Islamophobia, and other ways to lose a war
The news that foreign-born Muslims are viewed with suspicion by the Security Intelligence Service, the agency charged with assessing would-be recruits to the military, has prompted a variety of responses. Labour Party spokesman Phil Goff and National Party pollster and blogger David Farrar have both called the rejection of Jawad stupid, but at right-wing blogs many commenters have insisted that Muslims should have no place in New Zealand's public service, let alone its defence forces. For these commenters, people like Warda Jawad can serve no conceivable purpose in the forces, and might even endanger the safety of the Kiwi troops stationed in Iraq. The Islamophobes at David Farrar's Kiwiblog condemned their host for cowardice in the face of the enemy.
The negative reactions to Jawad show how little conservative New Zealanders have learned from the failure of the West's recent military adventures in the Middle East.
In 2001 and 2003 Western armies occupied Afghanistan and Iraq, and guerrilla campaigns against their presence began. Armies of occupation faced with an insurgencies always need local collaborators and high-quality intelligence, but it’s often very difficult for them to get these things, because of the vacuum that tends to exist between occupier and the occupied.
As American casualties rose, though, local commanders became desperate, and began to improvise their own counter-insurgency campaigns. Packer shows the Americans flicking through old manuals of counter-insurgency produced by the British, and trying some of the same tactics - propaganda, fraternisation, cooption, intelligence gathering, anthropological surveys - that helped the British subdue the armed uprisings that strew the history of their empire. The more daring American commanders began to live amongst Iraqis, to learn Arabic, and to cultivate local tribal and sectarian networks. Sometimes they were able to take advantage of old divisions and disputes, as Iraqis hostile to the insurgency because of blood or theology passed on news about planned attacks or drew the locations of ammunition dumps and training bases on maps.
The British Empire lasted as long as it did largely because its administrators were so skilled at coopting local leaders and creating intelligence networks. As Tony Ballantyne shows in his book Webs of Empire, the British ran thousands of spies and won many local factions to their campaigns during their nineteenth century conquests of India and Aotearoa. In 1863, when he was planning his invasion of the Waikato Kingdom, Governor George Grey was opening letter after letter from chiefs opposed to the Waikato. Iwi hoping for booty or wanting to continue old wars volunteered to fight under the Union Jack. Grey and the governors of Britain's scores of other colonies knew that ruling meant dividing.
The new Western military adventure in Iraq also relies upon huge bases and a soldiery insulated from the Iraqi population. As Phil Goff pointed out last week, when he criticised the rebuke to Warda Jawad, the New Zealand defence forces are flying blind in Iraq, because they have few members who can even speak the local language, let alone interpret the local culture.
[Posted by Scott Hamilton]