aNewDomain commentary — Drawing comparisons to the Nazi Holocaust, corporate media (i.e., “mainstream”) pundits like New York Times columnist Roger Cohen agree with President Obama’s argument that ISIS represents an existential threat to what they euphemistically call “American strategic interests in the Middle East” — oil, gas, pipelines, Israel, our pet dictators and autocrats — and to humanity. And humanism.
“Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, has created a cult of violence that makes the elimination of all nonbelievers the cornerstone of a movement whose avowed objective is a restored Islamic caliphate but whose raison d’être is the slaughter itself,” Cohen writes.
Citing Aushwitz survivor Primo Levi’s definition of the Germans’ behavior in the death camps as “counter-human,” Cohen concludes of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria: “Presented with the counter-human, the human must fight back.”
When someone claims that someone else acts violently without cause — “senselessly,” “cowardly,” as its own “raison d’être — my bullshit detector goes off.
Like a schizophrenic obeying voices in his head, violence always has a cause, even if it’s something we can’t relate to personally. When violence is carried out on a large scale, as in Rwanda during the genocide there, or in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II or today in the regions controlled by ISIS, the fact that so many perpetrators are directly involved, indirectly supporting, or tacitly consenting requires us to conclude that the motivation is not random bat-shit craziness, but politics, culture, religion, or some blend of the three.
More to the point, self-examination is called for before declaring anyone, even the (to Western eyes) terrifying prospect of ceding significant parts of the Middle East to their rule.
If ISIS is counting corpses for which they bear responsibility, they’re not tweeting out the numbers. Based on media accounts of massacres carried out by ISIS in its advance through Iraq, however, it’s a fair guess that they’ve killed in the low tens of thousands of people since the group was created in 2012, including opposition fighters and government troops killed in battle.
I don’t need to say that this is terrible. That is obvious. (Though it doesn’t seem to stop TV commentators, who traffic in the Big Duh.)
What is not obvious to Americans immersed in the propaganda mill for which Cohen toils is that the United States has killed many more people, in the Middle East and South Asia, than ISIS. Between America’s drone war against Pakistan and Yemen, and the ongoing wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, and those effectively killed by the U.S. in wars that would not have occurred without American intervention in Libya, ISIS’ brutality pales in comparison.
Dead is dead. It doesn’t matter if it happens at the hands of a knife across the throat or a Hellfire missile.
There’s also a credible argument that the U.S. is responsible for ISIS’ murders, since the group was armed and funded indirectly by American intelligence through its Gulf State allies.
I agree with Cohen: there is no alternative but to fight the inhuman brutality we’re seeing ISIS fighters carry out in Iraq and Syria. Living here in the United States, however, we’re in a far stronger position to fight the viciousness of our own government, which is on an even greater scale.
Based in New York, Ted Rall is a nationally syndicated cartoonist, award-winning essayist and conflict correspondent. He also is senior commentator for aNewDomain. A Pulitzer Prize finalist, Ted is the author of several books, including, most recently, After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back as Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan. Check out his blog at Rall.com, follow him @TedRall and check out his Google+ page here.