“The Great Satan”. This was the term the Iranian leader Ruhollah Khomeini used in his speech on 5 November 1979 to describe the United States of America. The term was a response to continued US American policy, since the mid Twentieth Century, to interfere in Iranian politics and undermine its sovereignty. Also, it turns out to be an anagram of The United States. Just kidding.
In 1953 the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and British intelligent officials planned to overthrow the elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammad Mossadeq. Mossadeq was known for introducing a range of progressive social and political reforms to the country. He was championed by many Iranians as a leader of secular democracy, and introduced policies such as unemployment compensation, benefits pay for sick and injured factory workers, public development projects, and releasing peasants from slave labour on their landlords’ estates. He was also, importantly, known for being a democratically elected head of government.
But what got the US interested was his nationalization of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. In other words, to turn the company from a private, foreignly owned company to one owned and operated by the Iranian government. For those who don’t know, “Anglo” is a way of saying “of concerning the English”, as in Great Britain or the United Kingdom. They had a vested interest in Iranian oil, and, as an ally and leading world power whose strength relied on oil, so did the United States.
Mosaddegh’s hope in nationalizing the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company was to “meet [the government’s] entire budget and combat poverty, disease, and backwardness among [the Iranian people]” as well as “eliminate corruption and intrigue, by means of which the internal affairs of [Iran had] been influenced.”
The British wouldn’t have that. After failed negotiations, the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company pulled out its employees and ensured that Iranian oil would not be accepted on the world market. Iran could no longer sell oil, and in many cases they lacked the technicians to even produce it. What more, the British announced a de facto blockade, using its naval force in the Persian Gulf, and threatened legal action against purchasers of oil from the formerly British-owned oil company.
At first the United States did not back the British, which US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said were “destructive, and determined on a rule-or-ruin policy in Iran”. But all of that changed when Eisenhower came into power. This is the guy who, in his final address in January 1961, famously warned the United States and the World against the military-industrial complex, his term for the tie between the military – which protected industry interests home and abroad – and American industry – which produced and sold weapons to the military. This same guy teamed up with Winston Churchill to work together toward Mosaddegh’s removal, labelling him a socialist (he wasn’t), funnelling money to his opposition, and sending CIA operatives to pretend to be socialists and nationalists attacking Mossadegh’s opponents, to give the impression that Mossadegh was cracking down on dissent.
This culminated in the infamous coup d’état of August 1953. Mossadegh was overthrown, tried, and convicted, and kept in military prison for three years. Thereafter he was kept under house arrest until his death in 1967. Mosaddegh’s former associates, too, were tried and imprisoned – and tortured, sentenced to death and executed. Fazlollah Zahedi, a retired army general and former Minister of Interior under Mosaddegh, had been picked by the CIA to lead the coup and set up government. Needless to say, the Zahedi government soon struck deals with foreign oil companies, giving the lion’s share of Iranian oil to the United States and Great Britain.
Why have I told this boring story? Well, for one, if you found it boring then you are dangerously detached from reality. Not only did this coup lead to the 1979 Iranian Islamic Revolution, the overthrow of the Shah and the instalment of a theocratic government under Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini; it’s the poster child for how the United States conducts business around the world. And by “conducts business” I mean overthrows democratically elected leaders who get in the way of US American interests. Which happen, by the way, to coincide with oil and other industry interests.
But the second reason is that I want to call attention to the upcoming G20 Summit in Hamburg, my home. Stay tuned to find out what the Islamic revolution has to do with the G20.
Since the 1946 US-Mexico war, the United States has been involved in thirty-six different illegitimate interventions in the state affairs of sovereign nations, or former colonies attempting to fight for independence, often helping to overthrow democratically elected heads of state to back brutal, despotic dictators. The latest successful overthrow of a democratically elected leader was in 1991. Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, China, Panama, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Russia, North and South Korea, Syria, Iran, Guatemala, Lebanon, Chile, Afghanistan, Grenada, Kuwait, Iraq, Libya, and Palestine are all countries, colonies, and territories where the United States had a hand in regime change.
Not a single one of these countries attacked, or was even a direct threat to, the United States before our involvement. Which, let me once again repeat, was always illegitimate. And on that list, the only country to invade the United States was Mexico, after the US annexed Texas after its de facto secession from Mexico in 1836. For that the US also annexed California and New Mexico. What this means for many US Americans of Mexican descent, is that their families have been in the United States for longer than most European Americans, and unlike most European Americans, they’re not descended from immigrants to the country. Think about that the next time you listen to Trump.
I don’t mean to harp on the United States, who are not the only country with a history of aggressive imperialism, but it’s fun, so I’ll keep on doing it. I started with “The Great Satan” because that is how we are seen all over the world. As the embodiment of pure evil. Is that not a little extreme? Yes, of course it is, but extremism is one of the natural side effects of imperialism.
