"Beware the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind...And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded with patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader, and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar."
“You see, I’ve built up capital…and now I intend to spend it.”
George W Bush
The siege of Falluja has begun with the all-too-familiar drumbeat from the establishment press, only the language has been slightly modified to accommodate the new situation on the ground. The overall purpose remains the same. The press is expected to reinforce the rationale for conflict by invoking carefully crafted euphemisms minted by public relations teams working in synch with the Pentagon. Keep that in mind when sound-bytes like “terrorist safe house” or “insurgent stronghold” appear in the morning paper. They are the precursors of aggression. The American public is more apt to accept the “necessity” of using overwhelming force when it is concealed behind catchy buzzwords or war mongering jargon. This is how a murderous attack on a civilian population is sold as a “humanitarian intervention” or, even worse, as liberation.
Are there WMD’s in Falluja? Is Saddam holed up in Falluja? Do the people of Falluja represent a clear and present danger to the national security of the US or a tangible threat to its people?
Then what possible excuse is there to relentlessly bomb the city, cut off food and water, ban access to the city’s only hospital, fire on ambulances, precipitate a mass exodus of 300,000 people, and wreak death and havoc on an entire urban population. The siege is simply a muscle-flexing exercise intended to send a message to Iraqi liberation movement that Washington will not be deterred from subjugating the entire country. The message is clear; resist and you will die.
An article by Ghali Hassan states that, “The US took over the main hospital and converted it to a military hospital. In other words, the people of Fallujah no longer have a hospital to treat injured men, women and children. The US Occupation forces are currently preventing men of age 14-60 years from leaving the city… US forces are also preventing journalists from entering the city to report on the ongoing massacre of innocent civilians…The BBC reports that the US strikes on the centre of Fallujah have completely destroyed the Nazzal Emergency Hospital in the centre of the city;” another, in a long list of war crimes.
Condemnation of the impending conflict has been widespread. Global justice activist and author Arundhati Roy urged people to “become the Iraqi resistance”. She said activists and resistance movements “need to understand that Iraq is engaging in the frontlines of empire and we have to throw our weight behind the Iraqi resistance”.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan also added his voice to the fray, expressing his anxiety over the military build up around Falluja: “I wish to express to you my particular concern about the safety and protection of civilians. Fighting is likely to take place mostly in densely populated urban areas, with an obvious risk of civilian casualties.”
Muslim clerics, members of the new Iraqi Council and Muqtada al Sadr have all criticized the siege, most of them threatening to withdraw support for the upcoming elections if the Marines take the city by force. Prominent Saudi religious scholars have “called on Iraqis to support fighters battling US led forces, saying fighting the presence of foreign troops is a duty and a right.” (Al Jazeera TV).
“In an open letter addressed to the Iraqi people and posted on the internet on Saturday, 26 Saudi scholars and religious preachers stressed that armed attacks launched by Iraqi groups on US troops and their allies in Iraq were “legitimate” resistance… Fighting the occupiers is a duty for all those who are able.” (Al Jazeera TV).
All of these pleas, plus the overwhelming disapproval of the international community, have been callously dismissed by the Bush Administration. The massive assault on Falluja is being used to set an example to people of the entire region. As neo conservative spokesman Frank Gaffney recently opined, the goal is the ‘’reduction in detail (destruction) of Fallujah and other safe havens utilised by freedom’s enemies in Iraq’’. There’s no chance that the operation will be deterred by cautionary appeals from either individuals or the world body.
Falluja has taken on a meaning that far exceeds whatever transpires in the battle. It has become an Iraqi Alamo; the definitive symbol of Muslim resistance to the Bush onslaught. The significance of the invasion is greatly enhanced by already knowing the final outcome. The world’s only superpower will crush the resistance, destroying anything in its path and laying large swaths of the city to waste; that much is certain. This understanding increases the stature of those who are bravely fighting within the city; fighting for their country, homes and families against the most prodigious military machine ever assembled. It is David against Goliath, only David has no sling.
Many dominoes had to fall before the world’s attention became focused on this moderately populated enclave east of Baghdad. The Congress had to be coerced to surrender their war-making authority to the President. The anti war movement had to be swept away like yesterday’s news. Even the UN was casually ignored as the impotent, prevaricating “debating society” it is; abstaining from its traditional role of facilitating American hostilities. This all paved the way for the ultimate confrontation in Falluja, the first roadblock for the Bush tsunami. Townsfolk, ex-military and foreign fighters will have to assume the task that should have been the work of institutions and massive civil disobedience. We all share some responsibility in the violence that is now inevitable.
As always, the media has draped itself in the stars and stripes preparing for the carnage. The coverage is usually little more than provocative anecdotes about suspected terrorists that may or may not be in Falluja at all. Why should it matter to the media? Reporters aren’t social workers. Their job is simply to build the case for aggression by inventing demons that have to be vanquished by the crusading American forces.
This explains why the words hardly leave Rumsfeld’s mouth before they are transmitted verbatim across all the major news outlets as the unvarnished truth. If Rumsfeld says that Abu Musab al Zarqawi is in Falluja; then Zarqawi is in Falluja, period. (al Zarqawi has provided the convenient pretext for the siege) Independent media who dare to veer from this corporate narrative are either exiled from Iraq (as was the case with Al Jazeera TV) or car bombed in Baghdad like Al Arabia news was just last week. There is only room for one story line of events taking place in Iraq, and that is the tale of selfless, Christian forces bringing democracy to the unwashed Muslim masses. This accounting is faithfully conveyed on TV’s in the US on a daily basis. America’s benevolence is never seriously in doubt.
Ironically, Reuters is reporting that rebel leaders of the Falluja Mujahideen Shura (council) composed of insurgent leaders, tribal chiefs and Sunni Muslim clerics are encouraging journalists to “embed” with them during the confrontation. “All media will be allowed into Falluja to witness the crusade against Islam and see the real face of America. U.S. media will not be excluded.” This offer is not expected to influence the predictable “one-sided” reporting from the war zone nor is it clear whether it will affect the anticipated “news blackout”.
As the battle of Falluja unfolds we shouldn’t expect to see the suffering of the Iraqi people or the brutality of their oppressors. Those channels of information will be conscientiously foreclosed and replaced with “embedded” reporters whose job is to detail the valiant struggle of US marines subduing the native population. When the media merges with the military even a bloodbath can look like heroism.
Arundhati Roy was right; Falluja is the “frontlines of empire” and our sympathies should be with its victims.