By Seth J. Frantzman
The new Netflix war film War Machine is based on a book by Michael Hastings, the author whose expose brought down General Stanley McChrystal. The opening scenes of the movie have a narrative about insurgents. “When you’ve gone and invaded a place you probably shouldn’t have, you end up fighting against regular people in regular people clothes. These guys are what is called insurgents [cut to footage of the Taliban]. Basically they are just guys who picked up weapons because so would you if someone invaded your country. Funnily enough, insurgencies are next to impossible to defeat…so you have to convince the country you’ve invaded you are actually there to help.”
This narrative in the opening of the movie presents the simplistic, naive view of “insurgents” that many in the West have and which is reinforced by movies like this. The idea is to keep the audience ignorant and lead them not to ask questions and present “insurgents” as one-dimensional characters, a self-fulfilling fact on the ground, of colorfully clothed locals who just have to pick up rifles because they were “invaded.”
When Islamic State (ISIS) took over Mosul on June 10 2014 the english media called them “insurgents.” Let’s go back to the “War Machine” definition of these “insurgents.” They just picked up rifles because “so would you.” This is the narrative that was recently detailed in The New Yorker in an article about Souad Mekhennet’s ‘I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad.’ The article notes:
Amid bantering with jihadists about second wives over tea in a Lebanese refugee camp and enduring a Taliban militant who jokes about kidnapping her during an interview, Mekhennet asks her subjects about the events that led them to extremism. Sunni men in Iraq tell her about U.S.-backed Shiite militias that torture and kill with impunity; Algerians describe poverty and government distrust that make Al Qaeda an attractive option. Several men talk about the U.S. occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. Another man, in Pakistan, says he was radicalized because of U.S. drones that killed his loved ones—people who he says were innocent. One Moroccan-German woman whom Mekhennet investigates was helped by an imam while going through a rough period, and then began moving in radical circles. “No one cares about Muslim lives,” one Tunisian man tells her, and she encounters others who believe that they are fulfilling their religious duties by going to fight for oppressed Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq and, later, Syria. The war zones are places where they can take tangible actions to protect their pride in their faith—unlike their own homes, where they feel increasingly powerless.
Here again the “insurgents” and Jihadists are presented as “powerless” victims of invasion. But let’s remember what these insurgents really do. Remember when the Taliban attacked a school in Pakistan, murdering 141 in 2014? Remember in 2017 when “insurgents” bombed a Shia mosque? Was this because the US invaded Afghanistan? They shoot girls going to school because “that’s what you would do”? When you blow up minorities, like Shia, is it because you are “powerless” or because you are powerful? During the easter bombing in 2016 in Pakistan, was that because Pakistani Christians invaded Afghanistan, or because it was the powerful Taliban murdering the innocent and weak minorities? When Coptic Christians were murdered on a bus in Egypt near Minya, is that because they are powerless or powerful? When Islamists murdered 152 at Garissa college in Kenya, who was powerless, the men with the AK-47s gunning down unarmed students or the students? When the Taliban “insurgent” Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas, is that because they had been invaded? Wait, a sec, that came BEFORE the US invasion. When the Al Qaeda “insurgents” killed Ahmed Shah Massoud, wasn’t he actually the insurgent, murdered by the powerful Taliban and Al Qaeda?
These nuances and questions are rarely asked because if they were then the one dimensional “insurgents” and the impossibility to “defeat” them is caused into question. Perhaps the Taliban are not powerless “insurgents” but rather the powerful, intolerant, male chauvinist, Islamist far right extremist dictators of Afghanistan who unleashed terror against powerless minorities and women and real insurgents such as Massoud?
Let’s remember who are the members of ISIS? Men who signed up, just guys “like us” who went to fight the “invasion”? Actually they were 50,000 foreign volunteers, at least 5,000 of them from Europe, who were never invaded, they did the invading. ISIS invaded Iraq, ISIS invaded Mosul and ISIS conquered the indigenous Yazidi villages. When Nadia Murad, the Yazidi woman, was sold into slavery and gang raped, were the “insurgents” who were raping her the “powerless” ones or maybe they were the genociding Nazis, and it was Yazidis who are the powerless ones who country was invaded. ISIS sold more than 5,000 women into slavery. Indigenous women from Iraq. ISIS slavers came from abroad. So why is ISIS the powerless insurgents and not Yazidis? Why aren’t Yazidis seen as the victims? Why doesn’t War Machine see Afghans as victims of the Taliban rather than seeing the Taliban as “like us”? Isn’t Massoud more like us than the Taliban? Aren’t Kurdish peshmerga defending their homeland against invading ISIS more like us, than ISIS.
But in the West, the idea is to always whitewash the reality. They don’t want to ask who are truly powerless in Afghanistan or Egypt, or Iraq and Pakistan. They always want to present the powerful far right Islamist Jihadist haters as the “powerless” and the people they murder as “invaders.” But Shia didn’t invade Afghanistan, they are victims of Taliban invaders. The Taliban blew up the Bamiyan Buddha, Buddhists didn’t harm Taliban. ISIS raped and genocided Yazidis, Yazidis didn’t go to Europe and kill 5,000 Europeans, rather 5,000 EU citizens came to Iraq and killed them. ISIS is a far right colonizing genociding force and the Taliban is a genocidal far right hate inspired murderous group. It is not made up of “people like us.” The people like us are the victims. The Hazzara Shia are like us, not Mullah Mohammed Omar. Yazidis are victims and like us, not Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Yet Western narratives always want to make Bin Laden humanized. Bin Laden is a wealthy white privileged male privileged colonizer and murderer who killed indigenous Afghans like Ahmed Shah Massoud. Massoud was defending his people from those like Bin Laden and defending Afghanistan from the Taliban who were supported by the Pakistani intelligence services.
Don’t get confused by the Western racist naive approach that always presents Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan or other countries as one dimensional societies. “We invaded them and they became insurgents,” is a simplistic narrative and is often based on racism and Orientalism that sees foreigners as exotic and simplistic, often child like, without any kind of their own agenda. The fact is that ISIS is not child like, it has a complex genocidal worldview and its members are more likely to be middle class foreign volunteers than poor people in the countries that ISIS invades. Al-Shabab and Boko Haram are not victims, they are victimizers murdering other local people. They aren’t resisting “invasion” by killing students or kidnapping and raping 14 year old girls. The groups trading in sex slaves are not “like us,” they are nothing like us. And they aren’t resisting invasion, they are doing the raping and invading.