Of course, the United States still has many friends and allies, and as a US citizen abroad I often hear people who have never been to the country before talk about it as if it’s the greatest place on Earth. But nowhere is this sentiment more potent – for obvious reasons – than among the right wing conservatives in the United States. People who have never been to any other country, and who are willing to kill anyone who disagrees. Or anyone who has disagreeable, brown-coloured skin.
Our terrorists versus theirs is a topic that comes up almost not at all in the mainstream media. Since the conception of the United States there have been countless terrorist attacks, most of them perpetrated by the US military, state militias, or white settlers against American Indians. Later these militias and white settlers evolved into the Ku Klux Klan and other White Supremacist terrorist organisations, who attacked and killed blacks, natives, Jews, and other religious and ethnic minorities. Some terrorist attacks where by unionists, anarchists, and resistance groups of oppressed peoples, so, you know, not all of them were bad.
For our purposes, let’s focus on those terrorist attacks in the United States since 1990, for two reasons. First, the 90s is more or less the start of the era of Islamic terrorist attacks in the United States – which is the interest of this week’s Current Issue Analysis – and second because the 90s are probably within living memory of our average listener.
Since 1990 there have been a total of eighty-nine terrorist attacks or terrorism related activities, with a sharp increase in the last decade. Forty-one of them, just under half, can be attributed to Islamists or groups motivated by Islam, and they are responsible for 3,100 deaths in the United States. That’s a lot, especially to the “mere” 216 deaths by white, right-wing terrorists, sixteen deaths by anti-abortion terrorists, and the zero deaths by environmental terrorists in that same period.
But if we look at the period since the 11 September 2001 attack, fatalities resulting from attacks by far-right wing violent extremists is about even to those caused by radical Islamist violent extremists. It seems that while Islamists are more deadly in their attacks, right wing extremists are more active in terms of overall terrorist activities. This is why US law enforcement agencies “consider anti-government violent extremists, not radicalized Muslims, to be the most severe threat of political violence that they face.”
But that’s not how we should be looking at these numbers. Many of my liberal and leftist friends make the mistake of doing this, and I have to admit that I have made the mistake myself. It’s useful to help us understand what the threats are to the United States, there is no doubt about that. But the fact of the matter is that both right wing extremists and Islamists are threats to the United States, and the fact of one being higher or lower doesn’t somehow negate the other. This is the mistake that conservatives and liberals have made in talking about Islamist terrorism, and leftists are now doing it in the other direction.
What we need to ask is why are these terrorist incidents increasing? For the Islamists, I have already given the answer: United States intervention in Islamic countries, and especially the killing of innocent civilians. From 2004 to mid-2011, the New America Foundation concludes that 510 innocent civilians have been killed in drone strikes alone in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Libya. In the Afghanistan War, according to the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, of the roughly 92,000 people killed, 26,000 of them were civilians. In the Iraq War, US American and coalition forces have killed up to 134,100 civilians. In Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen these figures are lower, but nonetheless in the thousands.
Now, most people will respond to this by saying, “That’s what happens in war.” And of course there are those who argue that civilian casualties cannot be helped, because terrorists use them as human shields. But let’s set the second argument aside for the moment, and focus on the first.
The Iraq War, from 20 March 2003 to 14 March 2013, almost exactly ten years, had by far the most civilian casualties. As I said, up to 134,100. And it has since been shown, incontrovertibly, that it was an illegal war founded on fabricated evidence and lies. That means each and every casualty was literally the result of a war crime. It’s as if during a drug bust the cops would take out a whole gang, but then it turns out that the drugs were cigarettes and the gang was a family with one shady uncle.
And if you think about it, the reasons for being in Afghanistan were dubious. Saudi Arabian funded Saudi terrorists attack the United States, and the Saudi terrorist who orchestrated the attack, Osama Bin Laden, holes up in a remote region of Afghanistan. Or that’s what we thought, but actually he was likely in Pakistan for most of the time. So we invade the country, topple its government, install our own puppets, and spend the longest war in US American history trying to eliminate an organisation that was not actually there.
But actually, if you’re a good person, you shouldn’t need all of this talk of illegitimate wars to be outraged. There is simply no way that the 3,000 innocent civilians killed in the 11 September 2001 attacks justifies the killing of 26,000 innocent civilians in Afghanistan, much less the 134,100 innocent civilians in Afghanistan, which was also somehow linked to the attack.
