immediate halt to air strikes and an arms embargo on all sides. All efforts and support must go toward rebuilding a non-sectarian Iraq and ensuring that desperately-needed humanitarian aid gets through to Syria. Renewed international efforts, brokered by the UN and including all the parties, especially Russia and Iran, should be made to end the war in Syria.

Malaysia has a role within the Security Council to call for the outlawing of foreign military interference and enhancing UN inspection and peacekeeping forces; converting military industries to civilian production; fighting poverty and illiteracy in the world; diverting resources from military purposes to social services, providing decent living conditions, appropriate healthcare and quality education for all. Ultimately, a culture of peace can only be built upon the foundation of peaceful and just societies.

Kua Kia Soong is SUARAM Adviser