Truth about our covert alliances shatters the West’s cosy moral universe, says Matthew Carr
Western governments like to depict terrorism as a uniquely moral evil which democratic states do not engage in. But history is filled with instances in which even democratic governments have sanctioned or perpetrated acts of violence that would ordinarily be described as ‘terrorist’, from bombings and assassinations to black ops and ‘dirty wars’.
Consider the latest report by US journalist Seymour Hersh on the Bush administration’s secret war inside Iran. According to Hersh in the New Yorker, US Special Forces are supporting a number of violent organisations in Iran, including a Sunni fundamentalist group called the Jundallah whose followers, according to one US academic, “attended the same madrassas as the Taliban and Pakistani extremists”.
These revelations follow Britain’s recent removal of the National Resistance Council of
Iran from its list of proscribed terrorist organisations. The Resistance Council is generally considered a front for the Mujahideen e-Khalq (MEK), an enigmatic Marxist-Islamist group based in Iraq which carried out dozens of attacks on Iran over the years with the support of Saddam.
As well as bombings and assassinations of Iranian state officials, the MEK is accused of killing Americans, and aiding Saddam’s 1991 repression of the Kurds and Shia. In the build-up to the Iraq war these activities were cited by the Bush administration as evidence of Saddam Hussein’s supposed sponsorship of ‘international terrorism’. Today the MEK appears to have become a US asset in a new war against Iran.
Covert operations are generally carried out by unaccountable sectors within the state machinery that conduct their activities beneath a veneer of ‘plausible deniability’. Such operations owe more to Machiavelli than they do to Mother Teresa and they tend to make use of whatever groups are available to inflict maximum carnage on their opponents. These alliances can also bite back viciously on their sponsors with occasionally devastating consequences. Both the 1993 World Trade Centre bombings and the 9/11 attacks were carried out by jihadist cells connected to the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan.
How many of those who now warn of the dangers of ‘Islamofascism’ recall the days when the CIA and its Pakistani and Saudi surrogates secretly funded the reactionary Islamic fundamentalist groups that ultimately spawned al-Qaeda? The largest covert operation in US history was carried out, in the words of one of its architects, “to make Russia bleed”. Russia did bleed and so did Afghanistan. The Bush administration’s new allies in Iran are clearly making other people bleed and they may yet produce equally unwelcome consequences for those who sponsor them.
We should not be surprised by these alliances. No matter how much governments may abhor terrorism in public, the covert machinery of the modern state tends to define its allies in terms of their enemies, rather than their methods.
For decades, Israeli propaganda routinely reviled Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organisation as a bloodthirsty terrorist gang comparable to the Nazis. In the last two years, both Israel and the US have armed Fatah in order to undermine Hamas, which has now taken the place of the PLO in the pantheon of evil.
Such twists and turns are not unique to Western states, but the West has been remarkably effective in presenting ‘terrorism’ as a kind of morality play of good vs evil. Such presentations reinforce the false sense of innocence that is intrinsic to the ‘War on Terror’, with its fairytale narratives of monstrous enemies who hate us because of our intrinsic goodness.
Beyond this cosy moral universe lies a less appealing picture, in which both states and the ‘terrorist organisations’ they fight act in accordance with the bleakest realpolitik, not morality. If we want to understand better the savage times we live in, we should talk less about ‘values’ and take a more honest look at the hidden sewers underlying our international system, where Special Forces and the Jundallah find common cause.