This is all old news, so why am I bringing it up? Well, for starter, we wanted to explain why Islamic terrorism is on the rise, not only in the United States but all over the world. And here we have our answer. The US and Western countries kill innocent civilians, most of them Muslim. And if you listen to a lot of the rhetoric out of the United States and Europe, the reason for killing them is because they are Muslim. People actually actually call for the rounding up and killing of Muslims. Even if that is not the reason the United States and Europe actually do kill Muslims, this is exactly what they are doing. It is perfectly easy to see why some Muslims have become radialized, and why these radialized Muslims want to kill us.
So when we compare terrorist activities of different groups, we should be comparing the terrorist activities of Islamist extremists to those of the United States. Because theirs is the literal definition of terrorism by the US Code of Federal Regulations: “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” As Noam Chomsky likes to stress in almost ever single one of his talks, the United States of America is the number one single greatest perpetrator of terrorism in the world.
But that is not what I am here to tell you. I am here to tell you why right wing and white supremacist terrorism in the United States is in fact the other side of the coin of Islamist terrorism. Most people will say the rise in right wing terrorism is due to the rise in Islamist terrorism, but I don’t fully agree with the causal relationship here. And to make this argument I will have to talk about proximate and ultimate causes.
Proximate causes are the immediate reasons we give for why something happened, whereas the ultimate cause are the overall circumstances of its happening. For instance, the proximate cause of a flat tire is the sudden decrease of air pressure due to a hole. But the ultimate cause would be the gradually wearing away of the tire through continual use. Both “caused” the flat tire, but one caused the other.
As another example, many cite the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria by Gavrilo Princip. But as we all know the ultimate cause was the build-up of tensions between capitalist, imperialist nation states vying for economic, political, and military hegemony in Europe and their African and Asian colonies.
By the same token, the proximate cause of the rise in right wing terrorism is perhaps a combination of the rise of Islamic terrorism and the rise of the first black president to power in the United States. The proximate cause of Islamic terrorism, in turn, was the invasion of Muslim countries and killing of tens of thousands of innocent Muslim civilians.
But what’s the ultimate cause of all of these things? It’s called capitalism. If you were expecting me to say “US imperialism” – don’t get me wrong, that’s part of it – then I am sorry do disappoint you. The origin of all of these problems is capitalism, and to be more specific: patriarchal, neocolonial capitalism. The reason for US intervention in other countries has always been for US capitalist interests, and the reason that there are so many right wing extremist groups in the United States is due first and foremost to capitalism.
If you have even some problems with capitalism, then let me explain to you how the Iranian Revolution and the US interventions across the world and the innocent civilians killed and the right wing and Islamic terrorists and the G20 are related. In the United States, Capitalism drove slavery, which lead to white supremacy. Capitalism killed the unions and the New Deal, which led to poverty, the breeding ground of extremism. Capitalism pitted whites against blacks, hispanics, and foreigners, so that the latter could be payed less than the former. Capitalism undermined democracy, so that people with legitimate grievances can no longer express themselves politically. Capitalism destroyed US manufacturing, so that lost jobs were blamed on said blacks, hispanics, and foreigners. Capitalism produced the weapons with which we fight our wars. Capitalism made us dependent on oil, so that our “interests” are in the Middle East. Capitalism led to every single intervention in other countries, and capitalism is the reason people in the US and abroad are suffering.
Before you ask how I can blame a political-economic system for all of these things, I’m not. I am blaming the adherents of that system, plain and simple. Capitalism itself is merely the doctrine of exploiting people to create and accumulate capital, by any means necessary, but people have to actually act according to this doctrine. Hence capitalists readily exploit our tendency to distrust other people.
But more sinister than that, capitalists exploit our own sense that we are doing nothing wrong. Every single one of us grows up unable to see the full consequences of our actions, so we essentially grow up unable to see what our collective actions are doing. Global Warming is the best example of this, whereby we have finally become aware that our collective actions are destroying the planet. Capitalism, in the end, is merely the system describing the sum of our collective actions, and since all of us, individually, cannot see beyond the particular actions we take and deem to be right, we have to admit that even if our actions are benign, capitalism and capitalists can use them. This means that every other human endeavour has become subordinate to capitalism. White supremacy is just as much a tool of the capitalist system as Islamic terrorists, since both are ultimately used to gain political, economic, and social control of our lives.
These are bold claims but true: You cannot end the world’s problems by fighting right wing extremists or Islamic terrorists alone, nor for that matter by merely ending fossil fuel emissions and taxing the rich. You have to fight capitalism, which means we have to fight capitalists, both the capitalist corporations that control the economy and the state that has a monopoly on violence.
The G20 is will take place in Hamburg, Germany on the 7th and 8th of July, just a few weeks away from now. It will be an opportunity to show the world exactly what we think about capitalism and the nationalistic, imperialistic policies of the governments of the G20. More than ever this is a time to inform ourselves, organize, and take action. Because capitalism is The Great Satan.