Things seemed crazy in the US and Canada last week, with a shooting on normally tranquil Parliament Hill in Ottawa and a grisly hatchet attack on two New York City policemen.
Add in an American doctor who returned to the big city from Ebola-stricken West Africa and proceeded to run around all over town – from the Bronx to the west Village to a bowling alley in Brooklyn – just as he was coming down with the dreaded sickness. New Yorkers are a pretty tough bunch, so panic was mild, but in this crowded city, it was still a big scare.
Because of this alarm, imposing quarantine on arrivals from disease-ridden West Africa seemed to make more and more sense. The governors of New York and New Jersey just called for such a sensible safety procedure. The Obama administration has opposed quarantines, likely for fear of angering black voters.
Promoting national hysteria over ISIS infiltration of the US – a lurid fantasy of the low-IQ, rural right wing – while allowing people who might have Ebola to fly in, as the good doctor in New York City, and take taxis and subways, does not appear to make sense.
Selling fear is useful politics; selling prevention is not.
The North American gun attacks were blamed on “Islamic terrorists” driven to a murderous frenzy ignited by inflammatory Muslim war calls on the internet. In fact, both cases involved mentally ill petty criminals, not some nefarious Mideast plot.
Unfortunately, both crimes are being seized upon by the hard right, Islam-haters and neocons in both nations to promote calls for more security surveillance of the public, more curbs on freedom of speech, and tighter government controls of the internet – one of the last venues of free expression in our society where media is increasingly “guided” by the state or special interest groups.
By contrast, after a school shooting by a demented Christian youth in the US state of Washington last Friday there were no claims that Christianity was somehow to blame for the crime.
We always return to the big lie promoted by the Bush administration after 9/11: Muslims hate us because of our wonderful values, and because Islam is a murderous faith, – not because westerners continue to colonize and exploit parts of the Mideast.
Meanwhile, events in the Mideast have been just as crazy. The Kurdish town of Kobani (ain-al-Arab) has become, at least for the media, a sort of anti-ISIS Stalingrad. This not so important town on Turkey’s border is being savagely bombed by US airpower, including B-1B heavy bombers, recalling the use of US B-52 heavy bombers against Taliban positions in Afghanistan. What the US is bombing is unclear. Why would ISIS, a lightly-armed guerilla force, sit still and make itself an ideal target for US airpower. Is the US too fixated on Kobani (a leading brand of American yogurt has the same name) while ISIS units are closing in around Baghdad?
At the same time, Washington is arm-twisting Turkey, a key NATO ally, into attacking ISIS in Syria. ISIS is now fighting against anti-ISIS Kurdish militia’s known as YPG. But YPG is tied to the hard-line Kurdish PKK guerilla movement, which is branded a terrorist group by Turkey and the US. Turkey has battled PKK for decades.
I covered the Turkish-PKK war in Eastern Anatolia (or Kurdistan) in the 1990’s. By then, some 40,000 had already died in this brutal war. The PKK fighters were a very tough, militarily efficient force. Turkey’s president, Recep Erdogan, has been trying to make peace with the Kurds, who make up about 20% of Turkey’s population. He appeared close to a lasting deal until the little war between ISIS and the US upset the Mideast apple cart.
Now, the explosive mess in Syria and Iraq threatens to set ablaze the entire Kurdish question that has bedeviled Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran, and the Armenians since the 1900’s. Hasty Western military intervention against ISIS is sure to pour gasoline on the fires of Greater Kurdistan.
Which brings me to the final point here: taking major strategic decisions in response to some sort of outrage – be it bombings, beheading, gassings, axe murderers – whose outcomes are unclear and likely hazardous is always unwise and likely to be soon regretted.
Reprinted with author's permission.