Old-fashioned Western hypocrisy

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He stabbed the first prisoner, leaving him to die in agony from the wound, shot the second in the stomach so he could watch him die as well, and the third he set on fire with a phosphorous grenade so he could watch him burn to death.

This was not the work of a sadistic Islamic State (ISIS) executioner, but of a British officer in Kenya in the 1950s. A sergeant who protested about the officer’s conduct was sent off for psychiatric treatment. The war against the Mau Mau rebels was accompanied by incredible violence and brutality with prisoners routinely tortured and killed. Men were castrated, both men and women were raped and the most brutal beatings were inflicted.

The grim catalogue of criminality was perpetrated under the premierships of Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden and Harold Macmillan, all “decent” members of the British ruling class who turned a blind eye to the most fearful atrocities. As the attorney general in Kenya put it, “If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly.”

This does not in any way excuse the terrible crimes committed by ISIS and similar organisations, but rather shows that Western imperialism has itself been guilty of appalling atrocities. The horror that Western politicians display at the crimes committed by the Islamists is no more than good old-fashioned hypocrisy, intended to enlist public opinion in support of Western foreign policy.

If ISIS was allied with the West and its objectives were congruent with those of the US we can be certain its atrocities would be played down. Saddam Hussein, the Hitler of the Middle East according to former US Secretary of State Donald Rumsfeld, whose chemical weapons were a terrible threat to humanity in 2003, had in the 1980s been assisted by the US in using those same weapons against Iran. Even when he used them against the Kurds, the Americans did not end their support for their ally.

Even more telling, of course, is the fact that the West has on many occasions allied with the very kind of Islamist movements that it is condemning today as evil beyond belief. When they were allies, a convenient blind eye was turned to the massacre of prisoners, mass beheadings and the other crimes.

One of the Americans’ favourite mujahedeen leaders in the fight against the Russians in Afghanistan was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who first made a reputation for himself by throwing acid in the faces of unveiled women, something that was well-known to the CIA at the time. This did not prevent him becoming the recipient of massive US aid in the war against the Soviet Union.

The West was, of course, absolutely unmoved by the torture and execution of Russian prisoners. One of the worst post-1945 atrocities was the massacre that accompanied the 1965 military coup in Indonesia. In parts of the country a jihad was preached against the Communists, a mass party at the time. Over half a million men, women and children were slaughtered in a terrible wave of violence. Whole families were hacked to death for nothing more than left wing sympathies.

A leading role was played by the Islamists, although to be fair they were joined by Catholics and Hindus. Both the CIA and MI6 encouraged the coup; indeed the CIA actually gave General Suharto a list of 5,000 people it absolutely wanted dead. As the British ambassador told the Labour government back in London, “a little shooting in Indonesia” was “an essential preliminary to effective change”. One of the worst massacres in modern times has almost completely disappeared from the record because it was carried out by the West’s ally.

There is, apparently, something particularly brutal about people being killed with edged weapons. It is barbaric, medieval. This cultural squeamishness is particularly hypocritical when we see that one of this year’s Oscar contenders was a film, American Sniper, celebrating the exploits of a US soldier who had 160 confirmed kills (he claimed 255) — all people shot dead from a safe distance. Not to be outdone, the Sun newspaper celebrated on its front page the exploits of a British Marine who had killed 173 people. There are numerous books celebrating the sniper.

Unlike the Islamists, of course, the West kills by civilised methods. Sanctions against Iraq, for example, were responsible for the death of some half a million children. When this was put to former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, that the sanctions had killed more children than the bombing of Hiroshima, she infamously replied that this was “a price worth paying”. Smart bombs and drones can blow men, women and children to pieces without the killers getting any blood on their hands. And when soldiers commit atrocities or interrogators carry out torture, this can be covered up at best or minimised at worst.

The two most important differences between the atrocities committed by the West and those committed by the Islamists are that the West’s are on a far greater scale and that the West does its best to cover its atrocities up whereas the Islamists celebrate them.