Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Why Everyone Who Cares about Africa Should Worry about Obama's Militarization of the Continent

Today's article in The Guardian about the US deployment of drones in Niger is the umpteenth bit of evidence that US policy toward Africa is becoming heavily militarized. Sometimes I try to make the argument that this gun-first policy is dangerous and short-sighted. Sometimes I argue that it's bound to leave us poorer and less influential--especially compared to China. But who am I fooling? What I really hate about the policy is that it kills people.

The statement below, which I just came across, seems to me as powerful as any I've seen of the sheer inhumanity of our policies, as they are experienced by ordinary people in the "ungoverned spaces" of the Arab world. (It was published by those bomb-throwing radicals at the Brookings Institution, in case you need a little centrist credibility sugar to take along with the medicine.) Any one who cares about Africa should be worried that we're about to do to it what we have been doing there.

By Akbar Ahmed
The Thistle and the Drone: The United States, Islam, and the War on Terror
As the debate about the drone and the war on terror in America emerges, these are the voices that are not heard—those of the victims and the targeted communities. They are lost in the din of the war on terror and the 24 hour media cycle in the United States. The debate is in fact no debate at all: only one position, that of America, is represented. The arguments swirl around the precision of drone technology, keeping American boots off the ground, and the legality of the strikes. Few are concerned with the moral implications of the drone’s use and the social and historical reasons why certain members of the targeted communities have resorted to violence, being merely cast aside as “Islamic terrorists,” “Islamists,” or “jihadists.”
My latest study . . . The Thistle and the Drone explains an important correlation: the United States uses drones almost exclusively against Muslim tribes with strong codes of honor and revenge living on the borders between nations—the tribes on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Yemen, Somalia, the southern Philippines, Turkey, and Mali. For these communities, the deadly drone is a symbol for America’s war on terror. It is constantly hovering above unseen, operated by Americans on the other side of the world, and with the ability to strike at will. ...
Many of these tribal communities had been fighting for decades in order to defend their identity, culture, and independence in the chaotic and often brutal modern states created after the departure of the European colonial powers. After the tragic events of 9/11, it was to the “ungoverned spaces” of these peripheral communities that the United States looked to in their hunt for al Qaeda. Many of their central governments found it convenient to ally themselves with the United States and become integrated in the globalized financial, military, information, and communication networks. The United States, dominated by ideas of a “clash of civilizations” between the West and Islam, were quick to ascribe the retaliatory actions of the tribes as the work of al Qaeda or al Qaeda-linked militants as part of a “global jihad.” Once the specter of al Qaeda was invoked, the United States’ was fully committed to bolstering the military capabilities of its allies. U.S. involvement, especially the use of the drone, proved to exacerbate and expand these conflicts, each with their own social and historical context. The war on terror had thus become a global war on tribal Islam.
Amidst the anarchic violence, it is, however, the innocent men, women, and children of the periphery who suffer the most—children in a school, poverty-ridden families standing in line for food, or congregations at worship in a house of prayer. These communities are facing a massive humanitarian crisis yet their plight goes unrecognized under the din of America’s war on terror and the heavy fog of war. Pounded by drones and military strikes one day, suicide bombers the next, the people of the periphery cry out, “Everyday is like 9/11 for us.”

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